O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Confederate Catholic Coinage of 1642-43 (Kilkenny/Rebel Money)


Introduction

In the older literature, these coins are referred to as ‘Kilkenny Money’ but are now, more properly referred to as ‘Confederated Catholic Coinage’ or ‘Rebel Money.’ There are two opinions re who actually these enigmatic coins – one thinks they might have been minted by the Catholic Confederacy in Kilkenny from as early as September 1642 (just after Owen Roe O’Neill was acknowledged as Lord-General of Irish Confederate forces at the Ulster provincial assembly at Clones) to about 1644.

Catholic Rebel Halfcrown of 1643-1644, S.6559; KM.65; Bull 16 ; plain edge. Mintmark: petite irregular seven pointed star in outer circle in top field. Obverse: Thick large cross within inner line circle. Outer toothed border, all on an incuse field. Reverse: Large half crown value numbers II VI, height 8.5mm, with all the numerals linked by large seraphs. A large, slightly askew to the right.

Catholic Rebel Halfcrown of 1643-1644, S.6559; KM.65; Bull 16 ; plain edge. Mintmark: petite irregular seven pointed star in outer circle in top field. Obverse: Thick large cross within inner line circle. Outer toothed border, all on an incuse field. Reverse: Large half crown value numbers II VI, height 8.5mm, with all the numerals linked by large seraphs. A large, slightly askew to the right. “S” and “D” above, all within inner line circle, a plain field around, and an outer toothed border, all struck on an only slightly incuse field. A sharp accent upper right to the S, the S with a large seraph at bottom and a much smaller seraph at the top. Bottom left of first “I” and bottom right of last “I” touch inner circle. Devices cut and re-cut, somewhat crudely, include the cross, the “S”, and the first two Roman “I”. Flan of sterling silver plate cut quite regular and round.

The other (more recent) opinion is that they were minted by supporters of General Michael Jones in Dublin some time from 1647 onward.

  • Who is correct?
  • Might they both be correct?

Confederated Catholics of Kilkenny ?

It should be noted the weights of the Catholic Rebel pieces are typically a bit lighter than the weights of the contemporary Ormonde pieces.  It would be expected that a ‘coinage of necessity’ would inherently be lighter alongside pieces it was meant to compete and imitate.

  • Not only is the weight lighter than the ‘Royalist’ Ormonde pieces, but the coin designs avoid any reference to the King (Charles I) by substituting a cross for the crown on the obverse.
  • The absence of royal symbols and legends is to be expected – if these coins were indeed issued by the Irish Catholic rebels at Kilkenny.

It is now over a century since Philip Nelson relates in his article, “The Obsidional  Money of the Great Rebellion”, published in the Second Vol. of the newly created British Numismatic Journal (BNJ), 1903, pp. 328-329:

In the month of October, 1641 the native Irish, under Phelim O’Neill, rose in open rebellion  against the English, whom, on October 23, 1641, they massacred to the number of forthy thousand, sparing neither age, rank, nor sex.  Banding themselves together, they proceeded to establish their seat of government at Kilkenny, under the title of “The Confederated Catholics,” and immediately arrogated to themselves many regal prerogatives, including the striking of money, proposing at the same time to establish an order of knighthood in honour of St. Patrick.

and p. 348:

During the year 1643, but previously to September 15, when peace was declared, the pieces known as “Rebel money” would probably be issued, and it is supposed that they were struck by the “Confederated Catholics” at Kilkenny.  These coins were apparently designed in imitation of the pieces issued from Dublin by James, Marquis Of Ormond, which, as regards the reverse at least, they somewhat resemble….

and p. 349:

It will be remembered that the Blacksmith’s half-crown issued by the “Confederated Catholics” at Kilkenny in 1642, bore upon the obverse a cross potent as a mint mark.

More importantly, it must be remembered that the military leader of the Irish Confederate forces (Owen Roe O’Neill) joined the Spanish army c.1605 (Flight of the Earls), enlisting in an Irish regiment raised for the Spanish service that was known as the Earl of Tyrone’s regiment. This famous Irish regiment was commanded by Owen’s cousin Henry O’Neill.

