James II & his Gunmoney: June 1689 (timeline)

James Stuart was King of England and Ireland as James II and King of Scotland as James VII, from 6 February 1685 until he was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was the last Roman Catholic monarch to reign over the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

  • In numismatic terms, he famously ordered the production of the world’s first ‘promissory’ currency – the only coinage to have ever shown month as well as the year in its design.
Gunmoney coinage, Sixpence, 1689 June + full stop (1)

This base metal (Gunmoney) Sixpence, dated June 1689 was the first coin issued by James II as he attempted to finance his army via a ‘fiat’ currency – a completely new currency with little or no intrinsic value – just “a promise to pay” in the full value in silver at a later date

The story of this money is set in Ireland, a country he had never visited before his abdication but the one he chose to stage his planned invasion of England in a bid to regain the throne from his daughter, Mary II and his son-in-law, William of Orange (who was also his nephew – being the son of Princess Mary, eldest daughter of King Charles II).

Louis XIV had emerged from the Franco-Dutch War in 1678 as the most powerful monarch in Europe; yet the “Sun King” remained unsatisfied. Using a combination of aggression, annexation, and quasi-legal means, Louis XIV immediately set about extending his gains to stabilise and strengthen France’s frontiers, culminating in the brief War of the Reunions (1683–84).

  • The resulting Truce of Ratisbon guaranteed France’s new borders for twenty years, but Louis XIV’s subsequent actions – notably his revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 – led to the deterioration of his military and political dominance.
  • Louis XIV’s decision to cross the Rhine in September 1688 was designed to extend his influence and pressure the Holy Roman Empire into accepting his territorial and dynastic claims.
  • Leopold I and the German princes resolved to resist, and when the States General and William III brought the Dutch and the English into the war against France, the French King at last faced a powerful coalition aimed at curtailing his ambitions.

Several facts are crucial to understanding the Williamite War in Ireland

  1. Pope Innocent XI backed William of Orange, including financial backing. This was not a war of Protestants v Catholics – it was a war to stop the despotic behaviour of a dictator who believed he had a Divine right to rule, i.e. Louis XIV asserted that “a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm.
  2. This was the same view that Henry VIII took when he broke from the Catholic Church and this same view brought Charles I into conflict with the Scottish Parliament (the Bishop’s War) and later, the English Parliament (the English Civil War).
  3. The Catholic Church (the Pope) opposed this view, i.e. they believed that no king was above the Pope – in their view – God’s representative here on Earth.
    1. In order to bring a Catholic king under control, Pope Innocent XI had no qualms about joining a Protestant-led confederation (the League of Augsberg) against Louis
    2. William of Orange was directly funded by the Pope – the Holy See sent 150,000 scudi to William via an intermediary. That is equivalent to more than £3.5m today
    3. The pontiff was apparently keen to see the end of James II, whom he regarded as being too close to Louis XIV of France, whose relations with the Vatican had long been poor
    4. And when news of the Boyne victory reached the new Pope (Alexander VIII) and leaders of his allies in the League of Augsberg, prayers and songs were sung in his honour in the Catholic cathedrals throughout Europe
  4. Most importantly of all, James II was the political puppet of Louis XIV. Neither of them trusted one another and it is the view of some that James never wanted a Catholic victory because it would have prevented him from ruling Protestant England peacefully – he feared another civil war in England if he returned an outright victor, so some academics now think he thought if he could defeat William’s forces in Ireland, the English might have him back rather than wait for Louis to facilitate him via a French military victory, under terms favourable to France.
  5. This, the Grand Alliance (League of Augsberg) were delighted to have the English Parliament invite William to come to England and take the throne from the despotic James II. William did so very tentatively and he encouraged the passage of the Toleration Act 1688, which guaranteed religious toleration to certain Protestant nonconformists.
    1. It did not, however, extend toleration as far as William wished, still restricting the religious liberty of Roman Catholics, non-trinitarians, and those of non-Christian faiths. William of Orange was a tolerant Christian – not a bigot!
    2. Protestant England, it seems, was not quite ready to go that far (yet)
  6. His dealings with Parliament would produce the single most important document there since the Magna Carta – the The Bill of Rights in 1689
    1. it laid down limits on the powers of the monarch and sets out the rights of Parliament, including the requirement for regular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament.
    2. It also set out certain rights of individuals including the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
    3. It is considered the beginning of modern democracy.


When William arrived in England with an invading army on 5 November 1688, many of the Protestant officers in his army defected and joined William. Despite his army’s numerical superiority, James lost his nerve and declined to attack the invading army.

