O’Brien Coin Guide: Armstrong & Legge’s ‘Patent’ Irish Halfpennies’ for Charles II


Introduction

On 23rd October 1680, letters patent were granted to Sir Thomas Armstrong and Colonel George Legge) to manufacture copper halfpennies for use in Ireland for a period of 21 years.  They were to be dated 1680, 1681, 1682, 1683, 1684 and 1685 but, since Charles II died in 1684, no coins dated 1685 have been recorded.

  • As with most coins of this time, there are a few varieties for collectors to note
  • The most obvious varieties are Type I (large lettering on both sides) and Type II (small lettering on both sides)

However, within these two coin types, there are a few other varieties to collect, including the number of strings on the harp, small dates, blundered legends and a number of proofs in other metals. This series of coins attracts a lot of attention from researchers and numismatists alike. The historical background is turbulent, romantic and still controversial today. The Great Rebellion of 1641 in Ireland, the English Civil War and its extension into Ireland were still within living memory and the political situation was tense, with a variety of intrigues and plots afoot.

Charles II’s Lord Lieutenant (the Duke of Ormonde) was, once again, all powerful in Ireland and, on 19th July 1681, issued a proclamation stating that Armstrong & Legge’s halfpence was “to be the lawful and current coin of this kingdom” and also “forbidding any person whatsoever to make or counterfeit the said copper half-pence; or to import any counterfeit; or to make any kind of copper or brass tokens, half-pence or farthings, or to import the same.”

This is in stark contrast to 1660-61, when the Duke of Ormonde effectively blocked the distribution and acceptance of Armstrong’s father’s ‘patent’ halfpennies. Perhaps, Ormonde had learned a valuable economic lesson back then and realised that blocking them would only lead to more unofficial brass tokens being produced in the vacuum of a chronic small change shortage.

Charles II (1660-1685), Armstrong and Legge's Regal Coinage, Copper Halfpenny, 1682, CAROLVS II  DEI GRATIA, laureate draped and cuirassed bust of Charles right, rev., MAG BR FR ET HIB REX, crowned harp dividing date, (S.6575), very fine

Armstrong and Legge’s regal ‘patent’ coinage, copper halfpenny, 1682, CAROLVS II DEI GRATIA, laureate draped and cuirassed bust of Charles right, rev., MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX, crowned harp dividing date, (S.6575), Very Fine (VF)

Type I – Large Lettering

Armstrong & Legge's Regal Coinage - 1680 Halfpenny of 16 Strings

Armstrong & Legge’s Regal Coinage – 1680 Halfpenny, large letters, with harp of 16 Strings

Armstrong & Legge's Regal Coinage - 1680 Halfpenny of 17 Strings, S.6574

Armstrong & Legge’s Regal Coinage – 1680 Halfpenny of 17 Strings, S.6574

  • Obverse: CAROLVS II DEI GRATIA
    • Which translates/expands as: Charles II by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BR FR ET HIB REX
    • Which translates/expands as: King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
Type 1 – Large Lettering on both sides Poor Good VG Fine VF EF
1680 Large date, 16-string harp €1 €3 €10 €30 €100 €300
1680 Large date, 17-string harp €1 €3 €15 €40 €125 €350
1680 Medium date €1 €2 €7 €20 €80 €250
1680 Small date €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1680 Small I in circle on shoulder €1 €5 €20 €75 €250 €450
1680 Small + after CAROLVS and DEI €1 €3 €15 €45 €150 €325
1680 GARTIA error €1 €3 €15 €45 €150 €350
1680 Proof in Silver  –  –  – €300 €550 €950
1680 Proof in Pewter  –  –  – €250 €500 €850
1681 Large lettering on both sides €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1682 Large lettering on both sides €2 €4 €8 €25 €90 €275

Type II – Medium Lettering

Charles II Halfpenny 1681 Halfpenny of 12 Strings, S.6574 medium lettering

Charles II Halfpenny 1681 Halfpenny of 12 Strings, S.6574 medium lettering

  • Obverse: CAROLVS II DEI GRATIA
    • Which translates/expands as: Charles II by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BR FR ET HIB REX
    • Which translates/expands as: King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
Type 2 – Medium Lettering on both sides Poor Good VG Fine VF EF
1681 Medium lettering, 11-string harp €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1681 Medium lettering, 12-string harp €1 €2 €6 €18 €75 €225
1681 Medium lettering, 13-string harp €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200

