Pontefract Coins: Born in the Blood of Battle
This octagonal siege shilling of Pontefract Castle was struck during the period of June 1648 to March 1649 from handmade silver plate either taken by or given King Charles I’s forces, while the castle was under heavy siege.
(Photo: Heritage Auctions)
By Gerald Tebben
The reign of England’s Charles I ended as with the strong swing of a sharp axe on Jan. 30, 1649. The execution marked the beginning of the interregnum when Parliament ruled “without any king.” Parliament, victorious in a series of conflicts known as the English Civil War, had ordered the king executed for “high treason.”
At the besieged Pontefract Castle, the last royalist stronghold, the 100 or so men remaining solemnly proclaimed Charles’ 19-year-old son king. Less than a week later, Scotland’s Parliament named him King Charles II. On March 25, 1649, New Year’s Day, Pontefract’s defenders surrendered. Most were allowed to go free. Three days later Parliament ordered the castle demolished.
The coinage of Charles II reflects the troubled times. At a makeshift mint established the previous fall, the castle’s governor, Col. John Morris, “struck the first silver coins in this kingdom which bore the name of Charles II,” according to an 1827 castle history.
While several royalist cities struck crude siege pieces, Pontefract’s coins were elaborate, often struck from round dies on octagonal planchets .
The motto on the back of this Charles I coin reflects the troubled times. The Latin motto translates to “Whilst I breathe I hope.”
(Photo: Heritage Auctions)
Charles I’s coins typically show the castle’s gate on the obverse and the abbreviated legends “Obs” for the Latin obsessum, meaning “besieged,” and “PC” for “Pontefract Castle,” and the date 1648. The reverse showed a crowned “CR” for Charles Rex (rex being the Latin word for “king”) and the king’s motto: Dum: Spiro: Spero— or “Whilst I breathe I hope.”
The legends were changed for the coinage of Charles II. His name now surrounds the castle gate, and the reverse of some pieces bears a tragic new motto: Post mortem patris pro filio—“For the son after the death of the father.”
Within a few months, Morris, too, would be dead, executed like his king for high treason, the fortress surrendered and the castle razed.
Pontefract’s coins were all dated 1648. England followed the Julian calendar then. Only one contemporary account is known to mention the Pontefract coins, the Feb. 2 to 9, 1648, issue of “The Kingdom’s Faithful and Impartial Scout.”
“Monday, February 5, 1648—The intelligence from Pontefract is this: the besieged have lately made two sallies forth, but repulsed without any great losse to us. In the last they killed but one man of ours, and we took two of theirs prisoners, one of which had a small parcell of silver in his pocket, somewhat square; on one side thereof was stampt a castle with P. C. for Pontefract, on the other side was the crown with C. R. on each side of it. These pieces they make of plate which they get out of the country, and pass among them for coyn.”
Charles II fought to gain the throne of England for two years before fleeing to Europe in 1651. In 1660, Parliament restored the monarchy and asked Charles II to return.
Gerald Tebben, a longtime numismatist, is editor of the Central States Numismatic Society’s Centinel and a contributing writer to Coin World.
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