  • On 11 December 1688, James tried to flee to France, allegedly first throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames
    • He was captured in Kent
    • He was later released and placed under Dutch protective guard
    • Having no desire to make James a martyr, William let him escape on 23 December 1688
  • James was received by his cousin and ally, Louis XIV, who offered him a palace and a pension

William convened a Convention Parliament to decide how to handle James’s flight. While the Parliament refused to depose him, they declared that James, having fled to France and dropped the Great Seal into the Thames, had effectively abdicated the throne, and that the throne had thereby become vacant.

  • To fill this vacancy, James’s daughter Mary was declared Queen
    • She was to rule jointly with her husband William, who would be king
    • The Parliament of Scotland on 11 April 1689, declared James to have forfeited the throne
  • The English Parliament then passed a Bill of Rights that denounced James for abusing his power. The abuses charged to James included
    • the suspension of the Test Acts,
    • the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for merely petitioning the crown,
    • the establishment of a standing army,
    • and the imposition of cruel punishments. 
  • The Bill also declared that henceforth, no Roman Catholic was permitted to ascend the English throne, nor could any English monarch marry a Roman Catholic.


While all of this was going on in England, the Earl of Tirconnell took immediate measures to secure Ireland for King James.

  • He raised and armed an army of Catholics, and disarmed the Protestants.
  • He took possession of most of the important places through the country; but the people of Enniskillen refused to admit his garrison.
    • Then began the War of the Revolution, or the War of the Two Kings as it was known to the Irish

In February 1688, lieutenant-general Richard Hamilton was sent north by Tirconnell to reduce Ulster, where the Protestants were now making preparations for defence; and having captured some places and been repulsed in others.

  • At the start of the conflict, the Jacobites were left in control of two fortified positions at Carrickfergus and Charlemont in territory which was predominantly Williamite in sympathy.
    • The local Williamites raised a militia and met in a council at Hillsborough.
    • They made an ineffective assault on Carrickfergus. However, this was easily beaten off and a local Catholic cleric named O’Hegarty reported that the Williamite were badly armed and trained.

Tyrconnel was determined to hold on to power in Ireland and played a diplomatic cat-and-mouse-game involving William, James and Louis XIV of France. For James, only one place was considered secure and sympathetic enough for him to launch his bid to regain his throne – Catholic Ireland, effectively ruled by the Jacobite Tyrconnel.

With this in mind, James sailed for Ireland from Brest with 100 French officers, 1,200 Irish refugees, arms and ammunition for 10,000 men, and a supply of money.

  • Among the French officers were De Rosen and the French ambassador count d’Avaux.
  • Among the Irish were Patrick Sarsfield, the two Hamiltons, and the two Luttrells.

With the assistance of these French troops, James landed in Kinsale on the 12th March 1688 (1689 by our modern calendar), and passing through Cork, arrived in Dublin on the last day of the year – March 24th!

  • Until 1752, Britain and Ireland followed the Julian calendar, which had the year change on Lady Day, March 25.
    • Confusingly, March 24, 1688, was followed by March 25, 1689.
    • When the Gregorian calendar was eventually adopted everything moved forward 12 days and the New Year started on January 1st
      • Thus, until recently the financial year began on April 6,
      • The Orthodox Church still celebrates Christmas on the January 6
      • The Battle of the Boyne is celebrated on the July 12 instead of the July 1).

On 14 March 1688, a force of 2,000 Jacobite troops that had marched north from Drogheda (8th March) and engaged a force of 3,000 Williamites at Dromore in County Down.

  • The Williamites, who had earlier attempted unsuccessfully to take Carrickfergus, were routed and fled the field.
    • This battle is also known as the “Break of Dromore” because the Williamites put up little resistance and were put to flight after only a short fight.
    • In the aftermath of the engagement, their commander Lord Mount Alexander rode to Donaghadee and from there took ship to England
    • Hamilton’s men looted and sacked Dromore.
  • The following day, he took Hillsborough and Williamite council dissolved.
    • Thousands of Protestants, fearing Jacobite and Catholic retribution, fled either to Coleraine, or to the ports and from there to England or Scotland.
    • A number of survivors including Henry Baker went to Derry, where they took part in the successful defence of the city.
  • The Jacobite forces led by Richard Hamilton then progressed to Derry and joined with the Earl of Antrim’s force.

Just over 3 weeks later, on 11 April 1689, William III and Mary II were crowned joint monarchs by the Bishop of London – the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to officiate.

