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Coins of the English Commonwealth 1649 - 1660  by  Robert Tonner.


Oliver Cromwell gold broad 1656 of twenty shillings

BACKGROUND:

In the summer of 1642 civil war broke out in England under the reign of Charles I.

On 30 January 1649 Charles I, who was king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1625-1649 was
publicly beheaded at Whitehall London, being the first and only English monarch to be lawfully executed.  Charles I had been tried for treason and his death warrant had been signed by three persons which included Oliver Cromwell.

The trial and execution of Charles I was one of the most controversial events in history.  Charles I was to be tried by 135 Judges but only 68 turned up for the trial.  No one wanted to be the Chief Judge for the trial and eventually the position was allocated to John Bradshaw who was a lawyer.  John Bradshaw knew that putting the king on trial for treason was not popular and fearing for his own life he made a special hat which had metal inside it to protect his head against any attack.

At the trial Charles I refused to defend himself or to take off his own hat which was an insult to the Court.  The Court was packed with soldiers and when the judgment of the Court was read out Charles I then tried to defend himself but was told his chance to do so had gone and he was bundled out of the court room and executed three days later.

On the day of the execution the sentence was delayed till the afternoon as the man who was allocated to execute the King refused to do so for fear of  future reprisals.  Eventually an executioner and an assistant were found and paid 100 pounds on the condition that they wore masks to hide their identity.

At his execution Charles I worn a heavy tunic/waistcoat as he did not want to let the crowd see if he trembled prior to his execution.  The tunic with its blood stains still present can be found in the Museum of London and is shown below:



The execution was attended by the Royal surgeon who subsequently sewed the King’s head back on to his neck prior to his secret burial in Windsor Castle without any religious service.

After the execution Charle’s family, including his eldest son who also was named Charles fled to Europe, where they sought and obtained refuge.

On 6 February 1649 the monarchy was formally abolished by Act of Parliament and what became known as a Council of State was set up with Oliver Cromwell as its first chairman.

Thus the Commonwealth of England, Ireland and Scotland came about as a result of the Civil War and execution of Charles I.

King Charles 1 had been his own worst enemy.  He was self-righteous, arrogant and unscrupulous and made many bad decisions since ascending the throne in 1625 on the death of his father James I.  During his reign he alienated both his subjects and his Parliament, prompting a series of events that ultimately lead to the Civil wars, his own death and the abolition of the English monarchy for more than a decade.

His marriage to a Roman-Catholic French Princess Henrietta in 1625 did not please his Protestant subjects and in 1637 he totally misgauged the sentiments of his Scottish subjects when he attempted to impose an Anglican form of worship on the predominantly Presbyterian population in Scotland.

Charles I produced many wonderful coins during his reign including the Gold triple unite from 1642-1646 and these coins stand in marked contrast to the coinage of the Commonwealth period of 1649-1660.


Charles I 1643 triple unite Oxford mint

Towards the end of the reign of Charles 1 some coinage commenced to change in certain parts of England, due to the disruption of the Civil War, when the now famous siege coins of Charles I came into production from 1645 onwards.

 
Charles I Newark 1646 ½ crown           Charles I 1648 Pontefract 1/-

THE COMMONWEALTH COINAGE:

1649 silver crown-only about 5 specimens survive today

The coinage struck during the Commonwealth period was totally different from previous coins, in that they had inscriptions written in English rather than Latin which was considered to be too close a connection to the Pope.  Further English was the language of the ordinary population.

In addition there was now no monarch to place on the coins and the St.George’s cross and Irish harp took the place of the royal arms.

The new coins had common designs for all denominations, from the gold twenty shillings down to the silver penny, with a simplified version for the tiny half penny.  The first coinage was dated 1649 and up until 1657 the mint mark was the sun which was replaced by an anchor on coins from 1658 to 1660.

The coins bore the inscriptions “The Commonwealth of England” on one side with the date and “God with us” on the other side.

The mint mark was altered from the sun in 1658 following the death of Oliver Cromwell to an anchor which remained on the coins until 1660.

Oliver Cromwell played a major part in the formation of the Commonwealth.  Cromwell was born in 1599 and in 1616 attended Cambridge University but had to leave the following year, due to the death of his father.  In 1628 Cromwell was elected a Member of Parliament and during the civil war he was appointed a lieutenant general in the New Model Army which fought against the Royalists.

After the execution of Charles 1 Cromwell was appointed Captain-General of the Commonwealth and in 1653 he was appointed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. 

In 1657 Oliver Cromwell was offered the crown of England,
but he refused to accept the offer.


1651 gold double crown

During the Commonwealth period there was some advancement in the production of coins when the Frenchman Pierre Blondeau was summoned to London to produce certain machine made trial coins in 1651, which had either milled edges or inscribed edges with Blondeau’s name and “ Truth and Peace”.  The purpose of this development was to try and stop coins being clipped and to reduce counterfeiting.

In 1656 Pierre Blondeau commenced making machine made coins bearing the portrait of Oliver

Cromwell from dies prepared by Thomas Simon. 

These coins commenced with the now extremely rare gold fifty shillings down to a copper farthing



Blondeau pattern milled silver half crown 1651 with edge inscribed 

“Truth and Peace” [olive branch] Petrvs Blondaeus Inventor Fecit [palm branch]


Blondeau pattern miller silver shilling 1651 with milled edge

The Cromwell Crown produced in 1658 mainly has a die flaw in the drapery on the obverse due to a crack occurring in the obverse die.  These coins have an inscribed edge.


1658 Oliver Cromwell crown with obverse die crack

RESTORATION OF THE MONARCHY:

About one year later Charles II returned to England and the monarchy was restored.

Meanwhile the coins of the Commonwealth were allowed to circulate but on 7 September 1661 it was proclaimed that such coinage would cease to be current from the end of November 1661 after which they had to be taken to the Mint to be exchanged for an equal quantity of lawful money.

Many reprisals were carried out by Charles II for his father’s execution and on 30 January 1661, Oliver Cromwell’s body was dug up and was symbolically executed, before being buried again at Tyburn, as was the body of John Bradshaw.  Nine persons who were still living and associated with the execution were hung, drawn and quartered.  Others were given life imprisonment or simply excluded from office for life.

Coinage reverted to the traditional coins of the monarchy with the king’s head on the obverse.

Charles II died in February 1685 and although he had at least twelve illegitimate children, his wife bore no children and accordingly the monarchy passed to his brother James II.

The coinage of Charles II from 1663 onwards were made by the presses of Blondeau with milled edges which superseded the ancient hand hammering process.

ROBERT TONNER.

June 2012

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5th June 2012