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England's Hundred Years' War Hammered Gold

On June 26 Spink will herald summer with a remarkable offering of medieval English hammered gold coins. The Isladulcie Collection charts the Hundred Years’ War. This on-again, off-again conflict was fought from 1340 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England, against the ruling French House of Valois. It would see some extraordinary English victories including the battles of Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, but would also result in some disastrous routs including those inflicted by Joan of Arc. At stake was the question of who was the rightful King of France.

Shortly after war broke out Edward III introduced England’s first successful gold coinage based on the noble of 138 grains valued at six shillings and eight pence. It was a prestige coin and would continue to be struck by successive English rulers for much of the remainder of the war. It would be produced in a variety of classes and types. From time to time its obverse legend would bear reference to the claim that the current English monarch was the true King of France.

The Isladulcie Collection traces the numismatic history of the coin. In assembling it every effort was lent to making it as comprehensive as the market would allow. Almost every Spink catalog listing of class and type of the gold coinage from 1346 to 1483 is included resulting in the 97 coins on offer in the June sale.

Desirable Edward III noble from the pre-Treaty period

Desirable Edward III noble from the pre-Treaty period (S-1488) struck at the Tower Mint. The obverse legend reads: EDWARD DEI GRA REX ANGL Z FRANC D HIB [Edward by the Grace of God King of England and France, Lord of Ireland]. (Image courtesy and © Spink London.)

Appropriately the catalog commences with some 44 lots of gold coins of Edward III. These comprise examples of almost every entry in Spink for the gold coinage of Edward’s entire reign. They include all denominations from noble, half noble to quarter noble. These span the initial issues of 1344-46 and 1346-51, pre-Treaty coins of 1351-61, transitional coinage of 1361, Treaty issues of 1361-69, and post-Treaty coins of 1369-77. The obverse legends spell-out Edward’s claims to the French title and/or province of Aquitaine. Differences indicate whether he was actively at war, conducting treaty negotiations or formally at peace.

Edward’s heir apparent, The Black Prince, predeceased his father and the throne was inherited by Edward’s 10-year-old grandson Richard II. He is well represented in the sale by a range of issues especially those of his type II to IV coinages. Once again these come in nobles, half noble and quarter noble denominations.

Half Noble of Richard II, Tower Mint

Half noble of Richard II, Tower Mint, (S-1667). Image courtesy and © Spink London.

Some show the French title while others do not, in part reflecting the little interest Richard had in a serious war with the French. In 1399 his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke, son of Richard’s late uncle and supporter John of Gaunt, deposed Richard and had himself crowned Henry IV.

Light coinage noble of Henry IV, Tower Mint

Light coinage noble of Henry IV, Tower Mint (S-1715). Legend claims French crown and lordship of Aquitaine. Image courtesy and © Spink London.

The preceding year the English Treasury had been forced to revise the weight standards of the coinage - the noble was lowered by 13 grains and the penny by three grains. This was done partly because of a bullion shortage but also to provide additional revenue for the king.

The Isladulcie Collection, unfortunately, contains no examples of Henry’s heavy coinage (1399-1412). These are notoriously rare. It is, however, a treasure trove of examples covering the full range of light issues so far identified for Henry’s reign.

The collection’s coverage of the subsequent reigns of Henry V and Henry VI is somewhat less extensive but the condition of the coins on offer is stronger and includes highly collectible examples of scarce rosette-mascle and leaf-mascle issues.

The conclusion of the Hundred Years’ War in 1453 was quickly succeeded by the outbreak of War of the Roses (1455–1485). For the next several decades the country’s energies and resources would be largely preoccupied with this civil conflict. There was little time or money available to engage with the perfidious French.

England’s change of focus is reflected in the coinage of the reigns of Edward IV (1461-70; 1471-1483) and Henry VI’s brief restoration (1470-71). The noble is replaced with the heavier rose-noble or ryal (of 10 shillings) and, subsequently, the lighter angel (valued at 6s 8d).

Ryal or rose-noble of Edward IV’s first reign, Tower Mint (S-1950). French claim stands in the legend. Image courtesy and © Spink London.

Ryal or rose-noble of Edward IV’s first reign, Tower Mint (S-1950). French claim stands in the legend. Image courtesy and © Spink London.

Angel from Edward IV’s second reign

Angel from Edward IV’s second reign also claiming French crown (S-2091). Image courtesy and © Spink London.

Examples of both coins are included in the sale, which concludes with the death of Edward IV and some of the last angel and fractional angel issues of his reign.

The catalog was very much a work in progress at the time of writing. Spink ‘S’ numbers and coin grades remained to be confirmed along with estimates. Full details should now be posted on the Spink website:

Condition is somewhat mixed throughout and prospective bidders can likely pick up examples of medieval hammered gold for as little as a few hundred dollars. The key highlights, however, are anticipated to likely fetch in excess of $10,000 apiece many having solid historic provenances.