Thursday, 6 June 2013

Currency in the time of Henry II

The important matter to understand about 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.

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 value.


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

1 Pound of Sterling Silver = 1 Tower Pound of Silver

1 Tower Pound =  5400 grains [or 349.91 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 A Study of Legal Tender in England 2009.
History of the English penny (1154–1485) - Wikipedia 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.

Dirk Jan Henstra (2000). The Evolution of the Money Standard in Medieval Frisia: A Treatise on the History of the Systems of Money of Account in the Former Frisia (c.600-c.1500). Uitgeverij Verloren. pp. 7–. ISBN 90-367-1202-5.

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


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

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