O’Brien Coin Guide: The Unknown Irish Penny of Edward III


Introduction:

In numismatic terms ‘unknown’ means that none have been found – therefore asking the question “did they ever exist?” There are many instances where we know of a king commanding that coinage be produced but none have been found.

Ironically, when ‘one’ is found, we begin to ask another set of questions:

  • Is it genuine?
    • Did it circulate, or is it a test piece, or pattern?
  • Is it a contemporary (medieval) counterfeit?
    • e.g. O’Reilly’s Money
  • Or, is it a modern forgery?

The Unknown Irish Coinage of Edward III

The ‘unknown’ coinage of Edward III is one such instance. For example, we know he issued farthings and halfpennies for Ireland in 1339-40 but they are exceedingly rare – only one farthing is known and two (possibly three) halfpennies exist.

  • 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

The Irish coins of Edward III 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

  • Obverse            *EDW ARDV SREX crowned head in triangle
  • Reverse               CIVI —* DVBL IN—

 


 

Patent 1304 (ut e libro rubro Scaccarii Dublinii intelligimus)

Magister Gulielmus de Wimundham custos Cambiorum Domini Regis in Anglia, dc pracccpto venerabilis patris Bathoniensis & Wcllensis episcopi, Thesaurarii eiusdem Domini Regis, misit Domino Gulielmo de Essenden, Thesaurario in Hibernia, 24 pecias cuneorum, pro moneta ibi facienda viz. tres pilas cum sex cruceilis pro denariis, tres pilas cum sex cruceilis, pro obolis, & duas pilas cum quatuor cruceilis, pro ferlingis, per Johannem le Minor, Thomam Dowle & Johannem de Shordich clericos, de societatc operariorum & monetariorum London, per eosdem, ad monetam praedictam operandam & monetandam.’

In his proclamation of 133?, he also ordered that pennies be minted in Ireland but none have been found (yet). It is indeed interesting that Edward’s Irish colony was so poor, albeit after enduring the ravages of the Bruce Invasion (1315-18) and a series of bad harvest + famine (1330-31), that he only considered issuing farthings, halfpennies and pennies. Almost half of his colonists were absentee landlords, their estates in Ireland were falling apart due to neglect and the native Irish were re-taking those lands – via military means or via political marriages.

During the early part of his reign in England, he was issuing coinage of similar quality to those of his predecessors but in 1335, his English farthings and halfpennies were well below that .925 Sterling standard. It is, perhaps, no surprise that in 1336, following the introduction of the debased coinage of halfpennies and farthings in England a year earlier, the Council seems to have thought seriously about a resumption of Anglo-Irish coinage and to have taken the first positive steps towards it.

  • On 2 May the Irish treasurer, John de Ellerker, was instructed to make the necessary arrangements for miners, refiners, coiners, and other workers, whom it was planned to send to Ireland, to search out ‘a silver mine in those parts and to make money there’.
  • The following day John de Windsor, warden of the London mint, was ordered to have twelve pairs of dies made for halfpennies and a similar number for farthings and sent to Ellerker so that ‘money of halfpennies and farthings shall be made at the Dublin Mint for the King and his people of these parts’.
    • It is not without significance that the coins were to be of the same standard as those currently being produced in London, i.e. 10 ounce fine silver.
  • On 4 May a further instruction was issued, this time to the Sheriff of Devon and ‘Keeper of the King’s Mine in that country’ that two miners and two refiners together with the requisite instruments should be sent to Ireland to operate the new mines.
    • It seems, however, that all this activity came to nothing.
    • For some reason—local hostility and suspicion coupled no doubt with difficulties in procuring sufficient silver following the re-coinages of Edward I and the exhaustion of the island’s treasure for the general purposes of the Crown—the plan did not go through.

It was, indeed, not for another two years, after Edward III had laid claim to the Crown of France and needed the maximum revenue from Ireland, that more was heard of it.

  • On 29 June 1338 an order was issued by the King to John Rees, the treasurer appointed to Ireland the previous year in the wake of a royal purge of the Colony’s administration, to make provision for ‘the work of the miners, refiners, stampers and other workmen, whom the King is sending to Ireland to seek for silver mines there and make money there, as was agreed by the King and his Council’.
  • Simultaneously, instructions were issued to John de Flete, the current warden of the London mint, to have eight pairs of dies for sterlings to be made and similarly for halfpence and farthings
    • John Rees was told that the coins should be struck at Dublin.
    • John de Flete carried out his instructions, and on 25 March 1339 special arrangements were made for the dies to be taken to Ireland ‘in a bag under the Chancellor’s Seal’ by Peter de Okeburn.
  • The dies duly arrived and minting operations began at Dublin under the supervision of the Irish treasurer acting also, rather surprisingly in view of his status, as warden of the mint.
    • The Dublin mint was, however, a comparatively short-lived affair.
    • Already by June 1339 the Council was changing its attitude to the circulation of ‘Turneys’ which only three months earlier it had proscribed outright.
    • On 2 June an instruction was issued that ‘Turneys’ might be accepted as currency ‘until the King shall have caused other money to be made’.
      • A ‘Turney’ is a corruption of the word ‘Tournois’ which was, in turn, defined as a coin minted at Tours, in France.
      • These French coins circulated freely in Ireland up to the time when they were outlawed by Edward III in 1338
Anglo-Gallic, Edward III (1327-62, 1372-7), Gros Tournois au léopard au dessus, cross potent between annulets within castle, hammerhead on l of anglie, 2.23g

Anglo-Gallic, Edward III (1327-62, 1372-7), Gros Tournois au léopard au dessus, cross potent between annulets within castle, hammerhead on l of anglie, 2.23g

The studied vagueness over any timetable for a new coinage less than ten weeks after the dispatch of dies to Ireland, and the hint of more than a purely temporary toleration of inferior ‘continental’ coin suggest that some review of the Mint was taking place and that a suspension of operation was contemplated.