  • For more than thirty years, O’Neill led a distinguished career in the Spanish army.
  • He served mainly in Flanders where Spain was fighting against the United Provinces of the Netherlands – he distinguished himself at the sieges of Bergen-op-Zoom and Breda.
  • Owen Roe was commissioned colonel of a newly-raised Irish regiment in 1634 and achieved his most celebrated feat of arms in the Spanish service during Spain’s war against France when he defended the frontier town of Arras with 1,500 troops against overwhelming odds during July and August 1640.
1640, Mexico mint. Shield with Spanish royal coat-of-arms / Cross with two castles and lions. 41x34 mm, 26.72 g

The Spanish had a history of producing crude, irreularly-shaped silver coinage by weight – commonly known as ‘cobs’. This example, dated 1640, came from the Mexico mint. The design features “a shield with Spanish royal coat-of-arms / Cross with two castles and lions. It measures approx. 41×34 mm and weighs 26.72 g

1640-1642 Spain CATALONIA 5 Real, ½ Libra reverse

This is a better struck silver coin from Spain (Catalonia) 1640-1642 – a 5 Real, or ‘½ Libra’. The reverse features a Spanish cross and coins such as this would have circulated in Ireland at the time due to a shortage of coinage and the considerable trade with Spain by Irish merchants.

Parliamentarians of Dublin ?

A more recent paper (Maurice Bull, 2010, The Half-crowns of Charles I 1625-1649, vol. V), provides a bit more further insight and a rather surprising alternative hypothesis, pp. 306-307:

‘These coins are thought to have been struck in imitation of the Ormonde coins by the Catholic Confederates in Kilkenny in 1643-4, and are known as ‘Rebel Money’.  It may be an indication of the troubled times and the absence or destruction of records in times of war and rebellion that, whilst these coins are attributed to the Catholic Confederates, it has also been suggested that they could have been manufactured in Dublin by Parliamentary forces under the command of  Colonel Michael Jones sometime after March 1647

It has been suggested that the cross was derived from the cross on the seal of the Confederates although other commentators feel that the cross is more similar to that used by the Parliamentary forces on their banners and the later Commonwealth coinage.

It has been suggested that the cross was derived from the cross on the seal of the Confederates although other commentators feel that the cross is more similar to that used by the Parliamentary forces on their banners and the later Commonwealth coinage.

It is interesting to note that some of the Parliamentary forces adopted the Cross of St Edward the Martyr as their motif because the Puritans abhorred idolatory and destroyed many Catholic statues and relics when they found them.

  • During the English Reformation of the 16th C, King Henry VIII led the dissolution of the monasteries and many holy places were demolished. Edward’s remains were hidden at Corfe Castle so as to avoid desecration.
  • At the end of a three year siege, Cromwellian troops broke into the church at Corfe, desecrated all of the fittings and stabled their horses there – using the font as a horse trough.
Commonwealth, Double-Crown, 1650

The suggestion that the coins of the Commonwealth somehow influenced these ‘rebel pieces’ is strange – given that none of them show a cross with serifs or any other embellishments. The coin above is a Commonwealth Double-Crown, dated 1650

Banners of the Royalist Army during the English Civil War - Fleetwood, Aston & Byerley / Byerly

There were also a number of banners in the Royalist Army during the English Civil War that might have also influenced the design of the Rebel Money – Fleetwood, Aston & Byerley / Byerly. Of these men, only Sir Thomas Aston had anything to do with Ireland – most notably losing his life at Drogheda in 1649.

  • Sir Arthur Aston’s Regiment of Foot
  • Royalist infantry regiment serving in the garrison of Oxford
    • Raised in Oxford, 1644
    • 1644: Garrison of Oxford
    • July 1644: : Relief of Greenland House (det)
    • May to June 1645: Besieged in Oxford?
    • 1646: Surrender of Oxford
  • Sir Arthur Aston (1590-1649) was a Catholic from Cheshire. He was a professional soldier, fighting for Russia and Poland, and (later) for Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. He fought at Newburn Ford in the Second Bishops’ War under Lord Conway and was knighted in 1640.At Edgehill Aston was Colonel-General of dragoons, and was later appointed Governor of Reading. Besieged by Essex, he relinquished command after being hit on the head by a roof tile dislodged by cannon-fire and rendered dumb. Some wondered whether this was a cunning ploy to avoid taking personal responsibility for the surrender. He was then appointed Major General to Prince Rupert and in August 1643 Governor of Oxford. Unpopular as Governor due to his severity and short temper, he broke his leg in a riding accident in 1644, gangrene set in and it required amputation, his position passing to Sir Henry Gage on Christmas Day. Clarendon plainly disliked him, opining that “He had the fortune to be very much esteemed where he was not known, and very much detested where he was; and he was at this time too well known at Oxford to be beloved by any.”
  • In 1646 Sir Arthur Aston joined Ormonde in Ireland and was later appointed Governor of Drogheda.
    • Besieged in 1649 by the New Model Army led by Cromwell, Drogheda was stormed with notoriously little quarter given.
    • Sir Arthur’s brains were beaten out with his own wooden leg, which the Parliamentarian soldiers falsely suspected was full of gold coins.
    • This event, however, post-dates the issue of the Rebel Money crowns and halfcrowns – so we are left with the much more likely Owen Roe O’Neill and his Spanish influence.
  • Colonel Anthony Byerly’s Regiment of Foot (also known as ‘Byerly’s Bulldogs)
  • Royalist regiment of foot serving with the Marquis of Newcastle’s army in 1644
    • April to July: Besieged at York
    • July: Battle of Marston Moor
  • Sir Richard Fleetwood’s Regiment of Foot
  • Royalist foot in garrison at Wooton Lodge in 1642-43
    • Garrison of Wooton Lodge (1642)
    • Besieged at Besieged at Wooton Lodge (1643)

