O’Brien Rare Coin Review: The Irish Coinage of Edward III (1339-40)


After Edward III, there was a gap in Irish coin production of over 120 years. What caused this? Was it an economic or political decision, or a combination of several different causal factors? Did the causal factors occur before and/or during the reign of Edward III ???

  • No coins would be minted in Ireland for the following kings :-
    • 1377–1399 Richard II
    • 1399–1413 Henry IV (Lancaster)
    • 1413–1422 Henry V (Lancaster)
    • 1422-1461 Henry VI Lancaster – first reign)
  • Finally, Edward IV issued Irish coins of the English standard in 1463

By the late 13th century medieval Dublin had reached its zenith – between 1292-4, when the exchequer was returning around £9,000 per year, but colonial society was already in decline. Having benefited from over a century of trade, Dublin was unquestionably the primary settlement in Ireland. While not the biggest walled town – it was surpassed by Drogheda and New Ross – its sprawling suburbs made it the most populous settlement with ten to fifteen thousand people living along the banks of the Liffey.

  • Based upon customs receipts, New Ross was the busiest port
  • But, in the far south west the Gaelic Irish were beginning to reconquer Norman territory
  • Famine also began taking its toll as Ireland suffered serious food shortages in 1295, and again in 1308
  • By 1306/07, exchequer receipts fell to £5,893 – a fall of over 33% since the early 1290’s
  • From 1315–18 the worst famine in medieval history swept across north-western Europe; an apocalyptic event which coincided with the equally catastrophic Bruce invasion of Ireland

Edward III

By the time Edward III came to the throne in 1327, the agricultural boom in Europe was leveling off and he was faced with the massive task of re-building England after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II

A mediaeval miniature of Edward III of England

A medieval miniature of Edward III of England

  • Edward III would go on to transform the Kingdom of England into one of the most formidable military powers in Europe.
  • His long reign of fifty years was the second longest in medieval England
  • His reign would see vital developments in legislation and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament

Edward was crowned at age fourteen after his father was deposed by his mother and her lover Roger Mortimer.

  • At age seventeen he led a successful coup against Mortimer, the de facto ruler of the country, and began his personal reign.
  • After a successful campaign in Scotland he declared himself rightful heir to the French throne in 1337 but his claim was denied due to the Salic law.
    • This started what would become known as the Hundred Years’ War.
    • Following some initial setbacks the war went exceptionally well for England; victories at Crécy and Poitiers led to the highly favourable Treaty of Brétigny.

Edward III and Ireland

The Irish barons had become more interested in their more profitable English holdings.

  • By 1327, almost half of colonised land in Ireland belonged to absentees.
  • The resident Anglo-Irish nobility accused them of endangering the colonies through neglect.

A period of prolonged bad weather resulted in the Famine of 1330-31 in Ireland

  • The Kilkenny chronicler John Clyn noted that in 1330/31 from ‘May right up to the following February it was excessively wet, full of rain and wind so that summer and autumn seemed almost to have become the winter period’.
  • Ireland was battered by particularly bad storms, which collapsed buildings and resulted in many bridges and mills being washed away.
    • After this lengthy and difficult winter, famine resulted from a poor harvest
    • Wheat reached the price of 20 shillings per crannoc, four times its normal price
  • By the summer of 1331 Dublin was in the grip of starvation.
    • It was said that “cats and dogs disappeared from the streets of Dublin”
    • People then turned to cannibalism – it was chronicled that “one starving woman who ate her baby was sentenced to death and, after her execution, the beggars cut her down from the gibbet and devoured her flesh.”
    • However, relief came on 27th June 1331, when a school of whales beached themselves just outside the walls of the town.
      • These were then known as ‘turlehyde fish’ and were deemed property of the Crown, i.e. it was illegal to kill or eat them – upon pain of death
      • The Justiciar Anthony de Lucy encouraged the townspeople to the beach where two hundred whales were butchered for meat alleviating the crisis in the city.
  • In 1339 , all of the corn of Ireland was destroyed: resulting in a general famine
    • After what was described by the annalist of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin as a ‘vehement frost’ the river Liffey froze over. Indeed the townspeople of Dublin were able to hold a festival of sorts on the river.
    • Contemporary accounts describe running jumping and football being played on the icy Liffey surface. There was even fires of wood and turf on the river where herrings were cooked

After several periods of poor weather and subsequent famine, Edward III’s challenging reign then had the misfortune to experience the Black Death, or Great Plague, and this one event was to influence European history well into the next century.

