A Unique Coin from the Anarchy

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A student post by Cameron Maclean, Coin Room Volunteer at The Hunterian.

Stephen, penny, 1135 – 1154, silver, York, GLAHM:37698, Hunter

An array of fascinating coins were struck during the Anarchy (1135-1153). One of the most enigmatic depicts King Stephen alongside another figure. The legend refers only to Stephen by name; he is the standing figure on the left. It has alternatively been proposed that the person on the right is either Stephen’s queen, Matilda, or his son and heir, Eustace. While it is impossible to verify the identity of this elusive figure, both possibilities make this coin unique in the history of English coinage.

Top Left: Philip and Mary, shilling, 1554, silver, London, Hunter.
Bottom Left: Philip and Mary, shilling, 1555, silver, London, Hunter.
Top Right: William and Mary, 5 guineas, 1694, gold, London, Hunter.
Bottom Right: William and Mary, 5 guineas, 1692, gold, London, Hunter.

If the coin features Queen Matilda, then it is earliest English coin to depict two monarchs. It would not be until the 1550s that comparable coins were issued. The next English coinage to depict two sovereigns is the 1554-1558 coinage of Mary Tudor. The shillings and sixpences of this issue show Mary alongside her husband, Philip II of Spain. Philip was extremely powerful in his own right. He was the heir to and eventual ruler of Iberia, swathes of Italy, the Low Countries and a vast overseas empire. Philip ruled England as a co-monarch by virtue of his marriage to Mary, who was the eldest child of Henry VIII. Philip lost his English titles upon the death of Mary. He and Mary are depicted facing each other under a single crown. The reverse shows the conjoined arms of both monarchs.

Similar coins were issued during the joint rule of William III and Mary II. Again, these two ruled as co-monarchs, with Mary having the strongest claim to the throne as she was the daughter of James II. This magnificent five guineas coin depicts both of them alongside each other, again, the reverse shows the conjoined arms of the couple.

The two Queen Marys only appeared on the coinage as they derived their right to rule through birth. Their husbands featured alongside them due to their status as co-monarchs. This was not a guaranteed right. For example, Queen Anne’s husband did not appear on any of her coins. This demonstrates just how unique Matilda’s position was. Matilda was a queen consort and she held the queenship solely due to her marriage to King Stephen, not by birth right. This highlights the important role that she must have played to appear on the coinage alongside her husband. It is a truly unique occurrence in the history of the English coinage.

Left: John Lord of Ireland, halfpenny, c.1190 – 1198, silver, Dublin,
The Lord Stewartby Collection.
Right: Edward the Black Prince, hardi, 1363 – 1372, gold, Bordeaux,

Coats Collection 759.

If the coin depicts Stephen alongside his son, Eustace, then it too is a unique occurrence in the history of the English coinage. There are no other examples of the son of a British sovereign appearing alongside their father on a coin. Not even Henry the Young King, who was crowned in 1170 whilst his father was still alive, was depicted on the coinage. The only occurrence of the children of English sovereigns appearing on the coinage is as the ruler of domains outside of the Kingdom of England. Henry II appointed his son, the future King John, as Lord of Ireland. John issued coins in this capacity. The above coin, a halfpenny dating to c.1190-1198, is issued in the name of ‘IOHANNES DOM[inus] (Lord John). Another example can be found in the coinage of Edward the Black Prince, son of Edward III. This coin, a gold Hardi, was struck in various mints throughout Aquitaine from 1363 to 1372. The coin’s legend refers to the Black Prince as ED[wardus] P[rim]O G[e]N[itu]S REGIS ANGLIE P[ri]N[cep]S AQ[u]ITANIE (Edward, first born of the King of England, Prince of Aquitaine). Both coins highlight how unique the possible Stephen and Eustace coin is. No other son of an English sovereign was ever featured on the coinage of their father, nor even in the coinage issued within England’s borders. If the coin does depict Eustace, then it is completely unique in this regard.

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