By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
Flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again?
That fought and died for your wee bit hill and glen…
BY ONE ESTIMATE, some 20-25 million Americans can trace their ancestry to Scotland. But despite this, the dramatic and bloody medieval history of Scotland is often treated as a footnote to the better-known history of England. Although an independent Scottish kingdom dates from the reign of Kenneth MacAlpin in the 840s, there was no national coinage until 1136 when King David I captured the English town of Carlisle with its mint and nearby silver mine. Before then, the modest needs of the local economy were served by imported English and European coins.
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Scotland’s history is a striking success … developing agriculture sustained a population growth to around the million mark, while flourishing wool and leather exports through the east-coast burghs boosted the money supply to over 40 million silver pennies (some £180,000) circulating interchangeably with England’s in a medieval “sterling area.” (Grant, 345)
Born about 1084, David (Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim) was the youngest son of King Malcolm III. David’s mother, Margaret of Wessex, was an English princess. He spent part of his youth at the court of the English king Henry I (ruled 1100-1135), and was strongly influenced by Anglo-Norman culture. Crowned as King of Scotland in 1124, David established towns and monasteries, promoted feudalism, and extended his domain into the wild Highlands.
David’s coins, which closely follow–and even imitate–the contemporary English silver pennies of King Stephen (ruled 1135-1154) are rare. The bear a crude profile bust of the king holding a scepter on the obverse and an elaborate “cross moline fleury” surrounded by the name of the moneyer and the mint on the reverse.
David died at the age of about 69 in 1153.
A grandson of David I, Malcolm became king at the age of 12 on May 24, 1153. Malcolm’s own father, Prince Henry, died in 1152. Because of his youth, chastity, and religious piety, Malcolm was later nicknamed “the Maiden”. Suffering from a chronic illness (possibly Paget’s disease) he died, unmarried and without an heir, at the age of 24. His coins are quite rare; in a 2005 London auction, an example of his silver penny sold for over $22,000.
William the Lion
William was a younger brother of Malcolm IV. William’s nickname was not based on any alleged leonine qualities, but on the simple fact that he replaced the dragon on the Scottish royal banner with the rampant red lion (which still appears on a quarter of the British royal arms). He reigned for an extraordinary 48 years and negotiated the first treaty of alliance between Scotland and France; a link that would strongly influence the subsequent history of the kingdom. In 1174, in a battle against the English, he was captured, forced to swear an oath of fealty to King Henry II, and eventually ransomed for the sum of 40,000 marks (equivalent to £26,000). In 1221, William’s only son and heir, the future Alexander II, married Joan, daughter of the English king John.
William’s pennies were minted at Roxburgh, Berwick, Edinburgh, and Perth. In need of funds for his crusade, English king Richard the Lion Heart restored Scotland’s independence in exchange for a payment of 10,000 marks (equivalent to 1.6 million silver pence).
Alexander came to the throne in 1214 at the age of 16 and reigned for 35 years. For almost two decades, the coinage continued to be issued in the name of his late father. Alexander’s own coinage, which began around 1235, is scarce. In 1237, Alexander negotiated the Treaty of York, which established a boundary between Scotland and England, that endures, almost unchanged today.
Alexander died on an expedition to conquer the Norwegian-occupied Hebrides Islands.
Alexander III was just seven years old when his father died. He reigned for 37 years and his pennies, issued in a great variety of types, are the most common Scottish medieval coins. He also issued rare half pence and farthings. The farthing was valued at one-quarter of a penny.
At the age of 44, Alexander was killed when his horse fell down a rocky embankment when he was riding at night in a storm. His only surviving heir was a three-year-old granddaughter, Margaret, “the Maid of Norway”. Margaret died in 1290 at the age of seven and the kingdom fell into chaos.
Thirteen competing aristocrats pressed their claims to the vacant throne of Scotland.
King Edward I of England agreed to adjudicate the disputed succession and appointed an obscure descendant of David I named John Balliol, remembered as “Toom Tabard” (meaning “Empty Coat”) in Scottish history. Edward treated Scotland as an English province, provoking a revolt of the nobles. In response, Edward invaded Scotland in 1296, and after John formally abdicated, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for several years, then permitted to retire to his estate in France where he died in 1314. John’s coinage of pennies and half pence was mostly struck at the mint of Berwick.
Robert the Bruce
A hero of Scotland’s war of national independence, Robert Bruce was another descendant of David I.
Crowned on March 25, 1306, at the age of 31, he ruled until his death in 1329 and was succeeded by his son, David II. At the Battle of Bannockburn on June 24, 1314, Robert defeated the English army of King Edward I. Apparently, Robert did not issue any coins until the mint of Berwick was recaptured from the English in 1318. The weight of the penny was officially reduced to 21-3/7 grains (about 1.39 grams) but many surviving specimens are considerably lighter.
