Commonwealth

Key Events

December
1653
Cromwell became Lord Protector. He ruled with the Council of State, advisers chosen by him.
September
1654
Cromwell’s first Parliament met. MPs were forced to swear loyalty to him or resign. At the same time Cromwell made great efforts to achieve what he called ‘healing and settlement’. This meant fair and efficient government for all.
November
1654
Cromwell introduced excise (a tax on all goods bought and sold). This was not approved by Parliament.
January
1655
Cromwell dismissed his first Parliament and ruled without Parliament.
August
1655
Cromwell put Britain under military rule. He appointed eleven Major Generals to rule the country. This approach was unsuccessful and unpopular.
September
1656
The Second Protectorate Parliament met, but only after 100 MPs opposed to Cromwell were banned.
January
1657
Cromwell agreed to end the system of Major Generals.
March
1657
MPs came up with a new system for government in the ‘Humble Petition and Advice’. Many MPs, and Cromwell’s supporters, urged him to make himself king. Cromwell refused the crown, but was confirmed as Lord Protector.
February
1658
Cromwell dismissed Parliament after more disputes with MPs.
September
1658
Cromwell died. His son Richard became Lord Protector, but was forced to retire in May 1659.
1660No acceptable person could be found to take over as Lord Protector. Parliament invited Charles II (son of Charles I) back to restore the monarchy. This is known as ‘The Restoration’.

Coins

1653 Halfcrown

S. 3215

Provenance:

Found near Portsmouth 2020

1658 Shilling S. 3228 ESC 1005 slabbed and graded CGS 25 (GF)

The Cromwell coinage is some of the most well known and historically interesting in the whole of British numismatics. The pure irony of having the chief deposer of Charles I minted on coinage in the garb of a Roman Emperor echoes throughout the ages and into the modern day, not to mention the fact that Oliver Cromwell is one of this country’s most well known (and well admired/much despised, whichever side you take) historical figures.
On 16 December 1653 Oliver Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector for life to undertake “the chief magistracy and the administration of government”. This basically gave Cromwell complete power, even to the extent of being able to dissolve Parliament, though he was obliged under the new constitutional Instrument of Government to seek a majority vote from the Council of State, who had been ruling the new English Republic since the execution of Charles I in 1649. These immense powers, almost on the same level as those of a monarch, soon began to change the way in which Cromwell acted. For example he began to sign his name as Oliver P (Oliver Protector) which was reminiscent on monarchs singing their name with an “R” at the end (e.g. Charles R, for Rex (King)). Also, Cromwell was addressed as “Your Highness” which was the same as that of a monarch.

The famous culmination of such practices and events was an offer, made by Parliament on 23rd February 1657, to give Oliver Cromwell the crown of England, which he famously refused. Much deliberation and thought was given to this decision but was ultimately refused. Though acceptance the Crown would likely have provided much needed stability to the fledgling Republic, it was clear that taking the crown would have been unwise, due to the fact that a Republic had been declared after the previous king had been executed (the real answer is far more complicated, but this gives a basic answer).

Despite the refusal of the crown, other events were taking place which seemed to fly in the face of Republicanism and anti-Royalism: the Cromwell Coinage. In August and September of 1656 the famous moneyer Peter Blondeau was given an order to strike £2,000 worth of coins bearing the effigy of the Protector, Cromwell, designed by Thomas Simon. 7 coins were contemplated: the Broad, 10 Shilling and 5 Shilling pieces (in gold) and the Crown, Halfcrown, Shilling and Sixpence (in silver). In 1657, at the mint of Drury House on the Strand, a small number of Broads (and the ‘’fifty shilling’’ patterns) and Halfcrowns, dated 1656, were minted. A further, larger, issue of coins was ordered for minting in 1658. These coins were the Crown, Halfcrown (which mine is an example of), Shilling and (in very small numbers) Sixpences. The death of Oliver Cromwell on 3 September 1658 most likely caused an abrupt end to the minting of this coinage, which probably began production right at the tail end of the Protector’s life.

The most interesting aspect of the coinage itself is the imagery of the coins themselves. They screamed of monarchical connotations. The thing which immediately strikes the viewer is the bust of Cromwell, draped in a toga and wearing a laurel wreath in the style of a Roman Emperor. The legend reads ‘’Oliver, by the Grace of God, Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland’’ in Latin, which is the polar opposite of the common English legends on the hammered coinage of the Commonwealth. The reverse of the coin shows the shield of the Commonwealth, with a large Crown above, which is a blatant monarchical symbol. Above is the date, 1658. The legend, also in Latin, reads “Peace is sought by War’’ which no doubt refers to the Civil War. Along the edge of the coin itself is a lettered inscription which reads (again, in Latin) “Let no one remove these letters from me under penalty of death”, referring to the previous practice of coin clipping and the attempts here to end the plague of clipped coins by having an inscription around the edge.
As for the coins themselves, there is surprisingly little known about them: whether they were intended for circulation, whether they were patterns etc… Logically, it was probably intended for them to be headed for circulation in the first place, but the death of Cromwell put an end to the production. It is possible that some, or even most, ended up in circulation, since many display great wear. It is likely that, if they did end up in circulation, they disappeared shortly after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Samuel Pepys even notes in his diary that shortly after the Restoration, the Cromwell portrait coins were selling for several times their face value as curiosity pieces. Possibly to fuel the collector’s desire for Cromwell coins, some Cromwell coin dies were forged and used to make Cromwell coins, notably the Dutch copies and those minted using Tanner’s dies. In any case, the desire to acquire a coin bearing the portrait of this notorious figure persists to this day, with any portrait Cromwell coin commanding high prices, and are eagerly sought after.

 – Josh Cattermole October 2018

1652 Bristol Farthing Trade Token

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A collection of predominantly English coins from the Tudor era to the present day

%d bloggers like this: