A history of Medieval Scottish coinage

In this blog post Medieval coin expert and long-time volunteer for the PAS, Carl Savage, takes us on a brisk hike through the history of Medieval Scottish coinage using coins on the PAS database.

Scottish coins on the PAS database

Given we are now all working from home for the time being this will be a good opportunity to explore a very brief history of the Medieval Scottish coinage using coins that have been recorded by the PAS over the years. In total 1,703 medieval Scottish coins are listed on the database; the majority of these (692) are issues of Alexander III (r.1249-86) and Short cross and Stars issues of William I (r.1165-1214), which number 493, though it is worth noting that coins in William’s name were still issued under his son and successor Alexander II up until c.1240.

First native Scottish coinage (1136-1174)

In 1136 David I took control of the city of Carlisle and the surrounding silver mines, and thus began to mint the first Scottish coins. These coins at first copied the existing English types, such as this example found in Yorkshire (SWYOR-A6B618) and a recently discovered type which combines an obverse similar to Henry I but a reverse similar to King Stephen’s type 1 found in Nottinghamshire (DENO-1AE34C). This is only the second coin of its type and it has been published by the writer in the British Numismatic Journal (Savage and Allen, 2019).

Rare Medieval penny of David I minted in either Edinburgh or Roxburgh, 1124-1135. Record ID is DENO-1AE34C (Copyright: Derby Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

During the 1140s David standardized the Scottish coinage into one design which featured a cross fleury with a pellet (sometimes attached to stalks) or other ornaments in each quarter. This example from Cumbria has annulets in each quarter attached to a stalk (LANCUM-C9254D). Along with David, his son and heir to the Scottish throne, Henry Earl of Northumberland, also issued coins from the Carlisle mint which were of a similar design to David’s issues like this example from Cumbria (LANCUM-C7BD67).

Medieval silver hammered penny of Prince Henry, Earl of Northumberland and Huntingdon dating from c. AD1139-1152. Record ID is LANCUM-C7BD67 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Henry died in 1152, followed by David in 1153 who was succeeded by his young grandson Malcolm IV. Blundered coins in David’s name were issued under Malcolm as this sterling from Cumbria shows (LANCUM-CBC0E4) alongside Malcolm’s own coins, which are extremely rare and to date the only single finds are from Scotland (the total single finds of Malcolm from Scotland to date is four). Malcolm died in 1165 and was succeeded by his younger brother William (known as the Lion). There are currently no examples of William’s first coinage (1165-74) recorded on the PAS but there are several single finds of this coinage from Scotland.

Coinages of William I and Alexander II (1174-1249)

William’s second issue known as the crescent coinage due to its reverse design of a crescent with a pellet within each quarter. This coinage lasted until c.1195 when it was replaced with the Short Cross and Stars coinage. There are currently no examples of the crescent coinage on the PAS database and it is worth noting that coins of this issue were heavier than the corresponding English Cross-crosslet and Short Cross coinages, which may partially explain their limited circulation in England.

In c.1195 the new Short Cross and Stars coinage was introduced of which there are plenty of examples on the database. These coins circulated freely in England as they were of the same weight and fineness as the English coinage. The majority of these coins were issued in the name of William with the legends either WILELMVS REX or LE REI WILLAME, though it is important to note there are variations in the reading of the legends with some coins naming the mint and moneyer while the majority just have the moneyer’s name only – such as this penny in the name of William from Cumbria (LANCUM-08C96D) which exhibits the third bust style and only lists the two moneyers HVE and WALTER. The coins listing the names HVE and WALTER are the most common of coins in the name of William on the database. Another specimen that has the mint name and moneyer comes from North Yorkshire (DUR-0DBE0A). Raul was the moneyer at Roxburgh during the reign of William who was active from the crescent coinage.

A complete Scottish silver penny of the Medieval period from the reign of William I (The Lion) (AD1165-1214). Record ID is DUR-0DBE0A (Copyright: Durham County Council, License: CC-BY).

There are some examples of coins of Alexander II on the PAS database – this one from near Bedford (BUC-DB93B1) has the bust similar to those exhibited on those coins in Alexander’s own name but is in the name of William. The moneyers Aimer and Adam were some of the moneyers active at Roxburgh during the reign of Alexander. It was during the course of the late twelfth and thirteenth century that Roxburgh became the principal mint in Scotland before the dominance of Berwick under Alexander III. A good example of a cut halfpenny in the name of Alexander comes from Cumbria (LANCUM-9E45FD) minted by Andrev or Andrev and Alain at Roxburgh.