All of Robert’s coins are scarce, especially the half penny and farthing. As one of the most famous Scots of the Medieval era, his coins are, understandably, in high demand from collectors; in a May 2020 American auction, an example brought $1,700 against an estimate of $200.
David was just five years old when his father died in 1329. He was crowned in 1331. As a child, he was betrothed to Joan, the sister of the English king Edward III. He found refuge with his child bride in France, returning to Scotland in 1341. On October 17, 1346, at the disastrous Battle of Neville’s Cross near Durham in northern England, David was defeated and captured, remaining a prisoner of his brother-in-law Edward for 11 years. He was finally released in 1357 on the promise of an enormous ransom – 100,000 marks – to be paid in installments over 10 years.
During David’s long reign of 41 years, the kingdom was ravaged by the bubonic plague; Queen Joan may have been one of the many victims. David died without an heir in 1371 and was succeeded by a nephew, Robert II, aged 55, who had acted as regent during David’s imprisonment in England.
David issued Scotland’s first gold coinage, closely modeled on the gold noble of Edward III, but it was not successful and is extremely rare–the only example I found is in the British Museum. He also issued large silver groats, valued at four pence, a denomination that would become a regular feature of the coinage (although repeatedly devalued) in years to come.
Robert was the first Scottish king of the House of Stewart (later, the Stuart Dynasty). He came to the throne at the age of 55 and reigned for 19 years. His mother Marjorie was the daughter of Robert the Bruce. His coins generally maintained the same standards and style as the coinage of David II.
When Robert died in 1390, his eldest son John adopted his name and was crowned Robert III.
Born John Stewart, c. 1337, he was 53 years old when he came to the throne. He was in poor health, and actual power for much of his reign was exercised by his younger brother, Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany.
This period saw the introduction of a regular gold coinage, the “lion” of about four grams, valued at five shillings, and its half, or “demy“. The lion bore a crowned shield of arms on the obverse, and an image of Scotland’s patron saint, Andrew, crucified on an X-shaped cross. A very fine example of Robert’s gold lion brought $17,000 in a 2021 American auction.
Toward the end of the reign, the weight of the silver groat was reduced from about three grams to as little as 1.8 grams, reflecting the increasingly serious European “silver famine”. A weak ruler, Robert seems to have suffered from depression, requesting that his wife bury him in a dunghill with an epitaph reading “Here lies the worst of Kings and the most miserable of men.”
When Robert III died in 1406, his son and heir James, just 11 years old, was being held prisoner in England after having been captured by pirates while fleeing to France. He grew up in the courts of the English kings Henry IV and Henry V, receiving a good education. After 18 years as a VIP hostage, James was finally ransomed for £40,000. He married an English noblewoman, Joan Beaufort, who bore him two sons (including the future King James II) and six daughters. On February 20, 1437, James was assassinated, and Queen Joan was wounded in an attempted palace coup. His son and heir, also named James, was just seven years old.
During the reign of James I, the fineness of the gold coinage fell to 22 kt, and the debasement of the penny (and rare halfpenny) continued.
James II was nicknamed “Fiery Face” because of a prominent red facial birthmark. At the age of 18, he married a Burgundian princess, Mary of Guelders, who bore four sons and two daughters who survived to adulthood. James’ reign of 23 years was dominated by his bitter struggle with the powerful Douglas clan, which culminated in a virtual civil war between 1452 and 1455. In 1460, James besieged Roxburgh Castle, held by the English. On August 3, he was killed when one of his cannons exploded. His son, about eight years old, became king as James III.
The coinage of James II closely resembles that of his father. In 1451, the value of the silver groat rose to 12 pence.
James III came to the throne as a child, and a series of regents, including his mother, governed the kingdom in his name for the first nine years of his reign. In a brilliant diplomatic marriage, he wed a Danish princess, Margaret, in 1469. Her dowry included the Orkney and Shetland Islands, which became part of the Scottish kingdom.
James III introduced two handsome new gold coins: the rider, valued at 23 shillings, and the unicorn, valued at 18 shillings. The rider bore a figure of the king in armor on horseback on the obverse, and the royal arms over a long cross on the reverse, with the Latin inscription SALVUM FAC POPULUM TUUM DOMINE (“O Lord, Save Thy People”). A silver groat issued c. 1484 bears a remarkably “modern” realistic portrait of the king.
In the last years of his reign, James III ‘struck some remarkable groats and half-groats with his three-quarter bust facing left, quite different from the profile busts on Italian coinage. The name of the artist is unfortunately unknown, but its resemblance to contemporary panel portraits shows it to represent a true likeness of the king. This tour de force is an isolated phenomenon, portraiture not being repeated again until late in the reign of James V (1526) (Grierson, 202).