  • In November 1340 Rees was required to surrender his dies to the English treasurer but it is patent from the order that the Dublin mint had already been closed, probably for some time.
    • When the actual closure took place is not known but it is tempting to date it not later than 12 August 1339 when Rees gave up the office of Treasurer of Ireland and presumably also his subsidiary post of warden of the mint, no doubt yet another victim of the repeated shake-ups of both the English and Irish administrations in the stresses of the French War.

During the 13th C, the function of the Anglo-Irish coinage was not primarily to serve the needs of the colony but rather to be ‘siphoned off’ for the general requirements of the Crown as a supplement to the output of the English mints.

There can be little doubt that this was the real reason for the opening of the Dublin mint in 1338 at the start of the campaigns in France. A grand idea in theory, but the economic situation was certainly not favourable towards issuing any coinage in quantity

  • The Lordship of Ireland’s silver reserves were exhausted
  • Edward’s colony in Ireland was virtually bankrupt
  • The monetary policy that the Crown adopted was such that the traditional system served little purpose

Furthermore, changes in the Irish administration and the consequent uncertainty of office cannot have assured the Dublin mint any really practicable existence. It must be remembered too that the new coinage seems in practice to have been restricted to halfpennies and farthings although the possibility of pennies turning up one day cannot be ruled out.

The monetary poverty and economic decline of his Irish colony was in stark contrast to that of England during the 1340’s when Edward III issued his Third Coinage, including the following (comparatively) high value coins:

Henry III’s Third (English) Coinage 1344-51

  • Silver
    • Farthing, Halfpenny, Penny
  • Gold
    • Half-Florin, Florin and Double-Florin
    • Quarter-Noble, Half-Noble, Noble

Henry III’s Fourth (English) Coinage 1351-1377

  • Silver
    • Farthing, Halfpenny, Penny, Half-Groat, Groat
  • Gold
    • Quarter-Noble, Half-Noble, Noble

Transitional Treaty Period (English) Coinages 1361

  • Silver
    • Halfpenny, Penny, Half-Groat
  • Gold
    • Quarter-Noble, Half-Noble, Noble

Treaty Period (English) Coinages 1361-1369

  • Silver
    • Farthing, Halfpenny, Penny, Half-Groat, Groat
  • Gold
    • Quarter-Noble, Half-Noble, Noble

Post-Treat Period (English) Coinages 1369-1377

  • Silver
    • Farthing, Penny, Half-Groat, Groat
  • Gold
    • Half-Noble, Noble

 

A non-Numismatic Aside:

Edward III Bans Football

Yes, its a bit ‘off topic’ (for coin collectors and numismatic students) but on 12th June 1349, King Edward III of England banned the game of football by royal decree, alongside other recreational activities, because of the specific worry that it distracted his people from practicing archery. Although this sounds a little strange, archery was actually essential to 14th century warfare, and so to the strength of Edward’s army, which was badly affected by the Black Death, a ravaging pandemic that peaked around this time.

  • The Black Death arrived in England, via Weymouth, Dorset in June 1348 (Gascony)
    • By autumn, the plague had reached London
      • By summer 1349, it covered the entire country
        • A death rate of 40-60% of the entire pop. of England is accepted
  • The Black Death arrived in Ireland, via Dalkey in August 1348 ()
    • It seems to have reached Cork sometime in the summer of 1349
      • It has been estimated that 25-35% of the population died in Ireland
        • The Black Death had relatively little impact on the Gaelic Irish in the rural areas, which further tilted the balance of power against the Norman colonists in Ireland

It should also be explained that the sort of football that the King tried to ban was very different to football today. In the 14th century forms of folk—or mob, or Shrovetide—football were very popular among the common man. Rules were few and far between, and really it was very loosely organised chaos with lots of players.

Often neighbouring towns and villages would play matches against one another, with the aim of kicking an inflated pig’s bladder into their opponent’s church by any means necessary. Teams would number in the thousands, goals could be miles apart and violence, even death, was part and parcel of the whole experience.

  • In many ways, it was like a miniature rural war, so it is unsurprising that the country’s rulers were none-too-keen on it all
  • Does this remind anyone of any modern ‘inter-parish’ sport in Ireland???

The actual text of Edward’s 1349 ban is lost, but a later decree (issued in 1363) carries a similar message:

“We ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cockfighting, or other such idle games.”

The GAA wasn’t founded until 1884 but I wonder if anyone in Norman Ireland played football or handball. I now also wonder if the Normans introduced football and handball to Ireland. Apparently, French Kings of the time were also trying to stamp out the popularity of medieval mob football in their lands.

  • Perhaps one of our GAA historians would like to comment.

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