The coinages of Alexander III to Robert I (1249-1329)

Alexander II died in 1249 and was succeeded by his young son Alexander III (r.1249-86). The Short Cross and Stars coinage was replaced in 1250 by a new coinage; the voided long cross and stars. This new coinage was introduced in Scotland in response to the introduction of the new English voided long cross coinage in 1247. The voided long cross and stars coinage was produced until 1280 and it was during this period that the most mints were in operation in Scotland with at least sixteen identified mints. Other coins with the mint signatures DVN or FRES are as of yet not identified with a 100% confidence. Current thinking is that these could represent a mint at either Dumfries, Dunfermline or Forres, though a die linked coin from Roxburgh strengthens the argument for Dumfries, which was the last crossing point of the River Nith before it drains into the Solway Firth. A good example of the voided long cross coinage of Alexander is from Wiltshire (BERK-521056) and there are several other examples on the database.

A Medieval voided long cross silver penny of Alexander III of Scotland (r. 1249 – 1286). Record ID is BERK-5211056 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

In 1279 Edward I reformed the English coinage and again like before Alexander and Scotland followed suit and introduced in 1280 the single long cross coinage. Also introduced was the round halfpenny and farthing as, like in England, Scotland produced no small change before this date and the only coin produced, the penny, was either cut into halves or quarters. Another innovation with the new coinage in Scotland was that the moneyer and the mint name are no longer listed on the reverse; instead, the legend REX SCOTORVM was now the new reverse legend. The current theory is that the number of points on the mullets in each quarter of the reverse identifies the mint, though sometimes there is also a combination of mullets and stars. There are a plentiful number of these single cross coins of Alexander III on the database such as this example from Norfolk (WAW-CD61F7) and this one from the Isle of Wight (IOW-057B66).

A complete Medieval silver penny of Alexander III of Scotland (1249-1286). Record ID is IOW-057B66 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Alexander III died unexpectedly in 1286. The death of his only living grandchild Margarete the maid of Norway in 1290 led to a major crisis in Scotland and the great cause which, through Edward I’s ‘adjudication’, led to John Baliol being selected as King of Scotland. John’s coins followed the same design as Alexander III except for stylistic differences and a new legend and on the St. Andrews coins of John the mint signature is again shown on the reverse, while all the others have the legend REX SCOTORVM. There are several examples of John’s coins recorded on the database such as a penny of the rough issue found near Lancaster (LVPL-788091) and the second ‘smooth’ issue from the Isle of Wight (IOW-F788CB). There are also some examples of halfpennies such as this one from Lincolnshire (LIN-BCFAB7).

John was deposed following the Scottish defeat at Dunbar in 1296 and following a period of English rule and warfare Robert Bruce seized the throne in 1306 and gradually begun to free Scotland from English rule. By the early 1320s Robert I had removed the English from Scotland and had enough political control and stability to produce coinage again in Scotland. Berwick was the principal mint in Scotland from the reign of Alexander III and following its capture from the English in 1318 allowed Robert to start producing coins. Again the mint signature is not named on these coins and current thinking is that the coins of Robert I were mainly issued from Berwick. Again there are some examples from the database such as this type 1 issue from Wiltshire (SOM-347647), and also a piedfort of a halfpenny found near Pontefract (SWYOR-B9E658) and this type 1 halfpenny from Cumbria (LANCUM-B09BB2).

A silver piedfort or piéfort striking of a half penny of Robert the Bruce of Scotland (AD 1306 – 1329). Record ID is SWYOR-B9E658 (Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, License: CC-BY).

The coinage of David II to Robert III (1329-1406)

Robert I died in 1329 and was succeeded by his son David II. In 1333 hostilities with England were resumed following Edward III’s invasion of Scotland, David’s first coinage consisted only of halfpence and farthings, similar to England, which at this time was also producing halfpence and farthings. A good example from the database is PUBLIC-406806  – the coins of this first coinage are distinguished with mullets of five points. The next coinage of David was introduced in c.1351 and a new classification and die study of this coinage is currently being written for publication by the writer. This coinage consisted of pennies with a small number of halfpennies (only two specimens, both in the NMS collections) and farthings (only one specimen exists and is in the collection of the NMS). The reverse consists of four mullets with six points with the reverse legend REX SCOT(T)ORVM. An example from the database which was used in the writer’s die study (Savage group E) is this example from Devon (DEV-C7519B). These REX SCOT(T)ORVM coins were the subject of a proclamation by Edward III in 1356 which banned their circulation in England due to their deficient weight compared to the corresponding English issued at the time (the English pence was 18 grains). These coins are not particularly common in both England and Scotland as finds and how effective the English efforts were to ban these coins remains to be seen. Following the loss of Berwick to the English in 1333 it is thought that these coins were minted in Edinburgh, which took up the mantle of being Scotland’s principle mint and would remain so until the act of union in 1707.

