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