Pilgrims and Covenanters: expanding on updated coin records

In his recent post on these pages, SWYOR colleague Andy Benbow discussed the challenges presented to PAS volunteers working from home during lockdown. He highlighted that with few finds coming in, the period provided an opportunity to prioritise ‘housekeeping’ tasks (Databasing During Lockdown, 2020). One of my tasks has been revisiting and updating Medieval and Post Medieval hammered coin records first created between 2004 and 2006. In those early years the database was much smaller, with far fewer records for comparison, while regional offices’ reference libraries were in their formative stages, and recorders/identifiers were themselves new to what was a nascent project. The database’s requirements have also evolved over the intervening years, new fields have been added, and recording has become more intuitive, comprehensive, and nuanced – a reiterative approach to its records is clearly appropriate. As recently noted by another SWYOR colleague, Joan Tozer, ‘the PAS database is a constantly evolving set of data’ (Hooked on Fasteners, 2020).

The spareness of these early coin records became clear while I was undertaking a data cleaning task – ensuring Medieval cut halfpennies had not been recorded simply as halfpennies. Initially updating these cut halves, adding Class and North numbers, and filling in the evolved numismatic PAS data fields, as well as the object description and chronological data, it became apparent that all of the early SWYOR Medieval coin records, at least those which had not since been published, or re-examined by a secondary identifier, needed similar attention, as indeed did Post Medieval records. Thirty Medieval and twenty-eight Post Medieval coin records were updated, and just as the initial data cleaning task provoked further investigation, so did completing the updates. What follows is an expansion on some of those records.

Folded Medieval coins

One of the Medieval coins was a quarter noble of Edward III struck at London between 1363 and 1369, and found in the Doncaster area, recorded as SWYOR-A06D03.

Creased Edward III quarter noble (SWYOR-A06D03).
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.
CC BY 4.0 attribution licence

As can be seen from the images, the coin is creased; it has been folded and subsequently straightened, presumably post-recovery. The fold line is neat and deliberate, along the line of the centre of the royal shield on the obverse. Although the coin has significance as a fine example of its type, its greater importance as a cultural artefact lies in it having been folded, probably as a pilgrim token. Another example of a folded coin, one found by a metal detecting colleague on our permission east of Leeds, is a penny of the Edwardian type dating from around the turn of the fourteenth century, SWYOR-EE887F.

Folded Edward I/II penny (SWYOR-EE887F)
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.
CC BY 4.0 attribution licence

Here I shamelessly quote from my discussion in that record:

Sarah Randles highlights that putative pilgrims would bend a coin ‘at the time of making a vow to go on a pilgrimage’ (Randles, 2018, p. 55). Sarah Blick elaborates: ‘Before setting forth on their journey, some pilgrims took coins and bent them. When an inanimate object such as a coin was damaged or “killed” in this way, it was symbolic of the coin’s transfer from a physical to a spiritual plane. By destroying its normal use, the bender rendered the coin functional only for supernatural purposes. Once bent, the coin was intended for the saintly personage to whom it was promised, and no one else. The presentation of that particular coin to the shrine fulfilled the pilgrim’s vows.’ (Blick,, 2010, pp. 47-48). Randles also notes that sailors, or passengers on a vessel in a storm, might bend a coin ‘as they called out to saints’ to quell the storm, vowing pilgrimage to the shrine of the saint: the ‘act of bending’ imbued the token with an ‘amuletic power’ (Randles, 2018, p. 55).

A pilgrim; Woodcut illustration to an unidentified Latin edition of Sebastian Münster, ‘Cosmographia’, probably printed by Petri in Basel, c.1544-52.
© The Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Whilst the Leeds coin was a penny, a relatively small offering, a quarter noble (1s. 8d.) in the late fourteenth century, represented more than a week’s wage for a labourer. Even after the rise in wages due to the increased demand for labour following the Black Death, a labourer might earn about 3d. a day (Penn and Dyer 1990, p. 356). The Doncaster offering then was one of a wealthy individual.

Medieval Scottish coins

The great majority of coins recorded, however, are of a more mundane nature, yet collectively they can inform us about past societies. The number of Medieval Scottish coins found by SWYOR’s detectorists is illustrated by two updated records; one of a David II groat, SWYOR-DA0EF7, struck 1357-1371 and found in North Yorkshire, the other a cut halfpenny of William The Lion or Alexander II, SWYOR-6E9526, struck 1205-1230 by Hue Walter, and found in North Lincolnshire.

