Coinage of the Fifteenth Century

Mediæval Dictionary: Coinage
This is the first of a new series which will explain unfamiliar words and phrases found in articles and books. Suggestions for words or topics to be included will be welcomed.

We will begin with one of the more fundamental topics of the Middle Ages, or any other age, money. The coinage of the fifteenth century was fairly complicated. It was based on the pound sterling which contained 240 pennies. Sums of money were given in pounds, shillings (containing twelve pennies) and pence. However pounds (until Henry VII) and shillings were not minted; they were coins of account and the (silver) penny was the real basis of the system as it had been for many centuries. Another ‘coin’ of account, never minted, was the mark. This was worth two thirds of a pound or 13s. 4d.

The coins that were minted were as follows:

  • Silver: the penny, its subdivisions, the halfpenny and farthing. These were always, in our period, in silver. The groat, a four-penny piece and the half groat.
  • Gold: the noble was valued at 6s. 8d. (i.e. a half mark) until the regin of Edward IV who revalued it to 8s.4d. Half and quarter nobles were also minted. The ryal, or rose noble minted by Edward IV and valued at 10s. Half and quarter ryals werre also minted. The angel, minted by Edward IV after (in effect) removed the old half-mark coin from circulation, worth 6s. 8d. A half angel was also minted.

These coins were named usually after their designs; the angel for example had St. Michael spearing the dragon on the obverse. All denominations were not minted regularly but only as needed. Most of the coins minted were silver, for example in the very large hoard found near Reigate recently (and probably deposited about 1460) there were 6,567 silver coins (of which 658 were pennies) and only 136 gold. Most demoninations would never be seen by most people. The skilled labourer who could earn 1-1/2d. per day would probably never see a coin greater than a groat. — PWH