Thursday, 6 June 2013

Currency in the time of Henry II

The currency in England in the time of Henry II was the silver penny, a coin made in theory from a pennyweight of sterling silver. The silver penny had already been used in England for several centuries, even before the Conquest of 1066. Weights for it were based on the Tower Pound, [defined as] a standard weight of 5400 grains [ears of dry wheat]. This standard weight was already in use on the continent in the regions of Germany known as Saxony. This standard was also called the Moneyer's pound. A pennyweight was 1/240th portion of the Tower Pound (12 Pennies = 1 Shilling [unit of account only - no coin], and 20 Shillings = 1 Tower Pound). A pennyweight was therefore 22.5 grains. [In France the Tower Pound was known as La Livre de Rochelle or Tournoise]. A master copy of the Tower Pound was kept in the Tower of London by King William I and his heirs, hence its name.

Fine or Standard or Pure Silver was too soft. It had to be hardened for coinage purposes by adding other metals, turning it into an alloy. The alloy used for the coinage was called Sterling Silver, in theory 92.5% fine silver plus 7.5% base metals: tin, copper, lead, a mix, whatever.

The actual weight and silver content of any coin could be reduced by any number of means: clipping, wear and tear, fraudulent minting, debasing the quality of the material used and so forth.

The important matter to understand about the currency was that the royal taxes had to be paid for using the coin of the realm, and not just any coins, but generally the coins of the current king with his head or symbols on them, coins of known and accepted size and weight, and quality, precursor to the concept of legal tender. And if one did not have these particular coins in one's possession one often had to buy or obtain  them from the king's agents, and, of course at profit to the king or his agents. Throughout the kingdom there were licensed moneyers or minters producing these coins, including some bishops.

Once the tax collections had been received, the quality, weight, of the takings, that is the silver content of the coins, were tested for, and their value assayed, and the true value of the takings entered into the "books" [Pipe Rolls] as blanche value. Certain counties were allowed to return taxes by coin count or tale, rather than real silver content value.

Blanche value = White Silver or Fine Silver = de albo argento

Much later than Henry II's time judgement of the fineness of the silver in the coinage was formalised in the ceremony known as the Trial of the Pyx.


1 Pound Sterling Silver = 20 Shillings = 240 Pence  [£ s d]

1 Pound of Sterling Silver = 1 Tower Pound of Silver

1 Tower Pound was closely related to the Troy system but lighter than 1 Troy Pound
[Troy = Troyes in France]

1 Tower Pound = 5400 grains [or 349.91 grams]

1 Pennyweight [Tower Pound] was 1.458 grams

There was only one coin in circulation, namely, the silver penny.  There were no pound coins or shilling coins, or marks. The larger units were therefore only units of account, calculated at these rates: 12 silver pennies = 1 shilling, 160 silver pennies = 1 mark,  240 silver pennies = one pound.

In the Middle East in the Arab domains there was circulating a silver Dirham coin of 45 full grown barley grains. Ten Dirhams made a Wukryeh of 450 grains, which is called an "ounce", from the Latin "uncia".

12 Ounces = 120 Dirhams = 1 Tower Pound

1 Shilling = 270 grains [= 17.4955 grams of silver]

1 Silver Penny = 22.5 grains [= 1.458 grams of silver]

The pennyweight was the weight of a silver penny.

The penny was introduced into England by King Offa, the king of Mercia (from 757 until his death in July 796), using as a model a coin first struck by Pepin the Short. King Offa minted a penny made of silver which weighed 2212 grains or 240 pennies weighing one Saxon pound (or Tower pound—equal to 5,400 grains—as it was afterwards called), hence the term pennyweight..

In the two centuries after 1080 the mass of the penny was kept at 22.5 grains, and from the 8th century(?) to 1971 there were 240 pennies in a (monetary) pound. The Tower pound is equal to the mass of 240 pennies, each of 22.5 grains.

1 Mark = 2/3rds of a Tower Pound = 13s 4d

Silver Penny Henry II of England


In France, in the Touraine,  there was a unit of account called the Sou (or Solidus [Sol]). The Denier was the currency minted in the city of Tours. 12 Deniers = 1 Sou.

20 Sous = 1 Livre Tournois

The livre tournois was a value of account of 240 deniers or 20 sous.

1 Livre Tournois was about 409 grams of silver. The actual silver content  of the Denier was variable.

Denier féodal Abbaye de Saint Martin de Tours -Touraine XIIè


Henry II Tealby
Cross-and-Crosslets (“Tealby”) Coinage, 1158-1180
Spink (or Seaby) coin numbers 1337 - 1342

Short Cross
Short Cross Coinage
Spink (or Seaby) coin numbers 1343 - 1357

G. C. Brooke
The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society
Fifth Series, Vol. 7, No. 28 (1927), pp. 313-341
Published by: Royal Numismatic Society

British Numismatic Journal 1918 pp 13-37

British Numismatic Journal 1915 (Vol. 11) pp 59-100
L. A. Lawrence The Short Cross coinage, 1180 to 1247

British Numismatic Journal 2003 pp 76-88

The Tealby hoard pot – a little waster with a long life

Allen, D. F., Catalogue of the English coins in the British Museum. Henry II, Cross-and-Crosslets type, London, 1951.
The Cross-And-Crosslets Or "Tealby" Coinage


Archaeologia, Volume 18
1817 , pp. 1-8
I. A Description of a large Collection of Pennies of Henry II. discovered at Tealby, in Lincolnshire. By Taylor Combe, Esq. Director. Sec. R.S.;view=2up;seq=22;skin=mobile

History of the English penny (1154–1485) - Wikipedia

George Lyttelton Baron Lyttelton (1768). The History [of The] Life of King Henry the Second, and of the Age in which He Lived: G. Faulkner. pp. 532–40.

