By Michael T. Shutterly for CoinWeek …..
On October 14, 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, accomplished in a single day what his Viking ancestors and cousins had failed to achieve over 273 years: he conquered England, defeating the English king Harold II (reigned 1066) at the Battle of Hastings.
Over the next several years William faced massive resistance to his rule, and in his “Harrying of the North” he took actions to enforce his rule that even in his own day were considered to be war crimes, but he managed nonetheless to conquer a powerful nation.
Denier of the Duke of Normandy
William’s conquest provided a number of benefits to him personally: he could now call himself “William the Conqueror” rather than “William the Bastard” (his mother and father never married), and he won control of the English coinage system, which was advanced far beyond what he possessed in his homeland.
The coins William struck in Normandy do not often appear on the numismatic market. When they do, they are remarkable mostly for how awful they are, even when they are as well-preserved as the denier shown here. William does not name himself on his Norman coins, probably out of embarrassment. The device on the reverse of the coin is an extremely bastardized version of the “Temple Façade” design that his great-grandfather, Richard the Fearless (reigned 943-996) had used, but it, like the obverse inscription, was virtually unrecognizable by William’s time.
The English Pennies of William the Conqueror
There are 13 distinct types of Medieval English pennies that name a “King William”. The coins are undated, but through analysis of coin hoards, overstrikes, and mules, we can determine the precise sequence of those 13 types. We can also firmly assign the first seven types to the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087) and the last five types to the reign of William II, his son and successor as King of England (1087-1100). The eighth coin in the series has traditionally been assigned to the Conqueror, but this is no longer considered to be entirely certain. But if William the Conqueror did not mint the coins of that eighth type, he should have, so we will include them among the “Coins of the Conqueror”.
Profile Left/Cross Fleury Type Penny
Conquerors typically replace the coinage of the lands they conquer with the conqueror’s own coins, but William was an extraordinarily practical ruler who recognized the superiority of English coinage. He retained the English system almost in its entirety, striking coins with the same weight and fineness of his Saxon predecessors, using the same mints and moneyers as before, and in some cases even using the same designs and lettering.
The first coins of the new reign were pennies known as the “Profile Left/Cross Fleury” type (despite the name, there is an extremely rare variant that uses a right-facing portrait). William probably began striking these coins at the very end of 1066, following his coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day; he continued using this design until c. 1068.
The obverse portrait closely resembles the portrait Harold II had used on his coins, including a crown identical to Harold’s. These are among the pricier coins of William’s reign: nice examples from common mints will usually cost at least $1,500. The coin shown here is from the mint at Hastings, site of William’s great victory over Harold II, which adds a premium, as does the excellent condition of the coin: it sold at auction in January 2019 for $11,000 against a $5,000 estimate.
Colswegen, the moneyer responsible for this penny, enjoyed a long career at the Hastings mint: he began his service during the reign of Edward the Confessor (reigned 1042-1066), served under Harold II, and would continue at the Hastings mint until the reign of William’s youngest son, Henry I (reigned 1100-1135).
The inscriptions on this coin are mostly in Latin, as was customary at the time, but the lettering is English, based in part on the Saxon runic alphabet. The first letter of William’s name on the obverse resembles a P, but this was the Saxon letter corresponding to “W.” The same letter appears on the reverse, in the spelling of Colswegen’s name.
Bonnet Type Penny
William’s second penny was the “Bonnet” Type, so-called from the form of the crown he wears on the obverse. William struck these coins from 1068 to c. 1070. The reverse design is very similar to one used for an extremely rare penny that Edward the Confessor struck during the last year of his reign.
The Bonnet pennies are among the more common pennies of William: very nice examples can be found for less than $1,000. The extraordinary coin shown here sold at an auction in January 2014 for $3,750 against a $2,000 estimate.
As with the Profile Left/Cross Fleury Type penny, the Saxon letter corresponding to “W” is used to spell William’s name on the obverse; it also appears on the reverse, as the second letter of the name of the moneyer, Sweartling, and in the first letter of the name of the mint, Wallingford. Sweartling began his career as a moneyer under Harold II and served at the Wallingford mint until the reign of Henry I.
Canopy Type Penny
William’s Harrying of the North took place during the winter of 1069-1070. According to contemporary reports, the population of northern England declined 75% in those few weeks; 15 years later, the Domesday Book still described much of the region as “waste”, and Domesday has no entries at all for the area of the north that would later form Westmoreland, Cumberland, Northumberland, and the County Palatine of Durham. After putting down (exterminating) northern resistance, William asked the Pope to send papal legates to England to crown him a second time; this was to show papal approval of his reign. William’s third coin type, the “Canopy” type, appeared soon after.
