This unusual silver medieval coin was found by metal detecting just to the north of Dorking, Surrey and has been recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as SUR-A17568. It is an example of a type of coin known generically as a “continental sterling” penny, more specifically by the French name ‘au château brabançon‘. Its obverse shows a castle gate flanked by two towers with the legend DVX DE BRABAnTIA; the reverse has an English style long cross with three pellets in each angle with the legend MOn/ETA/BRV/XEL.
This coin, only the sixth of its type yet recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk), was minted in Brussels by John III, Duke of Brabant, which at the time was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It dates to the first half of the 14th century (c. 1312-1355), a period when the silver coinage of England, following Edward I’s reforms in 1279, was the finest in Europe – the very term “sterling” being a reference to the purity of the silver (at 92.5%). This was a far cry from earlier English issues which were often plagued by poor quality, clipping, forgery and variable weights which undermined confidence in their use.
The new Edwardian coinage was widely imitated by continental rulers seeking to boost confidence in their own economies. Typically such copies are of lower grade silver and initially closely imitated the design of the originals, with similar facing portraits and legends. The type seen here however, with its distinctively different “castle” obverse, superceded such imitative issues in the low countries. It represents an example of a distinctively new form of continental coinage, generated by the growth and increasing confidence of the economy of Brabant as it profited from the English wool trade and cloth production in the early 14th century. Nevertheless, the continued influence of the English currency remains clear on the coinage, with an English-style reverse still evident on this issue.
During this period the polity of Brabant became an important regional power and John III, who was also a grandson of Edward I, became a useful ally to his cousin Edward III during the early part of the hundred years’ war. He even attempted to marry off his daughter Margaret to Edward, the Black Prince, Edward III’s heir. This alliance disintegrated before that could actually happen and John subsequently switched sides to ally with the French in 1347, an event typical of the turbulent politics of the time.
Throughout this period, coins like this circulated informally in England with varying degrees of acceptance and legality. Consequently finding a coin of this type, even a rare one like this, doesn’t necessarily indicate a specific or unusual connection. Instead it speaks more broadly of the wider context of the country within the northern European economy, the strength of the English currency and the complex politics during the early stages of the Hundred Years’ War.
Allen, M, 2012, Mints and Money in Medieval England, Cambridge University Press
Grierson, P, 1991, Coins of Medieval Europe, London: Seaby
J. Chautard, 1871, Imitations des monnaies au type esterlin frapées en Europe pendant le XIIIe et le XIVe siècle, Nancy
Mayhew, N.J, 1983, Sterling Imitations of Edwardian Type, London: The Royal Numismatic Society