Monetary Crisis (1460), as Henry VI fixes exchange rates for foreign coins in Ireland


Introduction:

The price of gold rose from the 1430s onward, so gold coins were worth more in Europe than in England, which resulted in a gold shortage in England as coins were exported for profit.

This is known as an ‘arbitrage market’ and is also an early example of Gresham’s Law – it caused a lot of damage to the English economy and there was little the could do to stop it – apart from devalue their own currency by minting lighter coins, or debasing their coins by altering the content.

English kings, since the time of John, had pillaged the silver money supply in Ireland to pay for their wars and castle-building in England, Wales and France. This time, the threat to Irish money supply came from the continent and Henry’s English parliamentary advisors suggested closer alignment with English exchange rates as a solution for Ireland, i.e. to stop Irish silver hemorrhaging to the continent, rather than to the English coffers.

Proclamation 38 of Henry VI, c. 40 (1460

That, whereas in this land foreign coins had not been usually received, to the great hurt of the said land : It is ordained by authority of the said Parliament that the Rider of lawful weight be received at and of the value of four shillings ; the Ducat of full weight at and of the value of four shillings and twopence ; the Lion of lawful weight at and of the value of four shillings and twopence; the Burgundy Noble at and of the value of six shillings and eightpence ; the Crown at and of the value of three shillings and fourpence ; and the Salute of lawful weight at and of the value of four shillings and twopence. And if any of the said gold coins or the English noble, half-noble and quadrant of gold be not of the full weight to be abated accordingly to the rate, and so to be received.

Henry VI. AD 1460 exchange rates for gold coins in Ireland

Henry VI. AD 1460 exchange rates for gold coins in Ireland


The presence of the above coins in Ireland at this time gives a good indication of the trade links with continental Europe and, possibly, the origins of the merchants operating here.

Notes:

Scottish Gold Rider (1460-88)

The first king of Scots to produce his own coinage was David I (1124–53). In 1136 he captured Carlisle, including its English mint and nearby silver mines from Stephen, King of England. He struck silver pennies, which were similar to those Stephen struck for England, at Carlisle, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Roxburgh and Berwick.

For the next two centuries, the continued use of a profile, as opposed to the facing portrait, was about all that distinguished Scottish coins from their English counterparts. In particular, the reverse types of Scottish coins followed the English Tealby, short cross, and long cross designs. Moreover, Scottish coins followed English weight standards, allowing the two coinages to circulate alongside one another.

  • David II of Scotland ended the parity between Scottish and English coins, resulting in an English proclamation banning the lower quality Scottish coins from England in 1356.
    • David II’s attempt to introduce gold coins to Scotland by copying the English noble was a failure
  • Robert III of Scotland continued to devalue Scottish coins, making them worth one-half of their English counterparts by 1392. He also replaced the profile bust on the obverse of Scottish coins with a facing head, which made his coins much easier to confuse with the more valuable English issues
    • Robert III successfully introduced the gold lion, which showed St. Andrew crucified on his X shaped cross.

Under James III of Scotland English influence of Scottish coinage gave way to Burgundian models, with both his gold rider and silver plack. He is best remembered, however, for the realistic portraits on his silver groat. James III also introduced the gold unicorn. This was one of a long series of coin types which characterized continuing changes in standard and revaluations of Scottish coinage. Ordinances required Scots to turn in their old coins in exchange for new issues struck to a lower standard, thereby providing a profit to the king.

Gold Rider - James III of Scotland (1460 to 1488)

Gold Rider – James III of Scotland (1460 to 1488)

  • Gold Rider – James III of Scotland (1460 to 1488)
    • Under James III, four new denominations of gold coin were introduced. The first of these was the gold rider, named after the equestrian figure of the king appearing on the obverse. The gold rider was introduced at 23 shillings but confusion over weight standards and relative values resulted in these coins ending in failure and they were replaced by the unicorn of eighteen shillings.
      • Weight: Approx. 5.1g
      • Fineness: Approx. 21 carat gold
        • They were eventually valued at 5 shillings & nine pence in Scotland
        • They had an exchange rate of 4 shillings in Ireland
    • There was also a half rider, and a quarter rider.
    • About 1484, also under James III, a gold Unicorn was introduced, with a face value of eighteen shillings – issued too late to be relevant to this proclamation.