Documentary Evidence

May 10

  • A national synod of Irish Catholic clergy meets at Kilkenny and lays the foundations of the Confederation of Kilkenny.
    • The Oath of Association framed and a manifesto towards a provisional government of Ireland issued.

June 7

  • The initial posturing, skirmishes and battles of the Great Rebellion went well for the so-called Confederated Catholics who, in consequence of these successes, formed an assembly at Kilkenny on the 7th of June, 1642, to issue orders for the government of Ireland.

July 8

  • Owen Roe O’Neill arrives in County Donegal to fight for Ireland and the Catholic faith
    • O’Neill landed at Castledoe, Co Donegal, in July 1642 with a cadre of Spanish-trained officers and a supply of arms and ammunition.
    • He was received warmly and acknowledged lord-general of Confederate forces, but he was disappointed not to be recognised as Earl of Tyrone and chieftain of the O’Neills, the title being disputed by his kinsman, Sir Phelim O’Neill
  • Thomas Preston (O’Neill’s ally and rival)  arrives in Wexford about the same time
    • Thomas Preston (later 1st Viscount Tara) was the younger son of the 4th Viscount Gormanstown, a Catholic “Old English” nobleman of Dublin.

July 10

  • The first military action of the English Civil War takes place when a Royalist raiding party approaches Hull to burn down buildings outside the town walls, but is driven away by gunfire from the defenders

July 12

  • Parliament resolves to raise an army “for the safety of the King’s person, the defence of both Houses of Parliament, and of those who have obeyed their orders and commands; and for the preservation of the true religion, the laws, liberties and peace of the kingdom”.
    • The Earl of Essex commissioned Captain-General of Parliament’s army

Thus the English Civil War commenced and all three theatres of the War of the Three Kingdoms were active – eventually troops from all three kingdoms would be active in all three, therefore this was a single war of varying economic, political and religious themes. The numismatic history of the mid-17th C was equally complicated … and the so-called Kilkenny (Rebel) Money reflects this. The hitherto shortage of money in Ireland quickly developed into a ‘chronic’ shortage as thousands of foreign troops landed in Ireland to reinforce the various factions and they needed money for wages, which as in turn used to buy food and other provisions. The troops of the Confederated Catholics were no different in this respect and in October and November of 1642, the Confederated Catholic government in Kilkenny issued orders with references to coinage.

November 15

The Confederated Catholics assembled at Kilkenny and ordered ‘money’ to be struck.

Dr. Aquilla Smith noted that a Mr. Charles Halliday of Dublin was in possession of a full copy of the order, which is printed in volume i of the Proceedings of the Kilkenny Archeological Society and, omitting a few unimportant words, is as follows :-

“By the Lords and Gentry of Ireland assembled in Kilkenny. WHEREAS we the Confederated Catholickes of this Kingdom of Ireland being enforced to take armes as well for the defence of the free exercise of the Roman Catholique religion throughout this Realme as of his sacred majesties right and prerogatives and the preservacion of the Catholiques and other his Majesties well affected subjects, plotted to be supplanted and destroyed by the malignant party enemies to God his majestie and all his well affected subjects and Kingdome much scarcitie of money and coyne in this Kingdome the same being ingrossed hertofore into the hands of our said enemies by their continued exactions oppressions and extortions whereby much detriment may ensue to our party if not timely prevented.