SWYOR-DA0EF7: Groat of David II. Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service
SWYOR-6E9526: Scottish penny. Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service

Carl Savage, citing examples from Cheshire, has highlighted that Scottish coins, having parity of weight and likeness, circulated in England prior to the debasements under Robert III in 1393 (Medieval Coins from Cheshire, 2016). Mapping the distribution of Medieval Scottish coins recorded with the PAS, suggests a relatively even distribution in England, one that reflects the distribution of all finds.

The distribution of Scottish Medieval coins on the PAS database
Copyright: The British Museum, MMIII-MMXX, CC-BY attribution licence

Post Medieval Scottish coin losses

However, as will be seen, the distribution of Post Medieval Scottish coins follows a markedly different pattern. One coin record updated during lockdown was a Scottish twentypence piece of Charles I struck 1637-1642 and found near Sherburn-in-Elmet, SWYOR-70E133. During the Post Medieval period the Scottish coinage was valued at one-twelfth of the English. Thus the 20d. piece would equate to 1.667 English pence, and accordingly the small silver coin from Sherburn is closest to the size and weight of a Charles I English halfgroat. Alongside detectorists’ finds, these little silver coins have been recovered during excavations at both Pontefract and Sandal Castle (Barclay and Besly, 1994, p. 32).

Charles I twenty-pence Scots piece (SWYOR-70E133).
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.
CC BY 4.0 attribution licence

While the distribution of Scottish Medieval coins mirrors that of all Medieval coin finds, the distribution of Post Medieval Scottish coins is less even, and a significant concentration is focused on an area to the north and east of Leeds.

The distribution of Scottish Post Medieval coins on the PAS database
Copyright: The British Museum, MMIII-MMXX, CC-BY attribution licence

On our permission to the east of Leeds we have found a number of Charles I ‘turners’ or ‘bodles’, copper hammered twopence pieces, including two I have found, serendipitously, in the last few weeks, illustrated here alongside one from the same site I found and recorded earlier, SWYOR-1C4D7D. Detectorist-found examples are invariably in pretty poor condition. The small coins have a crowned CR on the obverse, and a thistle on the reverse, with the belligerent, and ultimately unfortunate Stuart motto NEMO ME IMPVNE LACESSET (‘no man provokes me with impunity’ or ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’). Barclay and Besly suggest that the ‘substantial numbers’ of turners in Yorkshire might ‘have been used as farthings’, while 20d pieces, like the Sherburn coin, may have been ‘passed as pennies or even halfgroats’ (1994, p. 40).

Charles I twopence Scots, ‘turner’ (SWYOR-1C4D7D).
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service. CC BY 4.0 attribution licence
And two turners from the same site. Copyright: Graham Rawson, 2020

The Covenanter army of 1644

Trade routes between Scotland and England, particularly drove roads, might account for Scottish coin losses, but the distinct concentration in this area suggests another reason. While Scottish mercenary soldiers fought on both sides during the First English Civil War, in early 1644 a Scottish army of 20,000 men, under the invitation of the Parliamentarians, moved south into England.

On 30 June 1643 Parliamentary forces had suffered a decisive defeat at the battle of Adwalton Moor, near Drighlington, to the south of Bradford and west of Leeds. If the Royalists, with York as their northern capital, were to be forced to relinquish the north, a formal alliance with the Scottish Presbyterians was necessary. There was deep rooted distrust of Charles in Scotland, and Parliament entered into an agreement with the Scots granting religious concessions in exchange for military aid, and on 25 September 1643 The Solemn League and Covenant was ratified at Westminster. (Ashley, 1996, pp. 88-90; Wedgwood, 1960, pp. 5-6; Cowan, 1968, p. 40).

Contemporary satirical print illustrating and commenting on eight clauses of
The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. BM 1862,0712.119
Copyright: The Trustees of the British Museum. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 attribution license.

The allied army of Parliamentarians and Covenanters routed the Royalists at Marston Moor on 2 July 1644. Yet the battlefield is some 20km north of the findspots of the Scottish coins of Charles I discussed above. Although Scottish forces marched as far south as Tadcaster prior to turning to fight at Marston Moor, after the battle the allied forces dispersed, and the Covenanters’ leader Lord Leven marched his men north to besiege Newcastle.

