Agincourt 600: Coinage in Henry V’s England

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the White Tower at the Tower of London.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Martin Allen of the Fitzwilliam Museum, writes on the coinage of Henry V.

In the reign of Henry V England had a gold coinage of the noble (worth one third of a pound), with the half and quarter noble, and silver coins from the groat (four pence) to the farthing (a quarter of a penny). A loaf could be bought for a farthing, and a skilled craftsman would earn only a few pence a day. The gold coins were mostly used by merchants, gentry and aristocracy.

Coin. Gold Noble. Henry V. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Coin. Gold Noble. Henry V. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
Coin. Gold Noble reverse. Henry V. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Coin. Gold Noble reverse. Henry V. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Henry V was very concerned about the widespread ‘clipping’ of the gold coinage, which involved the removal of gold from the edges of the coins, to be melted down and sold or converted into counterfeit coins. This became treason in a statute of 1416, and by the end of Henry V’s reign in 1422 at least thirty people had been executed for this offence. In 1421, when a tax was voted by parliament to support Henry V’s French war, the government had to allow Henry’s subjects to pay in clipped gold coins, because so many coins had been clipped. After this, clipped gold coins were recalled to the mints and replaced by new unclipped coins.

Henry V clipped quarter noble obverse. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Henry V clipped quarter noble obverse. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Henry-V-clipped-quarter-noble-rev
Henry V clipped quarter noble reverse. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Henry V’s government also had to deal with the use of foreign coins in England, which was made illegal in 1415. Venetian silver coins known as ‘galley halfpence’ (because they were brought to England by the fleet of Venetian galleys that visited England once a year to trade) were seen as a particular problem. In 1416 the Venetian Senate bowed to English diplomatic pressure by officially banning this activity. Henry V’s campaigns in France soon brought a fresh challenge from imports of debased blancs issued by the English authorities in Normandy and the French and Burgundian governments. These were made illegal in 1424, after Henry’s death.

Galley-halfpenny-obverse
Galley halfpenny obverse. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
Galley-halfpenny-reverse
Galley halfpenny reverse. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website.

The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Coin. Ecu à la couronne. Charles VI (1380-1422). Medieval series. French royal coinages. France, place of issue. First-second issues. Gold, weight, 4.03 g, image (width) 29 mm, die axis 210 degrees, 1385-1417. French.
Coin. Ecu à la couronne. Charles VI (1380-1422). Medieval series. French royal coinages. France, place of issue. First-second issues. Gold, weight, 4.03 g, image (width) 29 mm, die axis 210 degrees, 1385-1417. French.
Coin. Ecu à la couronne. Charles VI (1380-1422). Medieval series. French royal coinages. France, place of issue. First-second issues. Gold, weight, 4.03 g, image (width) 29 mm, die axis 210 degrees, 1385-1417. French.
Coin. Ecu à la couronne. Charles VI (1380-1422). Medieval series. French royal coinages. France, place of issue. First-second issues. Gold, weight, 4.03 g, image (width) 29 mm, die axis 210 degrees, 1385-1417. French.