The Canopy penny takes its name from the canopy that surrounds William’s crowned bust. William struck these coins from 1070 to c. 1072. These pennies are in the middle of the pack as to rarity and availability among William’s coins, and very pleasant examples can be found for $1,400 – $1,600. The remarkable specimen shown here sold at an auction in September 2019 for $3,500 against a $2,000 estimate.
Once again, the Saxon letter corresponding to “W” is used to spell William’s name on the obverse; it also appears on the reverse, as the fifth letter of the name of the moneyer, Ægelwine (Æ, the first letter of the moneyer’s name, is the Old English version of another rune). This penny was struck at the mint in Leicester, located almost in the center of England. English towns whose names end in “-cester”, “-chester”, or “-caster” were built on the sites of old Roman forts: the Saxon word “ceaster” derived from the Latin “castrum”, which referred to a Roman military camp or fortified place. The modern English word “castle” has the same root.
Two Scepters Type Penny
The fourth coin of William’s reign was the “Two Scepters” type, named for the scepters which William holds. William struck these coins from 1072 to c. 1074. These pennies are a bit more common than the Canopy pennies, and while very pleasant examples can sometimes be found for less than $1,000, they will generally cost in the $1,400 – $1,600 range. The specimen shown here sold at an auction in May 2008 for $3,000 against a $2,000 estimate.
Some of William’s earlier pennies include the letter “I” or “A” after “Rex” (“king”), presumably referencing his English kingdom, but these are the first to do so unequivocally, identifying him as “[R]EX ΛNGLO[RVM]” (“King of the English”). This coin was struck at the mint in Winchester, which may have been the capital of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex (sources differ as to Winchester’s official status).
Anderboga, the moneyer responsible for this penny, enjoyed a long career at the Winchester mint: much like Colswegen at Hastings, Anderboga began his service in the reign of Edward the Confessor, served under Harold II, and would continue at the Winchester mint until the reign of William’s son, Henry I.
Two Stars Type Penny
The fifth coin of William’s reign was the “Two Stars” type, named for the stars that appear on either side of his obverse portrait. William struck these coins from 1074 to c. 1077. This coin was minted in London under the supervision of the moneyer Godwig, whose name also appears on the coins of Edward the Confessor.
The Two Stars pennies are a bit more common than the Bonnet pennies, and very nice examples can usually be found for $1,000 to $1,500. The specimen shown here sold at an auction in January 2017 for $1,500 against a $2,000 estimate.
Some writers have linked the Two Stars penny to the appearance of a comet, either Halley’s Comet (which appeared in Spring 1066) or the Palm Sunday comet that appeared in 1077.
Halley’s Comet is pictured in the Bayeux Tapestry and was taken (after the Norman Conquest) as a harbinger of the Norman Conquest. The Palm Sunday Comet also made a great impression on Europeans who saw it, probably because of the day of its appearance. However, if we are correct in dating the commencement of the Two Stars type to 1074, that date is a bit late for the stars to be a reference to Halley’s Comet (1066), and obviously far too early to be a reference to the Palm Sunday Comet (1077). There probably is some significance to the stars–no English coin before this time displayed two stars, although several coins did so afterward—but that significance is unknown today.
Sword Type Penny
The sixth coin of William’s reign was the “Sword” type, named for the sword William holds over his right shoulder. William struck these coins from 1077 to c. 1080. This specimen was minted in Winchester by the moneyer Leofweald. Although the name is unusual today, “Leofweald” (or “Leofwold”) appears as the name of the moneyer on many Saxon coins, extending as far back as the time of the Mercian king Ceolwulf II (reigned 874-880) and as late as the end of the reign of William II in 1100. We can safely assume that these were different men who all happened to have the same name.
The Two Stars pennies are about as rare as the Bonnet pennies. While a few nice specimens have been sold for less than $2,000, most carry much higher price tags. The coin shown here sold at an auction in January 2014 for $3,250 against a $3,000 estimate.
Profile Right Type Penny
The seventh coin of William’s reign was the “Profile Right” type, named for William’s right-facing profile. William struck these coins from 1080 to c. 1083. The moneyer Godsbrand supervised the minting of this specimen at the mint in Shaftesbury.
Godsbrand only became a moneyer in about 1074, with the minting of the Two Stars pennies, and he continued to serve as a moneyer under William II. The Shaftesbury mint seems to have closed at the end of William II’s reign or very early in the reign of Henry I, and Godsbrand was apparently laid off at that time; he was not rehired when the mint reopened c. 1117.
The Profile Right pennies are the rarest of the Conqueror’s coins. Nice, undamaged specimens will typically cost at least $2,000, the price for which the specimen shown here sold at auction in January 2019.
Paxs Type Penny
The eighth of the 13 types of English pennies struck in the name of “King William” are the PAXS pennies: these display the letters P A X S (“Peace”) at the intersections of the cross on the reverse.