  • Wars were the usual check on population during medieval times but in 1348, plague was reported in a Black Sea trading centre run by the Genoese.
  • Kipchak Mongols besieging this Genoese trading centre catapulted their own dead into the city. The dead had been killed by a mysterious disease and the disease spread quickly in the besieged city.
    • Some of the Genoese escaped by sea taking the disease with them.
    • They landed at Messina in Sicily spreading the disease even further.
    • In June of 1348 the disease landed in England in Dorset and by the winter it had reached London.
    • The deaths were at their peak in the summer of 1349 and it is estimated that somewhere between a quarter to half of England’s population were killed.
      • Even when the worst was over England was not safe and another outbreak of the disease occurred in 1361.
      • More outbreaks of plague occurred until the final London plague of 1665
  • 1348-50 The Black Death Kills 40-50% of the urban population of Ireland
    • The Black Death + a series of bad harvests led to the migration of colonists of all classes back to England.
Two women do the 'dance of death' in a 15th‑century woodcut. The grim reaper of the plague (Black Death) stalked Europe for centuries

Two women do the ‘dance of death’ in a 15th‑century woodcut. The grim reaper of the plague (Black Death) stalked Europe for centuries – the Norman colonists who clustered in their Irish towns suffered far more than the native Irish who lived in scattered agrarian communities

The Black Death killed people of all classes in urban areas and the economic result was a chronic shortage of labour. The absence of labour (due to death or migration) and the huge rise on the cost of labour resulted in legislation to prevent workers demanding their own prices

  • 1351 Statute of Labourers – the costs were fixed for labourer’s wages at the pre-plague levels.
    • Labourers had to stay in their own villages, and had to appear before a steward or constable each year to swear to abide by the rules of the statute.
    • Stocks were built in each village to punish and deter any that did not abide by the rules.
    • This statute eventually failed due to competition among landowners for labour

The collapse of available labour supply, increased awareness of trade regulation, and the need to control fraud, implied for England imposition of Customs duties at given ports throughout the realm, including Ireland. There was also a need to regulate trade in order to to improve liquidity  after the economic crisis caused by the Black Death

  • In European historiography, the term “staple” refers to the entire medieval system of trade and its taxation

The Statute of Staples (1354) facilitated mercantile credit to promote trade (which supported by a sympathetic King Edward, was also the constitutional duty of the Commons).

  • It named 15 towns as staple towns – towns that were restricted in what they could sell to foreign merchants.
    • The towns were Bristol, Canterbury, Carmarthen, Chichester, Cork, Drogheda, Dublin, Exeter, Lincoln, London, Newcastle, Norwich, Waterford, Winchester and York.
  • At these specified privileged places, which were invariably towns, accredited merchants, later to become organized in England as Merchants of the Staple, were required to submit their goods to inspection.
  • In England and Ireland, they were obliged to pay a levy to the Crown on goods for export to the continent of Europe.
    • The system made it easy for local and regional governments to monitor the overseas trade and to levy taxes and derive income and revenue on it.


Edward III’s Irish Coinage

During a period of deep decline in the fortunes of the Norman colony on Ireland, Edward III issued a coinage for Ireland in 1339-40 and the design is similar to that of Edward I but with a star at the beginning of the obverse legend and in the reverse legend.

  • The coinage of Edward III is amongst the rarest of all Irish coinage
  • Only two halfpennies and a single farthing are known
    • one is held by the National Museum of Ireland
    • a second specimen was sold by Whyte’s in their ‘Millennial Sale’ (April 2000)
    • a third specimen is awaiting verification on the PAS database (see image below)
  • The farthing is also held by the National Museum of Ireland
    • It is likely that pennies were also struck but none have been found (yet)

Coins of this issue are easily mistaken for those of Edward I – especially if in poor condition.

  • The key distinguishing difference is that the obverse legends spells out Edward’s name fully : EDWARDVS REX rather than the abreviated form that occurs on the issues of Edward I
Edward III Halfpenny, Dublin mint

Edward III Halfpenny, Dublin mint.

  • Obverse            *EDW ARDV SREX crowned head in triangle
  • Reverse               CIVI —* DVBL IN—
    • (see D.W.Dykes, ‘The Anglo-Irish coinage of Edward III’ BNJ XLVI (1976)


Meanwhile, a third Irish halfpenny of Edward II has recently been found in Hampshire and is being authenticated by the experts at the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in the UK. It has been initially described as

A very worn 14th-century debased silver medieval Irish halfpenny of Edward III, 1339/1340 coinage, struck at Dublin mint (1339-1340 AD; Spink 6269). The coin has suffered some circumferential losses. The wear is differential on the surfaces with the reverse surviving far better

A very worn 14th-century debased silver medieval Irish halfpenny of Edward III, 1339-1340 coinage, struck at Dublin mint (Spink 6269)

A very worn 14th-century debased silver medieval Irish halfpenny of Edward III, 1339-1340 coinage, struck at Dublin mint (Spink 6269)




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