Type III – Small Lettering

Charles II (1660-1685), Armstrong and Legge's Regal Coinage, Copper Halfpenny, 1683, Small Letters

Charles II (1660-1685), Armstrong and Legge’s Regal Coinage, Copper Halfpenny, 1683, Small Letters

  • Obverse: CAROLVS II DEI GRATIA
    • Which translates/expands as: Charles II by the grace of God
  • Reverse: MAG BR FR ET HIB REX
    • Which translates/expands as: King of Great Britain, France and Ireland
Type 2 – Small Lettering on both sides Poor Good VG Fine VF EF
1681 €1 €5 €12 €50 €180 €400
1681 Proof in Silver  –  –  – €300 €500 €800
1682 Small lettering, 12-string harp €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1682 Small lettering, 13-string harp €1 €2 €7 €20 €75 €250
1682 Small lettering, 14-string harp €1 €2 €9 €25 €95 €300
1683 Small lettering, 13-string harp €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1683 Small lettering, 14-string harp €1 €2 €5 €15 €65 €200
1683 MAG BR FRA in larger letters €1 €4 €8 €20 €80 €250
1684 €3 €6 €15 €45 €150 €350
1685 No examples known to exist n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

Who was Sir Thomas Armstrong?

This is not the Sir Thomas Armstrong that received a patent to manufacture Charles II’s regal farthings of 1660-61.  This Lt-Col. Sir Thomas Armstrong was the second son of Col. Sir Thomas Armstrong, who manufactured the regal farthings of 1660-61.  He was born in Nimegen, in the Spanish Netherlands but was brought up in Dublin.

Sir Thomas Armstrong (c. 1633 – 20 June 1684) was an army officer and Member of Parliament executed for treason. His father, Colonel Sir Thomas Armstrong (died November 1662) fought in the 30 Years War in the Netherlands, was a royalist soldier during the English Civil War, and was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth.

Sir Thomas Armstrong (c. 1633 – 20 June 1684) was an army officer and Member of Parliament executed for treason. His father, Colonel Sir Thomas Armstrong (died November 1662) fought in the 30 Years War in the Netherlands, was a royalist soldier during the English Civil War, and was twice imprisoned in the Tower of London by Oliver Cromwell during the Commonwealth. His father also held a royal patent to produce copper coinage (Armstrong’s Farthings of 1660-61) for use in Ireland

  • During the Interregnum Armstrong was a supporter of Charles II, participating in the plot to seize Chester Castle in 1655
  • He also played a role in carrying funds from Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford to Charles in exile.
  • He was possibly imprisoned for a year on his return. In 1657
  • He married Catherine, daughter of James Pollexfen and niece of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon.
  • Following the Restoration, he received, in February 1661, a commission with the Horse Guards.
  • In August 1675, Armstrong killed the son of one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting at a London theatre.
  • Armstrong was pardoned on the grounds that his opponent had drawn first.
  • Armstrong served with James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth in France from 1672, fighting at the Siege of Maastricht (1673) and alongside the Dutch, in 1678. He was wounded at St Denis.
  • In 1679, he helped suppress the covenanter rising and fought at the battle of Bothwell Bridge.
  • Monmouth’s influence secured him as MP for Stafford in March 1679 to the First Exclusion Parliament.

Plans to mount a rebellion against the (once again) unpopular Stuart monarchy were being entertained by some opposition leaders in England during the 1680’s. Charles II’s government cracked down hard on those in a series of state trials, accompanied with repressive measures and widespread searches for arms. The best known intrigue was the so-called Rye House Plot of 1683 – a plan to assassinate both King Charles II and his brother (heir to the throne) James, Duke of York.  The savage reprisals, prosecutions and subsequent executions to the rebellions of 1685 against James II. Sadly, for Lt-Col Sir Thomas Armstrong, he somehow got ‘mentioned’ in the Rye House Plot and he was hung and quartered for his alleged role – his head was displayed at Westminster, three quarters of the rest of him went up in London, while the other chunk was sent to Stafford, which he represented in Parliament.

Engraving depicting the execution of Sir Thomas Armstrong in 1684 - following the Rye House Plot, in 1683, he was indicted for high treason. He fled to Cleves and thenRotterdam but was captured in Leiden and sentenced to death by Judge George Jeffreys. Armstrong was executed on 20 June 1684. His head was affixed to Westminster Hall, three of his quarters were displayed in London, and the fourth at Stafford.