An incomplete Medieval silver halfpenny of David II of Scotland dating to the early 1330s. Record ID is PUBLIC-406806 (Copyright: Gregory Wales, License: CC-BY)

The main coinage of David following his release from captivity in England in 1357 was introduced in 1358. The groat and its half were introduced into Scotland in this new coinage, along with a short-lived gold noble coinage. The mint name was again shown on the reverse rather than the REX SCOTORVM legend. An example of a penny of this new coinage is this type A penny from Somerset (SOM-1A2445) and a groat type A6 from Lancashire (LANCUM-4E691D), as well as this type C1 halfgroat from Cumbria (LANCUM-9DD292).

In 1367 economic pressures in Scotland forced a weight reduction in the Scottish coinage. This meant that the Scottish coinage was now lighter than the corresponding English coinage and further weight reductions followed in c.1390 and again in 1403. During the reign of Richard II, the Scottish groat in England was reduced to a value of threepence and then to two. The new coinage is distinguished by a star on the sceptre handle (or behind the bust) such as this type II example from Suffolk (SF-DB95CE) and this type IIa groat from Cumbria (LANCUM-31B544).

David II died in 1371 and was succeeded by his nephew Robert II. The coinage of Robert II differed little (except for some stylistic and legend differences) from the light coinage of David II and had a star on the sceptre handle or a letter B behind the head which is thought to be the initial of Bonagius, the principle moneyer in Scotland during the later reign of David II, Robert II and Robert III. Examples of Robert II coins on the database include these pennies from Buckinghamshire (BUC-7E05CE) and Cumbria (LANCUM-BE3E21), and this halfpenny from London (LON-DEBF38).

A Medieval silver half penny of Robert II of Scotland (AD 1371-1390), Mint of Edinburgh. Record ID is LON-DEBF38 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Robert II was succeeded by his son Robert III in 1390 and during his reign several new innovations to the coinage were introduced. First the coins adopted the English style of the facing bust, and the mullets in the quarters on the reverse were replaced with three pellets. A good example showing these new changes is this groat found near Durham (DUR-8EFE44) and this halfgroat from Kent (KENT-2B9A81). Following an act of parliament in 1393 the smaller denominations, the pence and the halfpence, were to be produced with an increase in alloy and less silver. This new material is known as billon and throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth century the billon denominations contained more and more copper. A good example of a billon Robert III halfpenny is this one from North Lincolnshire (NLM-3E353D). There was a further weight reduction in the Scottish coinage in 1403 but these light coins of Robert are extremely rare as finds and there are currently no examples on the PAS database.

A base silver medieval halfpenny of Robert III of Scotland (1390-1406), minted at Edinburgh. Record ID is NLM-3E353D (Copyright: North Lincolnshire Museum, License: CC-BY).

James I and later medieval and early post medieval Scottish coinage to 1603

It was during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that the Scottish coinage became ‘divorced’ from the English currency and underwent its own reforms and partial recoinages. New denominations such as the plack were introduced during the reign of James III. Only one example of a coin of James I (1406-37) is recorded on the database (SWYOR-7209D2), though unfortunately the actual findspot is unknown. There are slightly more examples of his son James II on the database such as this groat of James’s first coinage known as the fleur de lis issue (which was introduced in 1424 under James I and continued until 1451) found in East Sussex (SUR-AA1CC4). James’s second crown coinage was introduced in 1451 in an attempt to bring the Scottish coinage more in line with the English, though this attempt failed as the coins that were produced often fell well short of the specified weight standards. These examples include this groat from Leicestershire (WMID-9E0EE8) and this billon penny from Essex (KENT-E0FCE6).

A Medieval silver penny of James II, second coinage (1451-1460). Record ID is KENT-E0FCE6 (Copyright: Kent County Council, License: CC-BY).