Christopher Harper-Bill; Nicholas Vincent (2007). "Martin Allen: Henry II and the English Coinage". Henry II: New Interpretations. Boydell Press. pp. 257–77. ISBN 978-1-84383-340-6.

Martin Allen (2012). Mints and Money in Medieval England. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-01494-7. A Study of Legal Tender in England 2009.
History of the English penny (1154–1485) - Wikipedia
English coin database UK 2012.
English Coin Database - Henry II Tealby Penny.

Anglo-Norman Studies 34
Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2011
Edited by David Bates
July 2012, Pages: 288
Published by: Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer
eISBN: 978-1-84615-971-8
Martin Allen
Pages: 1-22
In 1066 England had a highly developed coinage, which was left almost untouched by the Norman Conquest, in the short term at least. The system documented by Domesday Book in 1086 is essentially that of Edward the Confessor in 1066, with large numbers of moneyers in dozens of urban centres minting silver pennies and making profits for the king and local magnates, lay and ecclesiastical. The moneyers paid fees to obtain their coin dies in London, and the designs on the dies were regularly changed to generate more income from the issue of coins to people who needed money of...

John Craig. The Mint: A History of the London Mint from A.D. 287 to 1948. Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-0-521-17077-2.


Dumas Françoise. La monnaie dans les domaines Plantagenêt. In: Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 29e année (n°113-114), Janvier-juin 1986. Y a-t-il une civilisation du monde plantagenêt ? Actes du Colloque d'Histoire Médiévale. Fontevraud, 26-28 avril 1984. pp. 53-59.
DOI : 10.3406/ccmed.1986.2315

Silver production and the money supply in England and Wales, 1086–c. 1500
The Economic History Review
Vol. 64, No. 1 (FEBRUARY 2011), pp. 114-131
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society
Stable URL:
An Inquiry to Show, What Was the Ancient English Weight and Measure According to the Laws or Statutes, Prior to the Reign of Henry the Seventh
Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775)
Vol. 65 (1775), pp. 48-58
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL:

Duncan Connors (2016). A History of Money. University of Wales Press. pp. 318–. ISBN 978-1-78316-311-3.


At Christmas 1124 Henry I summoned all the moneyers of the realm to Winchester, to an "Assize of Moneyers". Edge-clipping of coins had been rife and forgery was common. Furthermore the many of the minters themselves were producing underweight coins using debased silver mixed with lead. Two thirds of the minters ( 94 of them) summoned to appear were found guilty at the Assize and convicted of producing substandard coins, and had their right hands cut off and one testicle removed in punishment.

But during the reign of Stephen the king lost control over the quality of the coinage. Following the anarchy and at the beginning of the reign of Henry II the quality both of the design and production of coins in England had deteriorated even further.

During fourth year of his reign, in 1158, Henry II began a programme to rectify matters. He introduced a major reform of the coinage. There was a comprehensive replacement of all the coins in circulation. The number of minters licensed to produce coins in the land reduced to 4. Contemporary chroniclers recorded that 'a new money was made, which was the sole currency of the kingdom.' This coinage is called by modern numismatists Tealby Pennies after a hoard discovered in Lincolnshire in 1807. The coins are approximately the same size as US one cent pieces with a representation of the head of Henry II on them, with cross and crosslets. For the first time the king's name was placed on English coins. They were used the calculations in the Exchequer's Pipe Rolls [tax returns]. During this programme of reform Henry was ably assisted by Richard FitzNeal, natural son of the bishop of Ely, and who had been appointed Lord High Treasurer.  These measures were successful in improving the king's income. Further reforms were introduced later in 1160.

Debasement of the coinage was a constant problem during the Middle Ages and there had been two general ways to counter this: recoinage and/or the payment of certain fixed taxes using  blanched money where  the coins were melted down, the silver they contained blanched, to ascertain its fineness and freedom from alloy. Hence a payment in 'blank' or 'blanched' money, meant a payment of so many pounds of tried and tested, and genuinely assayed silver.

By the reforms he hoped to reverse Gresham' Law, by flushing out the old bad money out of circulation and to implement a standard pattern in the coinage.

Seigniorage is the profit or revenue raised through coining or printing money.

Henry II's recoinage in 1180

Christopher Harper-Bill; Nicholas Vincent (2007). Henry II: New Interpretations. Boydell Press. pp. 257–. ISBN 978-1-84383-340-6.

G.J. White. Restoration and Reform, 1153-1165. Cambridge University Press. pp. 159–. ISBN 978-1-139-42523-0.

G. J. Turner The Sheriff's Farm
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
New Series, Vol. 12, (1898), pp. 117-149

Sally Harvey (2014). Domesday: Book of Judgement. 6. Coinage, Treasury and the "Exchequer": Oxford University Press. pp. 137–. ISBN 978-0-19-966978-3.

N.J Mayhew writes in

N. J. Mayhew (1999). Sterling: the rise and fall of a currency. Allen Lane. ISBN 978-0-7139-9258-8. p. 11

"Ever since Anglo-Saxon times there had always been a special link between kingship and the currency. Coinage was one of the special rights and duties of the king. Political sovereignty and the control of the currency [and consequently taxation] have always gone hand in hand."

The history of the Trial of the Pyx

Trial of the Pyx - Wikipedia

No comments:

Post a Comment