Wee therefore * * * declare that all money plate and coyne as well silver as gold English and forraine heerafter mentioned shall be * * * raised and inhanced to the just and full value expressed in this Act and that the same shall be according to the said values sett and established by the said Act esteemed taken and received by all and everie person and persons whatsoever of our partie and all such others as doe and shall joyne with us in this Kingdom videlicit: That peeces of 8 be raised to 6s. the peeces of 4 and 2 rateablie, the Portingal testin to 1s. 8d. the Cardique ( Cardiere?) of France to 2s. ; the half cardique to 1s. the Pistolet of 14s. to 20s., the quarable and single rateably the Rider of Scotland to 2s., the Jacobus of 22s. to 29s. and 4d. sterling, the 20s. of James and Carolus to 26s. and 8d., the half and quarter ratablie. The Albertus (Albertin?) raised to 13s. and 6d. the half accordingly, the Rose of 4s. 4½d. to 5s. and 6d. All these coines of gold and silver to be due weight the usual allowance to be given according to the proportion anie of them shall not want of their weight.

The 13½d. is to be raised to one shilling 6d. the 1s. sterling to 1s. 4d. the 6d. to 8d. the 9d. to 12d. the 4d. to 5d. the 3d. to 4d. the 4½d. to 6d. the 2d. to 3d. and the dominick grote to 4d. the copper groate to 5d. the white groate of coper to 2d. and that the 9d. of the said severall coynes be henceforth reputed and doe pass for a 1s. and half a Crown peece doe pass henceforth for 10 groates. And wee do further Order publish and declare that the plate of this Kingdome be coined with the ordinarie stampe used in the moneyes now currant.

Wee do likewise publish and declare that there shall be 4000 L of red copper coyned to farthings and ½ pence with the Harp and Crowne on the one side and to septers on the other and that everie pound of copper be made to the value of 2s. 8d. and that this caine shall be currant before as well payment. No person or persons be compelled to take but 1s. in each pound and so ratablie in everie severall payment other than that all payments not exceeding 6d. may be made and shall be accepted in the said copper caine. And if the poll of London and Dublin tuch and all plate of equal goodnesse and value shall pass and be accepted at 6d.(6s?) the oz. sterling * * * * *

All which we doe publish and declare to have been urged into by necessitie for his majesties service * * * * and we do straightlie chardge and command all Generalls and Commanders of our forces all Magistrates or Officers Militarie or Civil to whom it shall or may concerne in all Provinces Citties Countie towns and liberties of our partie through this Kingdome to take Special Notice of this our present Act and with all diligent speed to cause the same to be put in due execution within their severall jurisdictions respectivelie with (which?) all and everie of the Confederate Catholiques and their said adherence are particularly to observe and fulfil at their uttermost peril.

DATED at Kilkenny the I5th of 9ber I642 and in the I8th yeare of the raigne of our Soveraigne Lo : Charles by the Grace of God King of Greate Britain France and Ireland. God save the King.”

Signed by Mountgarrett Plunkett and seven others,

Lord MacGuire was later accused at his trial in Westminster (November, 1644) of organizing ‘ the rebellion. At this trial, Sir Charles Coote (a parliamentary general), said of the Kilkenny Council: “They have made several judges of their own Courts; they print, they coin, they do all in their own names.”

  • There seems to be little doubt that coins were struck under this Catholic Confederate order of 15th November 1642.
  • It also seems likely that the copper coins must be attributed to this order too.

Rebel Money – Crowns & Halfcrowns

Generally speaking, this series of coinage is now extremely rare and very few examples seem to have survived – probably related to the fact that having one (when the Cromwellian campaign came to a close in Ireland) usually resulted in immediate death. Being of good quality silver and not too under-weight, it is most likely that many simply ended up in the melting pot – the usual fate of ‘good’ coinage at the time.

Confederate Catholics, 'Rebel Money', Crown, mm. pellet, 24.57g/7h (S 6558; DF 313, this coin; KM. 66). Flat in places, otherwise very fine and toned, very rare

Confederate Catholics, ‘Rebel Money’, Crown, mm. pellet, 24.57g/7h (S.6558; DF 313, KM. 66). Flat in places, otherwise very fine and toned, very rare

Confederate Catholics, 'Rebel Money', Halfcrown, 12.47g/11h (Bull 17, this coin; S 6559; DF 315; KM. 65). Weak in parts, otherwise nearly extremely fine and toned, extremely rare

Confederate Catholics, ‘Rebel Money’, Halfcrown, 12.47g/11h (Bull 17; S.6559; DF 315; KM. 65). Weak in parts, otherwise nearly extremely fine and toned, extremely rare.