James II was killed in 1460 during the siege of Roxburgh castle and was succeeded by his young son James III. The Scottish coinage underwent several weight changes from weight reductions in 1467 and weight increases in 1484. An example of the light issue of 1475 is this halfgroat from Lincolnshire (LIN-B351CE) minted at Berwick, which was returned to Scotland in 1461 as part of a deal with Henry VI of England in return for Scottish support for his war against the house of York. Alongside the billon pennies there also a small issue of silver pence (worth 3d Scots) and one example from Wiltshire (WILT-F7F287).

The majority of the coins of James III are the Crux Pelit copper threepenny penny issues of James, long thought to be eccesastical issues produced at Crossraguel Abbey or issues produced by Bishop Kennedy of St Andrews. It is more likely they were produced under licence from James by his favourite the Earl of Mar and as such they were known as Cochrane’s placks, though who exactly produced them and at what date is still a matter of debate. These coins were produced solely of copper and were deeply unpopular. As such they were discontinued probably before the coin reforms of 1484. Examples on the database include this one found in London (LON-DE3819) and this one found in North Yorkshire (SWYOR-90BD33).

James III was killed in 1488 at the battle of Sauchieburn near Stirling by rebel barons and was succeeded by his son James IV. The early coinages of James followed the weight standards of the heavy coinage of his father until c.1496 when the weight was reduced. Only one example of a groat of James IV, a type IIb of the heavy coinage, is recorded on the database from West Cheshire (LVPL-3D3640) and only one billon penny (type IVb), which by the reign of James IV had almost become pure copper has been recorded, from the east riding of Yorkshire (LVPL-AD702C).

A silver Scottish billon penny of James IV type IVb minted at Edinburgh and dating to c.1500-1510. Record ID is LVPL-AD702C (Copyright: National Museums Liverpool, License: CC-BY).

James IV was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513 and was succeeded by his son James V. The early coinage of James V followed that of the billon and gold issues of James IV and silver coins were again produced from 1526 with a lifelike bust of the king similar to those on the corresponding English coins of the period, though the first time a lifelike bust of the king appeared on Scottish coins was the heavy coinage (type VI) groats of James III introduced in 1484. There are some examples of the second coinage (1526-38) of James V such as this cut groat from northern Lancashire (LANCUM-1A3A72) and these smaller ⅓ groats from Kent (SUSS-C3271E) and Cumbria (LANCUM-E40AC5). No silver was produced during James’ final third coinage (1538-42) and instead a new billon denomination worth 6d known as the bawbee was introduced. Only one example has been recorded on the database, a type Ja or Jb from west Sussex (SUSS-9D43A4).

James died in 1542 and was succeeded by his infant daughter Mary, more popularly known as Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary’s early coinage followed that of the last coinage of James V and there are two examples of billon bawbees; one from Lincolnshire (LIN-D89533) and one from Sussex (SF-0746D7). There are two examples of a new billon denomination called the lion (or hardhead) which was introduced in 1555 and the two examples on the database belong to the period of 1558-60 when Mary was married to Francis II of France. One was found in London (LON-262322) and the other from the east riding of Yorkshire (DUR-49D6A4).

A post medieval Scottish billon bawbee of Mary I of Scotland (1542-67); first period, before marriage (1542-58); mint: Edinburgh. Record ID is LIN-D89533 (Copyright: Lincolnshire County Council, License: CC-BY).

There are a plentiful number of coins, mostly the eight coinage of James VI recorded on the database such as this half thistle merk from the Isle of Wight (IOW-48DDA6) and this ⅛ thistle merk from north Yorkshire (DUR-8E4BD4). The Scottish coinage of James VI before 1603 was made up of eight coinages of different denominations and valuations which were replaced with re-coinages every few years due to the poor economic situation in Scotland during this time. It is thought that the majority of the thistle merks of the eight coinage entered England after 1603 when James succeeded Elizabeth I on the English throne. After 1603 Scotland still produced its own native coinage until the act of union in 1707.


This blog provides a very basic and brief history of the development of the Scottish coinage from 1136 to 1603 using coins recorded on the PAS database. It is hoped in the near future that the present writer will produce a new book and the history and development of the Scottish coinage as well as a new, easy-to-use, detailed classification encompassing all the research on the Scottish coinage since 1967. For now, the best book to use is the Spink book Coins of Scotland, Ireland and the Islands including Anglo-Gallic coins (2015). Further blogs will look at some of the English coins recorded on the database and also a more detailed look and interpretation of the distribution of the Scottish coins in England, which is a small part of the writer’s ongoing PhD.

Carl Savage Bsc MA FSA Scot PCIfA