Henry VI orders a separate, de-valued currency for Ireland (1460)


Introduction:

At a meeting of his Irish Parliament in Drogheda in 1460, Henry VI declared (via his Lord Lieutenant, Richard, Duke of York) that a separate currency (silver coins) be struck in Ireland at the castles of Dublin and Trim and that it would be known as Irlandes d’argent (Irish silver).

  • He further declared that the existing Irish coins (known as Jacks) “be hereafter of no value and void”.
  • People would have to bring their silver (presumably the coins known as Jacks) to the mints at Dublin or Trim and have it exchanged for new coins, henceforth known as Irlandes d’argent
  • Obviously, the new coins would have to be paid for and he himself would also have to profit from it, so he declared “that every person, who brings bullion to the mint, ought to receive and have for every ounce of silver tray weight, nine of the said grosses of the value of three deniers

He therefore defined a fixed ‘rate of exchange’ between his English coinage and the new Irlandes d’argent

Henry VI, first reign - Pinecone-mascle Issue Noble, London Mint 1430-1434

Henry VI, first reign – Pinecone-mascle Issue Noble, London Mint 1430-1434

  • Gold
    • 1 English (gold) noble = 80 English pennies = 6 shillings and 8 pence (in English silver)
      • 8 shillings and 4 pence (in Irish silver) = 100 Irish pennies
    • ½ English (gold) noble = 40 English pennies = 3 shillings and 4 pence (in English silver)
      • 4 shillings and 2 pence (in Irish silver) = 50 Irish pennies
    • 1 ‘quadrant’ d’or (a quarter of 1 noble) = 20 English pennies = 1 shilling and 8 pence (in English silver)
      • 2 shillings and 1 penny (in Irish silver) = 25 Irish pennies

Depending upon which way one is exchanging these coins, the loss for the Irish economy was 20-25% and Henry VI was, in effect, draining Ireland of its silver via a ‘forced / legalised’ internal arbitrage market in Dublin and Trim. This would not have endeared him to his feudal vassals in Ireland whose tenuous hold on their lands were not helped by an overnight 20% reduction in the value of their money.

Meanwhile, in England, the Wars of the Roses (a series of civil wars fought from 1455 to 1487 between the House of Lancaster and the House of York) raged on and shortly after this declaration, Henry VI was captured by the Lancastrians – a Lancastrian king (Edward IV, who took over the monarchy after the Battle of Towton Moor) would rule (temporarily) from 4th March 1461 to 3rd October 1470.

  • Silver
    • 1 ‘unclipped’ groat (4 English pence) = 5 pence (in Irish silver)
      • 1 ‘clipped’ groat (4 English pence) = 4 pence (in Irish silver)
    • 1 demi-groat (½ groat, or 2 English pence) = 2½ pence (in Irish silver)
    • 1 denier = 1¼ pence (in Irish silver)
      • 1 ‘clipped’ denier = 1 penny (in Irish silver)

A further 20-25% loss due to ‘clipping’ is clearly admitted here and the English king is not prepared to accept the loss himself, so it would seem that the clippers were allowed to go unpunished – despite the harsh penalties, if caught.

Very few examples of Henry VI’s Irlandes d’argent coinage have been found, i.e. they are very rare.

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Henry VI: Act of 1460 (Irish Coinage)

At a Parliament held at Drogheda before Richard Duke of York, Lord Lieutenant, it was enacted :

That the English noble of lawful weight shall pass in Ireland at the value of eight shillings and four pence, and half-noble at four shillings and two pence, the quadrant-d’or of the same coin and weight at two shillings and one penny. The gross [groat] of London, York and Calais, not clipped within the extreme circle, at five pence, the derny-gross at two pence half-penny, the denier at one penny farthing: the gross clipped at four pence, the demy -gross at two pence half-penny, the denier clipped at one penny. And as not only the duchy of Normandy but also the duchy of Guienne, when they were under the obedience of the realm of England, yet were no less separate from the laws and statutes of England, and had also coins for themselves different from the coin of England; so Ireland, though it be under the obedience of the same realm is nevertheless separate from it, and from all the laws and statutes of it, only such as are there by the lords spiritual and temporal and Commons freely admitted and accepted of in parliament or great council, by which a proper coin separate from the coin of England was with more convenience agreed to be had in Ireland under two forms; the one of the weight of half-quarter of an ounce troy weight, on which shall be imprinted on one side a lyon, and on the other side a crown , called an Irlandes d’argent, to pass for the value of one penny sterling ; the other of vij. ob of tray weight, having imprinted on one part of it a crown, and on the other part a cross, called a Patrick, of which eight shall pass for one denier. That a gross be made of the weight of three deniers sterling, and to pass for four deniers sterling, which shall have imprinted on it on one side a crown, and on the other side a cross like the coin of Calais, bearing about the cross in writing the name of the place where the coin is made ; and that every person, who brings bullion to the mint, ought to receive and have for every ounce of silver tray weight, nine of the said grosses of the value of three deniers. That the coin called the Jack be hereafter of no value and void, and that the above coins be made in the castles of Dublin and Tryrnrne [Trim]. This act to commence on St. Patrick’s day.