However, a lesser, and lesser known battle the following year took place at Sherburn-in-Elmet itself, and on 15 October 1645 Royalist forces were again defeated. The site is close to the findspot of the twentypence piece, and just five or so kilometres west of the detecting permission where the turners have been found. Did some Scottish soldiers remain in, or return to, the area – were they involved in this battle, camped nearby, or en route, possibly from the garrison at Pontefract Castle (during this time occupied by Parliamentary forces) some 10km to the south? Certainly the proliferation of Scottish coins of the period is indicative of a significant presence during the English Civil War, and bears further investigation.

Perhaps surprisingly, a further connection with Scottish soldiery is suggested by the several seventeenth-century French copper coins found in the area. Nineteenth-century excavations at the Parliamentary battery at Lamel Hill, from the time of the siege of York in 1644 included ‘two or three farthings of the Scotch coinage’ of Charles I, and a double tournois of Louis XIII. The French copper double tournois, from which the turner took its name, was in general circulation in Scotland. (Barclay and Besly, p. 33). On the same site as the Scottish turners, east of Leeds, we have found examples of contemporary double tournois, SWYOR-093189, SWYOR-2B90C4, and SWYOR-33362E, below.

Louis XIII double tournois of 1633 (SWYOR-33362E).
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.
CC BY 4.0 attribution licence


If the French coins were indeed in general circulation in Scotland, then it is likely that Scottish Covenanter soldiers would have them in their pockets, or sporrans, alongside the native version. The continued recording of coins of this era (however grotty their condition) might help uncover Scottish troop movements during the Civil War.

Revisiting PAS records, indeed exploring the PAS database more generally, is an enterprise which can lead the explorer into many different, fascinating, and worthwhile areas of investigation. Each PAS record has significance as an example of material culture in itself. How an object might be changed or re-used and become ‘other’, as with the folded coins, can tell us about the beliefs and practices of past societies. In addition, the distribution of mundane finds, as illustrated by the Scottish Post Medieval coins, might inform us of the movements of groups of members of those societies.

So, #RecordYourFinds! Although current circumstances mean that museums cannot as yet host Finds Surgeries, nor can Finds Liaison Officers visit metal detecting clubs to collect finds, it remains important to have finds recorded with the PAS, to help further the understanding of our history and archaeology, so please keep your finds labelled and ready for future recording. FLOs’ contact details can be found on the Contacts page of the PAS website and here are those for Yorkshire: https://finds.org.uk/counties/yorkshire/team/. Do also check out the latest news from the South and West Yorkshire office on Twitter from Amy Downes, @SWYOR_FLO, and myself, @RawsonGraham, and nationally from @findsorguk.


Ashley, M., The English Civil War (Stroud: Sutton, 1996)

Barclay, C. and Besly, E., A Little Barrel of Ducatoons: The Civil War Coinage of Yorkshire (York: The Yorkshire Museum, 1994)

Blick, S., ‘Bent Coins’ in Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage, ed. by Larissa J. Taylor et al, (Leiden: Brill, 2010)

Cowan, I. B., ‘The Covenanters: A Revision Article’, The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 47, no. 143, 1968, 35–52.

North, J.J., English Hammered Coinage, Volume 2 (London: Spink, 1991)

Penn, S. A. C., and Dyer, C., ‘Wages and Earnings in Late Medieval England: Evidence from the Enforcement of the Labour Laws’, The Economic History Review, vol. 43, no. 3, 1990, 356–376

Randles S., ‘Signs of Emotion’, in Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions Through History, ed. by Downes, S., Holloway, S., and Randles, S., (Oxford: OUP, 2018)

Spink, Coins of Scotland, Ireland and the Islands (London: Spink, 2015)

Wedgwood, C. V., ‘The Covenanters in the First Civil War.’ The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 39, no. 127, 1960, 1-15

A Medieval Heraldic Harness Fitting from Yorkshire

This colourful find, a medieval heraldic harness fitting dating from c. 1250-1400, caught our attention in the South and West Yorkshire office. The finder, Ian Cushnie, kindly provided his own research in identifying the family whose arms it depicted. Building on that research, this post by Graham Rawson (PAS volunteer, SWYOR) seeks to give some historical background to the fitting (below), which was found near the North Yorkshire village of Youlton. It then relates it to other thirteenth and fourteenth century finds from the locality, also recorded on the PAS database.

