O’Brien Rare Coin Review: Edward VI’s Irish Shilling


Edward VI was crowned King of England and Ireland on crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. During Edward’s reign, the realm was governed by a Regency Council because he never reached his majority.

The Council was first led by his uncle Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset (1547–1549), and then by John Dudley, 1st Earl of Warwick, from 1551 Duke of Northumberland.

  • His short reign only lasted 6 years
  • He was the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour
  • Edward VI was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty
  • Edward VI was also England’s first monarch raised as a Protestant

Edward’s reign was marked by economic problems and social unrest that, in 1549, erupted into riot and rebellion. An expensive war with Scotland, at first successful, ended with military withdrawal from Scotland as well as Boulogne-sur-Mer in exchange for peace.

Edward VI of England

Edward, who took great interest in religious matters. Although his father, Henry VIII, had severed the link between the Church of England and Rome, Henry VIII had never permitted the renunciation of Catholic doctrine or ceremony. It was during Edward’s reign that Protestantism was established for the first time in England with reforms that included the abolition of clerical celibacy and the Mass and the imposition of compulsory services in English. The architect of these reforms was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose Book of Common Prayer is still used.

In February 1553, at age 15, Edward fell ill. When his sickness was discovered to be terminal, he and his Council drew up a “Devise for the Succession”, attempting to prevent the country’s return to Catholicism.

  • Edward named his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey
  • He excluded his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth
    • Following Edward’s death, Queen Jane was deposed by Mary within 13 days

Henry VIII’s Legacy

The main reason for Edward’s economic problems was the massive disruption caused by his father, Henry VIII’s policies. Most people think of Henry VIII’s wives as being his prime motive for breaking with the Catholic Church but there was much more to it than that. In reality, however, the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries at home eliminated key pillars of resistance against the forces of nationalism, absolutism and capitalism.

  • England ceased to be part of a huge, medieval, cross-channel European empire and instead became an independent sovereign nation-state, free from the authority of any foreign potentate, i.e. the Pope.
    • The dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s consolidated monarchical absolutism and created the conditions for capitalism.
    • Henry handed over much of the confiscated land to the barons in return for their political support but this included much ‘common land’ – hence the social unrest when .
      • Henry VIII and his son Edward VI re-distributed one quarter of national wealth at the expense of the peasantry.
      • The triple effect was :-
        • to curb the social and educational functions of monastic orders,
        • channel wealth and income to the Crown
        • and concentrate land ownership in the hands of the nobility, local magnates and the newly landed gentry.
  • By removing the mediation of the church and other associative institutions, the central state and the free market came to collude at the expense of civil society, local communities and personal welfare.
    • By eliminating the monasteries and cutting ties with the papacy, Henry established a monarchical power that commanded unprecedented fiscal control and military might – the basis for his foreign policy of ‘adventurism’ which further isolated England from the rest of Europe.
      • This process of “primitive accumulation” created a surplus wealth that was used for financial speculation abroad.
      • Thus capitalism was born.
      • Ironically, Henry VIII’s quest for national sovereignty made England more dependent on foreign markets than ever before.
        • This, in turn, led him to create ways of making his assets go further.
        • This resulted in a series of de-based coinages which gave him short term advantages at home but longer term disadvantages abroad.
        • The “boom and bust” cyclical economy was born!
  • During Edward VI’s reign, the realm was governed by a Regency Council, i.e. his father’s men, so Henry VIII’s policies became Edward VI’s policies.
    • Perhaps this is why Edward VI’s first coinage was a series of coins issued in the name of his dead father, Henry VIII, and displaying his fathers image

Edward VI’s de-based Shillings:

Two years after the death of his father, Edward VI issued the first of a series of de-based silver shillings. This resulted in a huge uproar but he continued to issue shillings of ever decreasing intrinsic value.

  • The First Issue (8 oz. fine 60 gr.) – February 1549
    • The main purpose of the Posthumous Issue of Henry VIII and Edward’s Shilling was ‘at first, the flooding of the country with the base coinage of Henry VIII, and later, their re-coinage into still baser money.
  • The Second Issue (6 oz. fine 80 gr.) – April 1549
    • This second period of the coinage opened with the Proclamation of 24 January 1549 (Harley MS. 38) ‘stating that the King, to the intent that money might be more plentifully and richly made’ … clearly untrue and the public were not amused!
  • The Third Issue (3 oz. fine 80 gr.) – June 1550
    • Coins of this issue bore one of four marks : harp, lys, rose, and lion
    • The ‘harp’ has been attributed to the Dublin mint
      • The plan was to coin 20,000 lb. weight of silver to provide a profit of £160,000 and with this to pay off pressing debts of the administration and also to build up a fund for buying bullion

Edward VI’s Irish Shilling:

Despite the unpopularity of his increasingly de-based shillings in England, Edward VI’s regency council went ahead with an issue for Ireland, with a distinctive ‘Harp’ mintmark.

  • These shillings were struck as a result of an indenture dated 27 June 1552 when Martin Pirry was under-treasurer at Dublin.
    • The indenture states that the shillings were to be struck at 3 oz. fine and 72s. per lb.
  • The engraver at Dublin was Henry Coldwell, a London goldsmith.
    • The dies which he produced are all dated 1552
    • All are marked mint mark ‘harp’ obverse and reverse

The distinguishing feature of these dies is the very neat lettering, due to the use of small letter punches. Mixed lettering was used, but the Lombardic style predominates. Although the die was good, most specimens were weakly struck.

  • Under-treasurer, Martin Pirry, struck £32,400 of 3 oz. coins in Dublin in 1552

These ‘harp’ mint mark shillings have an average of 70 grains, i.e. they are underweight.

Edward VI's Irish Shilling, dated MDLII (1552), third period, mintmark 'harp'. Very rare.

Edward VI’s Irish Shilling, dated MDLII (1552), third period, mintmark ‘harp’. Very rare.


  • Edward VI profile bust
  • mintmark (‘harp’ for 1552 Irish issue)


  • crowned arms with

All of these Dublin mint shillings are very rare.

  • Many have a ‘countermark’ of a ‘seated greyhound’
  • This ‘countermark’ denotes that the coin was devalued to 2¼d. in 1561
    • a devaluation of more than 81%
    • a financial disaster for anyone that held a significant number of them
Coin dated MDLI or MDLII (1551 or 1552), third period, countermarked 1560. Obv: profile bust with EDWARD VI D G AGL FRA Z HIB REX legend and uncertain mintmark ('lis' or 'rose' for 1551 English issue, 'harp' for 1552 Irish issue); countermarked with seated greyhound punch. Rev: crowned arms with TIMOR DOMINI FONS VITE M D L I [I?] legend. 3.48 grams. Coin worn, sometime bent and straightened; countermark fair. Very rare.

Edward VI’s Irish Shilling, dated MDLII (1552), third period, countermarked 1560 (during the reign of Elizabeth I), 3.48 grams.  The coin illustrated above is worn, at some time bent and subsequently straightened; countermark fair. Very rare.


  • Edward VI profile bust
  • uncertain mintmark (‘harp’ for 1552 Irish issue)
  • countermarked with seated greyhound punch.


  • crowned arms

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