Engraving depicting the execution of Sir Thomas Armstrong in 1684 – following the Rye House Plot, in 1683, he was indicted for high treason. He fled to Cleves and then Rotterdam but was captured in Leiden and sentenced to death by Judge George Jeffreys. Armstrong was executed on 20 June 1684 – a little over 3 months after the death of Charles II.

Who was George Legge?

Admiral George Legge was another great character of this turbulent age – a naval veteran and well-connected within the Jacobite House of Stuart. He was the eldest son of the royalist Colonel William Legge by Elizabeth Washington (c.1616–1688). Col. Legge might have been identified as the beneficiary of the patent but it was his son, George who implemented it, alongwith Sir Thomas Armstrong (junior).

His maternal grandfather, Sir William Washington (1590–1648), was the elder brother of Lawrence Washington, great-great grandfather of George Washington, while his maternal grandmother, Anne Villiers, was a half-sister of James I’s favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

George Legge, 1st Baron Dartmouth, by John Riley (died 1691), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1882

George Legge, 1st Baron Dartmouth, by John Riley (died 1691), given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1882

Legge’s naval career began in the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665–1667, where he served under his cousin Admiral Sir Edward Spragge

  • by the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Legge was captain of HMS Pembroke.
  • In March 1672, now in command of HMS Fairfax, he took part in the attack, on the Dutch Smyrna fleet lying off the Isle of Wight
    • This action was the immediate cause of the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
  • In June he fought in the Battle of Sole Bay – the first naval battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War
    • A fleet of 75 ships, 20,738 men and 4,484 cannon of the United Provinces, commanded by Lieutenant-Admirals Michiel de Ruyter, Adriaen Banckert and Willem Joseph van Ghent, surprised a joint Anglo-French fleet of 93 ships, 34,496 men and 6,018 cannon at anchor in Solebay (nowadays Sole Bay), near Southwold in Suffolk, on the east coast of England
    • Losses were heavy on both sides and battle ended inconclusively at sunset, with both sides claiming victory – the Dutch with the more justification as the English-French plan to blockade the Dutch was abandoned. In this engagement, Legge, once again, was captain of HMS Fairfax – a 52-gun ‘third rate’ Speaker-class frigate
      • The fleets soon met again – at the Battle of Schooneveld in June of the following year
  • In 1673, he commanded HMS Royal Katherine – an 84-gun ‘second-rate’ ship of the line – under Prince Rupert of the Rhine in the Battles of Schooneveld – two naval battles, fought off the coast of the Netherlands on 7 June and 14 June 1673.
    • By skillful manoeuvre, De Ruyter (the Dutch commander) had fought two engagements against a superior fleet, inflicted such damage against his opponents that they were forced to lift the blockade and retire, and taken care to avoid the decisive battle that the allies were hoping to fight.
    • After refitting, the allies decided to cruise off the Texel in the hope of drawing De Ruyter out of the Schooneveld and bringing him to action. But the resulting Battle of Texel was a Dutch victory, and England was forced to withdraw from the costly and unproductive war.
    • These Dutch victories saved their country from an Anglo-French invasion

By 1683 Legge had risen to be Admiral of the Fleet and he was sent out to Tangier to oversee the evacuation and destruction of the ill-fated English colony there. His last naval appointment was to the command of the Jacobite Channel Fleet that unsuccessfully attempted to intercept the invasion force led by William III of Orange that landed in 1688 at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution.

As a close supporter of the House of Stuart he held numerous royal appointments and honours.

  • Lieutenant Governor of Portsmouth 1670
  • Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance (obtained reversion 1672, succeeded 1679)
  • Governor of Portsmouth 1673
  • Master-General of the Ordnance 1682
  • Master of the King’s Horse 1685
  • Constable of the Tower 1685

In 1682, he was elevated to the peerage by Charles II as the first Baron Dartmouth.

  • Following the abdication of James II, Dartmouth was dismissed by the triumphant William III, and imprisoned in the Tower of London in July of 1691.
  • He died in the Tower a few months later, on 25 October, without having been brought to trial, and was buried, as his father had been, in the church of the Holy Trinity, Minories, in London. 
  • He was succeeded as Baron Dartmouth by his only son, William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth (1672–1750).
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