A resized image of Medieval Harness Hook
Medieval heraldic harness fitting (SWYOR-1E049D).
Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service.
CC BY 4.0 attribution licence

The fitting depicts the device of three water bougets. A bouget is a pair of leather bags filled with drinking water suspended on a yoke. Arms, ‘gules, three water bougets argent’ (red background with three bougets in silver) are associated with the de Ros (or de Roos) family who held the manor at Youlton, in the parish of Alne, from the thirteenth century (VCH, York North Riding Vol. 2, 1923, Alne, pp. 85-91). The family also had lands in Lincolnshire, where a harness pendant bearing the same arms has also been found, whilst the village of Roos in East Yorkshire is named for them (see NLM-0F5C97). A strap slide, bearing similar arms, found near Ingmanthorpe (ten miles south of Youlton) can also be seen on the PAS database, SWYOR-A9BF45.

Detail from the Trinity Apocalypse showing heraldic harness pendants. Trinity MS R. 16. 2 f.23.r, , c. 1250. Attribution Trinity College, Cambridge. CC BY-NC 4.0 attribution licence

One illustrious family member, who lived at the time the artefact was in use, was William de Ros, First Lord of Helmsley. William, eldest son of Robert de Ros and Isabel, was born at Helmsley, (or ‘Hamelake’) around 1255, and died aged about 60, possibly at Youlton, in 1316. He was buried at Kirkham Priory. William and his wife Matilda had three children: his heir William (d. 1363), Anne (dates not recorded), and John (d. 1338) who became steward of the royal households of Edward II and Edward III. (Colin McNamee 2005, ODNB online). The younger William had the manor of Youlton settled on him in the early fourteenth century (VCH 1923).

William de Ros’s birthplace, the manor at Youlton, and his burial place are within fifteen miles of one another. Yet William, an influential nobleman, travelled extensively in his service to the Crown. He served Edward I in the Welsh campaigns of 1277 and 1282, and in Gascony in 1297. However, his greatest connection was with Scotland. Indeed, William had a claim to the Scottish throne through his great grandfather Robert de Ros who had married Isabella, an illegitimate (perhaps later legitimised) daughter of William the Lion. Although he relinquished his claim he was present at the Battle of Falkirk and the defeat of William Wallace in 1298, and in Edward’s Scottish campaign of 1300. He became joint Lieutenant and Warden of Scotland in 1308, having already procured the office of joint Warden of Northumberland. William was twice summoned to councils of Yorkshire barons regarding the defence of the county from Scottish raids in 1314 and 1315 (McNamee 2005).

Detail of a contemporary battle scene from the Queen Mary
Psalter, c. 1310-1320.
British Library digitised manuscripts. BL Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 186r.
Copyright: anonymous (Queen Mary Master) [Public domain]

The period saw a great increase in documentation (Stamper in Hunter and Ralston, eds., 1999, p. 247). Extant records reveal that William, like many of his baronial peers during the reigns of the first three Edwards, was particularly active in petitioning the crown. Petitions, ‘formal statement[s] of grievance or request’ (many held at The National Archives – hereafter TNA), can provide rich evidence regarding the economics of elite medieval life (TNA, SC 8). William de Ros’s regard re-payments of debts, the correlation and reclamation of lands held by the the Templars after their suppression, the heredity settlement of his estates, and grants of land. Towards the end of his life, when William was perhaps increasingly concerned for the salvation of his soul, and sought indulgences from the Church, he granted land to religious institutions, including to the prior and convent of Belvoir, from his estates in the Midlands, and to the abbots and convents of Thorton-on-Humber, and Warter in Yorkshire (TNA, SC 8; and see C 143, Chancery Inquisitions, 1216-1485, enquiries into requests to alienate land, often to religious houses, TNA, C 143). His burial at Kirkham Abbey might additionally show his spiritual considerations.

Petition in French from William de Ros to the king and his council, regarding land around Wetherby which the Templars held from him. TNA SC8/334/E1139.
Copyright: Open Government Licence v3.0

Projects like ‘Placing Medieval Markets in their Landscape Context through PAS data’ are using found artefacts to investigate the economics of medieval life (https://finds.org.uk/research and see https://medievalmarketsites.wordpress.com/). Further research based on the type and distribution of finds around William de Ros’s Yorkshire estate might illuminate the nature of the lives of those who lived and worked there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Searching the PAS database for medieval finds within a five kilometre radius of the harness fitting’s findspot reveals the richness and variety of activity. At the time of writing ninety-four finds might be associated with the period 1250-1400, that of our harness fitting. Of these thirty-one are coins: six were issued before the period, but may still have been in circulation. The remainder consist of coins issued during the period: six pennies and five cut halfpennies of Henry III, six pennies and a farthing of Edward I, two pennies and a farthing of Edward II, a quarter noble and two pennies of Edward III, and a Scottish penny of Alexander III. Of the English coins whose mints have been ascertained only three were struck locally, at York, while a further two were struck at Lincoln. The remaining twenty-four were minted in the south of the country, ten of these in London and nine in Canterbury.