 

Who was Richard, 3rd Duke of York and 8th Earl of Ulster?

Rather surprisingly, this Richard, the 3rd Duke of York was not only a Yorkist working for a Lancastrian king in Ireland but he was also a rival for the throne – his son (Edward) was 4th Duke of York, 7th Earl of March, 5th Earl of Cambridge and 9th Earl of Ulster when he became Edward IV of England soon after this Act of 1460 … in March 1461 !

Richard of York, 3rd Duke of York (1411–1460), was a leading English magnate, a great-grandson of King Edward III through his father, and a great-great-great-grandson of the same king through his mother.

  • He inherited vast estates and served in various offices of state
    • Lord Lieutenant of France (1436-39)
      • York’s appointment was one of a number of stop-gap measures after the death of Bedford to try to retain French possessions until the young King Henry VI could assume personal rule
      • York had some success, recapturing Fecamp and holding on to the Pays de Caux, while establishing good order and justice in the Duchy of Normandy
      • When he did returned to England in November 1439, he was not included in Henry VI’s Council on his return, despite of his position as one of the leading nobles of the realm
    • Lord Lieutenant of France (1440-45)
      • Henry VI turned to York again in 1440 after peace negotiations failed. He was reappointed Lieutenant of France on 2 July with increased powers
      • However, in 1443 Henry put the newly-created Duke of Somerset, John Beaufort, in charge of an army of 8,000 men, initially intended for the relief of Gascony. This denied York much-needed men and resources at a time when he was struggling to hold the borders of Normandy
      • Somerset’s army achieved nothing and English policy now turned back to a negotiated peace (or at least a truce) with France, so the remainder of York’s time in France was spent in routine administration and domestic matters
    • Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1445-50)
      • York returned to England on 20 October 1445 at the end of his five-year appointment in France. He had become associated with the English in Normandy who were opposed to the policy of Henry VI’s Council towards France
      • His criticism of the Council’s surrender of the French province of Maine, in return for an extension of the truce with France and a French bride for Henry, must have contributed to his appointment on 30 July as Lieutenant of Ireland.
      • In some ways it was a logical appointment, as Richard was also Earl of Ulster and had considerable estates in Ireland, but it was also a convenient way of removing him from both England and France
      • Domestic matters kept him in England until June 1449, but when he did eventually leave for Ireland, it was with an army of around 600 men.
        • This suggests a stay of some time was envisaged.
        • Claiming lack of money to defend English possessions, York decided to return to England
        • His financial state may indeed have been problematic, since by the mid-1440s he was owed £38,666 by the crown, and the income from his estates was declining
    • Leader of the Opposition in England (1450-52)
      • In 1450, the defeats and failures of the English royal government of the previous ten years boiled over into serious political unrest.
      • In June, Kent and Sussex rose in revolt. Led by Jack Cade (taking the name Mortimer), they took control of London and killed John Fiennes, 1st Baron Saye and Sele, the Lord High Treasurer of England.
      • In August, the final towns held in Normandy fell to the French and refugees flooded back to England.
      • York’s public stance was that of a reformer, demanding better government and the prosecution of the traitors who had lost northern France
      • In 1452, York made another bid for power, but not to become king himself but to be recognised as Henry VI’s heir apparent (Henry was childless after 7 years of marriage)
    • Lord Protector of England (1453-54)
      • In August 1453, Henry VI suffered a catastrophic mental breakdown. Perhaps brought on by the news of the defeat at the Battle of Castillon in Gascony, which finally drove English forces from France, he became completely unresponsive, unable to speak and had to be led from room to room.
      • The Council tried to carry on as though the king’s disability would be brief. However, they had to admit eventually that something had to be done.
      • In October, invitations for a Great Council were issued and Richard of York (the premier duke of the realm) was included. Despite the opposition of Margaret of Anjou, York was appointed Protector of the Realm and Chief Councillor on 27 March 1454 for a period known as ‘the madness of King Henry VI’
  • His conflicts with Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, and other members of Henry’s court, as well as his competing claim on the throne, were a leading factor in the political upheaval of mid-15th C England, and a major cause of the Wars of the Roses

Although Richard never became king himself, he was the father of the future Yorkist kings – Edward IV and Richard III

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