Rebel Money – Shillings & Sixpences

It has been suggested that there ‘might’ have been some struck – especially as Cork (in the Southern Cities of Refuge series) had struck shillings and sixpences. Since the ‘Southern Cities of Refuge’ series was struck approx. five years later, it is unlikely that the Catholic Confederacy in Kilkenny would have been influenced by these later issues.

  • To date, no examples of Rebel Shillings or Sixpences have been found

As a numismatical history aside, it has been suggested by Bishop Nicholson (1724) and Leake (1726) that the St Patrick’s Farthings (which were much larger and heavier than contemporary fathings) were struck by the Confederated Catholics in Kilkenny. Simon, in 1749, agreed with this, and suggested that the specimens in silver were struck under the order of 1642 as shillings.

  • It is now generally agreed that the St Patrick’s farthings were issued some time during the 1670’s in the reign of Charles II
  • It is also agreed that those struck in silver were ‘patterns’ or ‘gift’ pieces and not intended for circulation

Rebel Money – Halfpennies & Farthings

These coins are rare and are usually only found in a barely discernable grade accompanied by miserable surfaces. As such, they are often overlooked when in amongst an old accumulation of coins. Despite their poor condition, they are significant pieces from turbulent times.

Although mentioned in the proclamation of 15 November 1642, I have been unable to locate an image of a Kilkenny (Rebel Money) Farthing.

Confederate Catholics, Halfpenny, Kilkenny, 4.03g/3h (S 6555). ‘X’ scratched on obverse, fair

Confederate Catholics, Halfpenny, Kilkenny, 4.03g/3h (S 6555). ‘X’ scratched on obverse, fair

Kilkenny issues, 1642-1643, AE Halfpenny (2), 5.32g., 3.29g., y, crown over crossed sceptres, the second with signs of a countermark comprising a castle with a small k below, rev. crude harp, crowned, the first, legend reading fran, (DF 262/?264; S.6555/?6563A)

Kilkenny issues, 1642-1643, AE Halfpenny, 5.32g, y, crown over crossed sceptres, with signs of a countermark comprising a castle with a small k below, rev. crude harp, crowned, (DF 262; S.6555)

Kilkenny, Æ Halfpenny, castle with K below countermarked on another coin (DF.-; S. 6563A), fine

Kilkenny, Æ Halfpenny, castle with K below countermarked on another coin (S. 6563A), fine.

Kilkenny Halfpenny, coin overstruck with castle, K below, all within shield, 3.46g (S 6563A, DF 263) surfaces corroded, counterstamp good fine, very rare

Kilkenny Halfpenny, coin overstruck with castle, K below, all within shield, 3.46g (S 6563A, DF 263) surfaces corroded, counterstamp good fine, very rare

Contemporary or Later Counterfeits

silver copies of the Rebel Money Crown and Halfcrown [2]. Very fine

Silver copies of the Rebel Money Crown and Halfcrown. Very fine

Recent Forgeries

2003 – The Michigan Gang

This is just a small sample of coins auctioned by several of the eBay accounts used by the Michigan gang. They date mostly from the first three months of 2003 and the main perpetrator in this operation is one Leslie Byrge of Warren, Michigan (a.k.a. ‘Mario) and his wife, Jacqueline. They went under a number of different eBay accounts, including some accomplices such as sarahs21 (registered in the UK) and vlaminck1922. They also forged copies of the Ormonde Gold Pistole, Ormonde Money and Blacksmith Halfcrowns of the Emergency Coinages series, in addition to Hiberno-Norse and many others.

eBay auction 3012020980 fake Catholic Confederacy Crown March 2003

eBay auction 3012020980 fake Catholic Confederacy Crown) March 2003

  • 3 bids, starting at $1 and finishing $62
  • Winning bidder: goldengirl04 (1)
eBay auction 3036956254 (fake Catholic Confederacy Crown) July 2003

eBay auction 3036956254 (fake Catholic Confederacy Crown) July 2003

  • 30 bids, starting at $1 and finishing at $510
  • Winning bidder: coinsreddog (1)

Further Reading:

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