Pennies, halfpennies and farthings might conceivably have been the losses of all social classes, the distribution of medieval coin finds on the PAS database suggests ‘coin use was spread throughout society’ (Leahy and Lewis 2018, p. 260).However, the quarter noble of Edward III (NCL-49CFC2) like the harness fitting, would most likely have been the loss of an elite member of society. Even after the rise in wages due to the increased demand for labour following the Black Death during Edward III’s reign, a quarter noble, equal to 20d., represented over a week’s wages for a labourer, who might earn around 3d. per day (Penn and Dyer 1990, p. 356)

Details of contemporary illustrations of agricultural labourers from the Luttrell Psalter, c. 1325-1340. British Library digitised manuscripts. BL Add MS 42130, f. 171v, and f. 172v. Copyright: British Library [CC0]

Many of the other finds are higher status possessions. One highlight is a silver gilt brooch evoking the magi (PAS-676FF6); a similar brooch, dated to 1360, can be seen in Spencer 1998 (No. 260, pp. 264-265). Four of the artefacts found within the area are seal matrices. Although seals were initially used to authenticate the documents of social elites, like clergymen, and barons like William de Ros, by the later thirteenth century, a period of increased prosperity and commercialism, they were increasingly used by tradesmen and even possibly the peasant classes, although it is probable the latter were the simpler generic lead matrices (Leahy and Lewis 2018, p. 137). Three of the locally-found seals might be identified as higher status. One bears the arms of Sir Edmund de Kendal; this has been recorded with a discussion by Irene Symanski who highlights (with particular relevance to the provenance of losing of the de Ros harness fitting) ‘whilst it may have belonged to the nobleman himself, it could equally have been in the use and possession of ‘one of his agents/retainers, for example his steward or other senior servant.’ (NCL-664756).

A manorial official supervising the harvest.
From the Queen Mary Psalter, c. 1310-1320.
British Library digitised manuscripts. BL Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 78v.
Copyright: anonymous (Queen Mary Master) [Public domain]

One seal however suggests a different social status of ownership. It has a simple design of a fleur de lis, and the inscription S’ IOH’ IS STURNEI, ‘the seal of John of Sturney’ (or John Sturney) (YORYM-A18201). This is probably the seal of a tradesman. Many other finds evoke the simpler life of those who created and sustained the de Ros’s wealth and lifestyles, the villeins and serfs who worked on his estates. Several spindle whorls attest to the prevalence of home-spun woollen cloth, while simply decorated shield-shaped lead weights, like the Sturney seal, speak of the developing commercialism of the middling-sorts during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century. These weights are found more commonly in the north (Leahy and Lewis 2018, p. 276), and the two examples here, like most, are decorated within a raised section; one with a simple cross (YORYM-602588), the other a fleur de lis (NCL-698D62). Parallels can be seen in Egan 1998 (pp. 320-322). Egan suggests the inclusion of devices used in the arms of the nobility may have given regulatory authority to the weights. If finds like these provide evidence of trade, a number, including the brooch (above), a seal, and perhaps from a less elevated social class, a leaden pilgrim’s ampulla (SWYOR-BF8201), highlight the importance of religion in medieval culture. As noted above belief and the salvation of the soul were of central importance to the lord of the manor, William de Ros.

In examining the context of a single find, placing that find amongst others from its locality, and their own archaeological and historical contexts, it is possible to begin to sketch a picture of the society, and the individuals within it, in a given landscape in a particular period. Significant caveats must be applied to the representativeness of those finds however. For example, whilst elite members of that society had more artefacts of material culture to lose, metal detectorists actively seek (and consequently record) those higher status finds. Ensuring the recording of all finds potentially dating from the medieval period would enhance our understanding of the material culture of a broader range of social classes, and their inter-connections. Nonetheless, even from this perfunctory investigation of the finds recorded from around Youlton, a picture emerges of a society with religion at its core, and an elite manorial economy, at the head of which are noble families who celebrate their status in depictions of their arms and mottoes. Finds also provide evidence for commercial expansion and prosperity, at least prior to the Black Death, and a raised status for the middling-sorts. It is perhaps fair to conclude that the area, William de Ros’s manor, in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, for those social classes at least, was a prosperous and flourishing one.