James proved to be an unpopular ruler, and he faced major revolts in 1482 and 1488. At the Battle of Sauchieburn near the town of Stirling on June 11, 1488, James was killed in action by a rebel army that included his own 15-year-old son, the Duke of Rothesay, who would be crowned James IV.
James IV proved to be a capable ruler for 25 years, doubling the annual revenue of the crown and maintaining peace at home and abroad. A patron of the arts and learning, he spoke Latin, French, German, Italian, Flemish, and Spanish, as well as English and Scots Gaelic. In 1503 he married Margaret Tudor, daughter of English king Henry VII.
During this reign, the fineness of the gold unicorn fell to 21 carats or less, and the plack, a “billon” or copper alloy coin with a trace of silver, was introduced, with a value of four pence.
When England’s Henry VIII went to war with France in 1513, James IV honored Scotland’s old alliance and invaded northern England, Along with much of the nobility of his kingdom, he was killed. With the death of James IV at the Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513, we come to the end of Scotland’s medieval era. When Queen Elizabeth I died without an heir on March 24, 1603, James VI of Scotland became James I of England, uniting the two kingdoms – although Scotland maintained a separate coinage until 1707.
Collecting the Scots
Scottish coins are found mainly in Scotland and northern England. A notable exception was the enormous Brussels hoard of 1908, buried c. 1264, which contained 2,200 Scottish coins along with 80,000 English ones. Since the United Kingdom is one of the few nations in the world with sensible antiquities laws, Scottish coins come to market mainly in British coin auctions.
The standard reference cited in most sale catalogs is Burns (1897), a massive three-volume work of meticulous Victorian scholarship. A more accessible reference is the Scotland and Ireland volume of the Standard Catalog of British Coins (“SCBC”, Howard, 2020) issued annually. Current research on this complex coinage appears mainly in the Proceedings of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, the British Numismatic Journal, and the Numismatic Chronicle, the annual publication of the Royal Numismatic Society.
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 CNG Triton XVII, January 8, 2014, Lot 1466. Realized $8,500 USD (estimate $5,000).
 CNG Auction 114, May 13, 2020, Lot 1365. Realized $4,250 USD (estimate $2,000).
 St James Auction 3, October 3, 2005, Lot 182. Realized £13,000 (about $22,811 USD; estimate: £5,000 – £7,000).
 CNG Electronic Auction 476, September 9, 2020, Lot 747. Realized $325 USD (estimate $150).
 CNG Electronic Auction 457, December 4, 2019, Lot 602. Realized $650 USD (estimate $400).
 CNG Electronic Auction 495, July 7, 2021, Lot 790. Realized $375 USD (estimate $150).
 The traditional “pennyweight” was defined as 24 grains, or about 1.55 grams.
 CNG Electronic Auction 468, May 20, 2020, Lot 782. Realized $1,700 USD (estimate $200).
 Equivalent to £63 million or $78,677,000 in 2022.
 CNG Triton XXIV, January 19, 2021, Lot 1446. Realized $3,500 USD (estimate $2,000).
 A white X-shaped cross on a blue field is the historic Scottish flag.
 Stack’s Bowers ANA Auction, August 16, 2021, Lot 41487. Realized $17,000 USD (estimate $3,500 – $5,500).
 Sincona Auction 72, November 21, 2021, Lot 918. Realized CHF 8,000 (about $8,634 USD; estimate: CHF 1,500).
 Spink Auction 19025, January 28, 2019, Lot 1727. Realized £1,300 (about $1,710 USD; estimate: £600-800).
 CNG Auction 100, October 7, 2015, Lot 1084. Realized $8,500 USD (estimate: $5,000).
 Psalm 28
 CNG Triton XXIII, January 14, 2020, Lot 1256. Realized $4,500 USD (estimate: $1,000).
 CNG Triton XXIII, January 14, Lot 1378. Realized $11,000 USD (estimate: $5,000).
 CNG Electronic Auction 429, September 26, 2018, Lot 581. Realized $110 (estimate: $100).
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_Antiquaries_of_Scotland “The Society has made the entire run of the Proceedings since 1851, and its predecessor Archaeologica Scotica back to 1792, freely available on the internet.”
Burns, Edward. The Coinage of Scotland (3 volumes). Edinburgh (1887)
Grant, Alexander. “Fourteenth Century Scotland”, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume VI. Cambridge (2008)
Grierson, Philip. Coins of Medieval Europe. London (1991)
Howard, Emma (editor). The Coins of Scotland, Ireland & the Islands. London (2020)
Wormald, Jenny. “Scotland 1406-1513”, The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume VII. Cambridge (2008)
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Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
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