Early cataloguers suggested that William struck these coins from c. 1083 to the end of his reign. The coin shown here was minted in Chester under the supervision of the moneyer Sunoulf, who first appears as a moneyer during the Conqueror’s reign and who ended his career under William II.
The PAXS coins were the rarest of the “William” coins until June 30, 1833, when four children uncovered the Beaworth Hoard. 6,439 PAXS pennies were identified in the Hoard (there may originally have been more – thousands of coins from the Hoard were “dispersed” before the Hoard was examined officially), and the PAXS penny is now the most common of all “William” coin types. Very nice examples are readily found for prices in the mid-three figures; the coin shown here sold at auction in January 2014 for $2,000 against a $1,500 estimate.
Not everyone agrees that the PAXS pennies were the last pennies struck by William the Conqueror: there is evidence that they were not minted until after the Conqueror died, and that they belong instead to William II; there is also evidence that both kings may have struck PAXS pennies.
The strongest argument against William the Conqueror having struck the PAXS pennies is that previous kings who struck such coins always minted them at the start of a reign, in conjunction with the coronation oath promising to preserve the King’s Peace. Edward the Confessor struck coins with the inscription PACX (or rarely PAXX or PACS) during the first two years of his reign, and all the pennies known from the 10-month reign of Harold II bear the PAX inscription. This would suggest that the “William” coins with a PAXS inscription were the earliest coins of a king named William; since we know for a fact (from overstrikes) that the PAXS coins followed seven earlier types of “William” coins, these should not be the first coins of William the Conqueror, but they could be the first coins of William II.
An argument against attributing the PAXS coins solely to William II is that there would then be no coin type attributable to William the Conqueror after the Profile Right pennies. If that is the case, then the Profile Right pennies – the scarcest of the Conqueror’s coins – would be the only coins struck during the last seven years of a reign that lasted almost exactly 21 years, which seems most improbable.
Insofar as William the Conqueror took the English throne by force of arms, and insofar as he spent most of the early part of his reign in almost constant warfare trying to hold on to that throne, he may well have thought that minting a coin that referenced “Peace” was not appropriate; what would have been appropriate would have been to mint coins stressing his power and sovereignty, which is precisely what his earlier coins do by depicting him with oversize crowns, or under a coronation canopy, or with two scepters, or with a sword.
William the Conqueror ended his last military campaign on English soil in 1081. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not indicate that anything of note happened over the next three years. It seems reasonable to think that in 1083 – the year traditionally assigned as the start of the PAXS coinage – William the Conqueror would have felt absolutely secure in his possession of the English throne and that England was finally at peace: now was the time to launch a coinage that proclaims peace.
William the Conqueror died in 1087 while campaigning in France and he was quickly succeeded in England by his second son, William II. With England secure and at peace at the time of his coronation, William II would have had good reason to continue his father’s PAXS for the first part of his own reign. This, together with the fortuitous happenstance of finding the Beaworth Hoard, could account for the PAXS coins being, by far, the most common of the “William” pennies.
Collecting the Coins of the Conqueror
The coins of William the Conqueror are reasonably plentiful, and they mark a fascinating period in history, but most carry a hefty price.
North (1994) is a standard reference and provides a wealth of information about English hammered coinage, including rarity guides, ample historical background, and good quality plates. Brooke (1916) is obsolete in many respects but provides an excellent description of how hoards, overstrikes, and mules can be used to determine the sequence of coin issues.
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Brooke, G. C. A Catalogue of English Coins in the British Museum: The Norman Kings, Vol. 1. London. Trustees of the British Museum. 1916.
Carlyon-Britton, P.W.P. “A Numismatic History of the Reigns of William I and II (1066-1100)”, British Numismatic Journal 2, pp. 87-184 (1905).
Carruthers, B., Ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Illustrated and Annotated. Barnsley, Great Britain. Archive Media Publishing. 2012.
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. Triton XI auction catalogue. 8-9 January 2008. New York. 2008.
Coins of England & the United Kingdom: Pre-Decimal Issues. 53rd Edition. London. Spink. 2018.
Duplessy, J. Les Monnaies Françaises Féodales, Tome I. Paris. Maison Platt. 2004.
North, J.J. English Hammered Coinage, Vol. 1: Early Anglo-Saxon to Henry III c. 600-1272. London. Spink. 1994.
Roberts, J. The Silver Coins of Medieval France (476-1610 AD). South Salem, NY. Attic Books, LTD. 1996.
Thompson, J.D.A. Inventory of British Coin Hoards: A.D. 600-1500. Royal Numismatic Society. London. Spink. 1956.
Photograph of Denier of William II, Duke of Normandy courtesy and copyright of Pegasi Numismatics
Photographs of Pennies of William I, King of England courtesy and copyright of Classical Numismatic Group (CNG) LLC