 

Other “foreign” gold coins circulating in Ireland in sufficient numbers to arouse the interest of the English king were:

Ducat ?

Ducat of full weight at and of the value of four shillings and two pence (4/2d). At this value, these coins were probably similar in size / weight to the Burgundy Lion

Gold ducats were used all over Europe at one time or another but the first of these coins to be so-named came from the Italian states in the 14th C.

  • Since Italian bankers had been active (and resident) in Ireland since the reign of King John, it is not unreasonable to suppose that Italian ducats were in circulation among the wealthier merchant classes of Norman Ireland.
15th C gold ducats of various Italian States - some with French rulers

15th C gold ducats of various Italian States – some with French rulers

By the 1480’s the Crusader Knights of Rhodes were also minting Ducats (approx. 3.5g) and this helped establish the coin type as a pan-European staple for trade and commerce.

Burgundy Lion (1454-60)

Lion of lawful weight at and of the value of four shillings and two pence (4/2d)

These coins were struck in Bruges and, at 4.22 grammes (0.15 ounce), it was a little under two-thirds the weight of the popular Burgundy noble. It provides clues regarding the independent and defiant, as well as flamboyant, personality of the reigning Duke, ‘Philip the Good’ of Burgundy and also reflects the economic ties between the Normans in Ireland and their French counterparts.

Gold Lion - a Belgian coin (a lion of gold) which was minted in Bruges by Philip the Good of Burgundy

Gold Lion – a Belgian coin, minted in Bruges by ‘Philip the Good’ of Burgundy

Burgundy Noble (1419-67)

Burgundy Noble at and of the value of six shillings and eight pence (6/8d)

The noble was the first English gold coin produced in quantity, having been preceded by the gold penny and the florin earlier in the reigns of King Henry III and King Edward III, which saw little circulation. The derivatives of the noble, the half noble and quarter noble, on the other hand, were produced in quantity and were very popular.

  • The value of the coin was six shillings and eight pence (written 6/8d), which was equivalent to eighty old pence or one-third of a new pound sterling.
  • The weight was changed from issue to issue to maintain this value until 1464 when the value was increased.

Philip the Good was Duke of Burgundy as Philip III from 1419 until his death. He was a member of a cadet line of the Valois dynasty, to which all the 15th-century kings of France belonged. During his reign, Burgundy reached the apex of its prosperity and prestige and became a leading center of the arts.

Gold noble of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy 1422-67

Gold noble of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy 1422-67

Salute

The gold salute was an Anglo-Gallic coin minted for use by Henry VI in France. It would have been in common usage among Norman merchant traders in France, England, Wales and Ireland during the 15th C.

Anglo-Gallic, Henry VI, 1422-1461. Salut d'or (26mm, 3.49g)

Anglo-Gallic, Henry VI, 1422-1461. Salut d’or (26mm, 3.49g)

Crown ?

Crown at and of the value of three shillings and fourpence (3/4d).

 

English Noble

And if any of the said gold, or of the English noble, demi-noble, or quadrant (quarter noble) of gold, be not of full weight, that a proportionable abatement should be made.

  • The value of an English Noble was set at eight shillings and four pence (8/6d)
Henry VI Gold Noble, annulet issue, 6.94g 34.2mm

Henry VI Gold Noble, annulet issue, 6.94g 34.2mm

Henry VI Gold Half Noble, London Mint, 3.47g 26.6mm

Henry VI Gold Half Noble, London Mint, 3.47g 26.6mm

Henry VI Quarter Noble, London Mint, 1.67g 19.3mm

Henry VI Quarter Noble, London Mint, 1.67g 19.3mm

As England’s European trade steadily increased during the 14th and 15th centuries large quantities of English coins which were known for their quality, good weight and metal fineness ended up in Europe, despite attempts to control their movement.

  • Gold Nobles were so popular that they were imitated and produced in the Low Countries (now Belgium and Holland), but the style was quite different.

When Edward IV re-modelled his coinage in 1465 he found it expedient to strike a new denomination in the style of the old noble which had become so popular abroad.

  • The result was the rose noble of higher value and weight, a coin even more popular than its predecessor, and eventually one of the main currencies of northern Europe.
  • In these circumstances it is not surprising to find that it too was extensively imitated.

 

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