In the annals of British history, the reign of William and Mary (1689-1694) is associated with a period of significant political upheaval and religious change. This period, often referred to as the “Glorious Revolution,” had a profound impact on the British monarchy, and these changes were reflected in the coins minted during this era. Coins are more than just a medium of exchange; they are a historical canvas that reflects the socio-economic and political landscape of the period in which they were created.
The Glorious Revolution and Its Effect on the Royal Mint
The “Glorious Revolution” led to the ascension of William of Orange and his wife Mary, the daughter of the deposed King James II, to the British throne. This joint sovereignty was unprecedented, and it required a redefinition of how the monarchy was symbolically represented on coins.
Before this era, the reigning monarch’s portrait was singularly represented on coins. However, with two equally reigning monarchs, a new approach was needed. The Royal Mint, therefore, introduced a conjoined portrait of William and Mary, where William is in front as the king and Mary behind him, both inside a beaded circle. This unique imagery was emblematic of their joint rule.
During the short reign of William and Mary, numerous significant coins were minted, some of which became highly prized collectibles due to their rarity and historical significance. One such coin is the 1693 five-guinea piece, an exquisite specimen that features a well-executed double bust of the monarchs on its obverse and four crowned shields bearing the arms of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland on its reverse.
Equally significant are the silver crowns, half-crowns, shillings, and sixpences that bear the conjoined busts of William and Mary. These coins are remembered for their design innovation and the crispness of their striking.
William and Mary’s reign was not just a time of political and religious change; it was also a period of economic innovation. One of the key events of this period was the founding of the Bank of England in 1694, designed to manage the nation’s debts and stabilize the coinage system.
This move had a profound effect on the minting and circulation of coins. It ensured a more stable economy, encouraged trade, and led to a higher degree of confidence in the nation’s coinage, aspects of which can be traced back to the coins minted under William and Mary.
The coins of William and Mary provide numismatists and historians with a unique insight into a transformative period of British history. These coins, bearing the conjoined images of the two monarchs, serve as enduring symbols of a shared reign that ushered in economic and political reform. Whether for their historical value, the beauty of their designs, or the rarity of certain specimens, these coins remain a fascinating chapter in Britain’s numismatic history.
The William and Mary Halfpenny
One of the most notable coins issued during the reign of William and Mary is the halfpenny. The William and Mary halfpenny was the first time this denomination was minted in copper in England. It carries a conjoined bust of the monarchs on its obverse side and Britannia seated on the reverse side.
This humble coin marks an important evolution in British coinage as it shifted the halfpenny denomination from a silver to a copper coin, which was a more practical and affordable material for creating small change. The move to copper for lower denominations would be fully realized in the following century.
The Short-lived Tin Farthings of William and Mary
Another unique aspect of coinage during this era was the minting of tin farthings, replacing the previously used copper. William and Mary introduced the tin farthing with a copper plug in the center, with their conjoined busts depicted on the obverse and Britannia on the reverse.
The minting of tin farthings was a short-lived experiment due to the difficulty in manufacturing and the poor durability of the coins. Despite this, their unique composition and the challenges they represented in the history of coinage make these farthings particularly interesting to collectors.
The Maundy Money of William and Mary
Not to be overlooked is the maundy money issued under William and Mary’s rule. The maundy coinage — a ceremonial coinage traditionally given to the poor — continued under their reign, with pennies, twopences, threepences, and fourpences being struck in silver. Like the other coinage of this period, the Maundy coins carried the joint portrait of the monarchs.
The Maundy coins are sought after by collectors due to their high silver content and the tradition they represent, further adding to the numismatic importance of the William and Mary period.
Reflecting on the Impact of the William and Mary Era
The joint reign of William and Mary, though relatively brief, left a lasting impact on the coinage of Britain. The coins minted during their rule are a testament to the changes sweeping the country during this time.
The Royal Mint was experimenting with new denominations, materials, and minting techniques. And all these changes were being done under the watchful eyes of two monarchs, whose conjoined portraits on the coins of the era are a lasting tribute to their unique joint rule.