Meanwhile, James then set about building an army in Ireland with the aim of invading England and regaining his throne by force.  He moved north to Dublin where he gathered reinforcements of Irish Jacobites and Protestant Royalists. With this larger army he proceeded to Derry joining with the Earl of Antrim and Richard Hamilton.

Having visited Derry in April, where he found Antrim’s army engaged in the siege, James returned to Dublin and summoned a parliament.

  • The siege of Derry commenced in earnest on the 18th of April 1689, by Hamilton, who was afterwards joined by De Rosen – during May and June the fighting went on daily; there were sallies by the besieged, and attempts to storm by the besiegers, with desperate conflicts and great loss of life

James’s parliament was a ‘short-sitting’ parliament, from 7th May to 20th of July, 1689. Predictably, the Irish Parliament did not follow the example of the English

  • It declared that James remained King
  • It then passed a massive bill of attainder against those who had rebelled against him and James promises to restore all lands confiscated since 1641
    • The Act of Settlement was repealed, whereby the new settlers would have to restore the lands to the old owners
    • A number of persons—2,445 in all—were attainted, and their lands declared confiscated, for having joined the Prince of Orange
      • But all this active legislation came to nothing; for before there was time to enforce it, James and his ‘puppet’ government weregone
  • At James’s urging, the Irish Parliament
    • passed an Act for Liberty of Conscience that granted religious freedom to all Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland
    • the highly contentious Poynings’Law (1494) was repealed
      • This single provision stated that “No parliament was in future to be held in Ireland until the Irish chief governor and privy council had sent the king information of all the acts intended to be passed in it, with a full statement of the reasons why they were required, and until these acts had been approved and permission granted by the king and privy council of England.
  • This new army required massive finance and James had little money
    • He needed to pay his officers’ and troops’ wages
    • He needed to pay for uniforms, arms, munitions and provisions
    • The Great Rebellion of 1641-52, where soldiers from both sides lived off the land and plundered would not win him the support of the Irish people, therefore he would have to find a way to pay
  • This could not be done on a private pension + the supply of money given to him
    • Nor was Louis XIV of France prepared to pay for it !

On New Year’s Day, 1689, (March 24th) James issued a proclamation in Dublin re-valuing a variety of gold and silver coins effectively raising the value by 20% for gold and 8% for silver.

  • He also had supplies of French three-sous silver coins to pay his French troops
    • He re-valued these also by a staggering 150%
  • He also laid aside his patent to Knox & Moore
    • Thus, no more Irish copper halfpennies were minted after 1688

On 10 May 1689, as a French fleet approached the Irish coast, they swung west, taking anchor in Bantry Bay. Sailing from Brest, this fleet was commanded by Francois Louis de Rousselet, the Marquis of Châteaux-Renault.

  • The English knew that James was going to need a stream of supplies to be sent from France in order to maintain his war effort, and were determined to try and stem the flow if they could.
    • The new commander of England’s navies was Arthur Herbert, soon to be the Earl of Torrington. He had been cashiered out of the service by James for refusing to vote for the repeal of the Test Act, and had been intimately involved in the plan to invite William over to England to take the throne.
      • The Royal Navy had been absent when James made his crossing, but were determined that any further ships from France would not have such an easy time of reaching Ireland.
    • Herbert had 19 ships at his command, less than he would have liked, with some left docked back in England due to mutineering sailors dissatisfied with withheld pay.
      • Patrolling in and around the Cork coastline, Herbert’s mission was to discourage and, if possible, intercept French vessels that were on their way to Ireland to resupply James II.
  • The French fleet was a slightly larger gathering of ships than the English had, with over 20 third and fourth rate vessels, a couple of frigates, numerous fire ships, as well as the transport vessels that were carrying the actual supplies that James desperately needed.
    • On the 11th of May, he commenced unloading the men and supplies he had brought, but was watchful for any interference. It wasn’t long before it came.
      • Admiral Hebert’s fleet followed the French into the bay.
    • Châteaux-Renault continued his unloading while setting up his largest ships for a defence. A fairly standard naval battle erupted between the two fleets at first, the ships laid out in parallel lines, blazing away at each other with cannon.
      • After a time of this sort of combat, Châteaux-Renault pressed his advantage of holding the “weather gage”, that is, being upwind of the enemy vessels, and thus better able to manoeuvre.
      • With the weather gage, Châteaux-Renault unanchored his ship and drove at the English, forcing Herbert to withdraw his fleet out of the bay and into the open ocean.
    • More importantly, the Royal Navy was sent hurtling back from the supply ships that were still offloading their cargo. Out in the Atlantic, a confusing and pell-mell engagement continued, for up to four hours.
      • Herbert was unable to gain the advantage of the wind, while Châteaux-Renault, with much of his offensive options back in the Bay protecting the rest of the fleet, was unable (or unwilling) to press the attack too far.
    • Late in the afternoon, Châteaux-Renault choose to break off from the engagement, in order to return to the Bay and offer greater protection to the rest of the fleet.
      • Herbert, having taken the worst of the fight and with many casualties, was unable to pursue. The French were able to finish their unloading, and then sailed away, Châteaux-Renault making for Brest.
      • Herbert, many of his ships in a bad state of repair following the battle, made for the Scilly Isles and Spithead.
    • The result of the Battle of Bantry Bay was more decisive than it appeared.
      • The Royal Navy had taken a beating that would require over two months of repair for its ships, during which time the coast of Ireland was left largely unpatrolled. The French (and James II), it seemed, now had a strategic advantage both on land and at sea.


Timeline: June 1689

The money James brought with him to Ireland was never going to be enough and the answer to his financial predicament came from a Protestant – William Bromfield, an English Quaker and one time surgeon.

  • Bromfield came up with the idea of introducing an official ‘token’ coinage and he became one of the five commissioners of the mint established by James II at 61 Capel Street, Dublin, in June 1689.
    • Instead of minting coins from precious metals, coins of brass and other base metals would be struck and ‘accepted as current money among the subjects of our realm’.
    • It was made clear that the token coinage was a temporary arrangement, and that as soon as James had recovered his British thrones, the Irish coins would be redeemed by gold and silver ones.
    • Unlike the unofficial, low-value Tradesmens’ Tokens that were repeatedly outlawed by his brother, Charles II, during the 1660’s and 1670’s – these were ‘official’ tokens and would go up as far as five shillings each.
      • James could not lose financially
        • if he re-gained his throne, he could pay via taxes raised at a later date
        • if he lost his bid for the throne, the losers would be the people left with them in their pocket!
        • traders were forced by law to accept them and the biggest losers would be the traders and small merchants who had them when James eventually left

The presses at Capel Street, known as the ‘James’ (named after the king) and ‘Duchess’ (named after the Duchess of Tyrconnell) presses, began churning out coins around the clock with two teams of men working 12-hour shifts night and day.

  • They began with an alloy of copper and brass
  • Thus the first gunmoney coinage comprised sixpences in June 1689

The engraving of the first coins was of a high standard, showing the king’s head on obverse and a crown and crossed scepters on the reverse. As well as the year of production the month the coin was struck was also engraved; this was thought to facilitate their orderly withdrawal from circulation when eventually replaced by gold and silver coins.

A curiosity of the design is that James, despite having no lands in France and being backed by the French king, had his coins inscribed

    • abbreviated Latin, which translates as
    • “King of Great Britain, France and Ireland”

However, even supplies of brass were scarce and William King, future Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, commented disparagingly that the coins were made from ‘a mixture of old guns, old broken bells, old copper, brass, pewter, old kitchen furniture (pots and pans) and the refuse of metals molten down’.

In spite of any criticism at the time, the new Jacobite coinage seems to have been accepted initially and mint employees caught counterfeiting (always a sign that something is deemed valuable) in November 1689 were hanged.

  • Eventually, even local supplies of brass became scarce and the country was scoured for scrap metal to produce the coinage
  • When several damaged or obsolete cannons were melted down and turned into coin, the term ‘gun money’ was thence used to describe the Jacobite coinage

11 June

Royal Navy warships under Admiral Rooke arrived in Lough Foyle on 11 June, but initially declined to ram through the heavily defended defensive boom (floating barrier) across the River Foyle at Culmore.

  • Every day watchmen took station on the church tower, anxiously looking out to sea for relief; and at length in the middle of June they shouted down the joyous news that thirty ships were sailing up Lough Foyle.
    • But the hopes of the citizens were short-lived; for major-general Kirke the commander of the fleet, hearing of the boom and of the armed enemies and forts lining the river banks all the way up to the town, refused to proceed farther.
    • For forty-six days Rooke lay idle in the lough, while the townspeople were famishing, driven to eat horseflesh, dogs, grease, and garbage of every kind.
    • The garrison fared no better but stood resolutely to their posts.
  • With the ships not looking like they were going to attempt a breech, the fighting at last ceased, and it now became a question of starving the defenders into surrender


To the Irish the Williamite War was known as An Cogadh na dá Righ (the war of the two Kings) but in reality it was merely a part of the dispute between William and King Louis XlV of France.



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