Gold franc-à-cheval of John II, king of France
France, AD 1360-64
The French king buys his freedom
This coin, the first French franc, owes its name to the political background behind its issue. The design shows King John II of France (reigned 1350-64) charging into battle on horseback, but, ironically, the issue came about because of a crushing defeat: the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 during the Hundred Years War (1339-1453). The Black Prince's English army defeated the French at Poitiers and captured most of their leaders, including king John. John was held captive, though in comfort, until 1360, when his vast ransom of three million écus (French gold coins) was agreed. John's freedom and return to France was celebrated by a new gold coinage, called a franc (French for 'free') to be worth one livre, or 20 sous.
However, John enjoyed only a relatively brief taste of freedom. In 1363 the payment of his ransom to the English crown was suspended, as such a large sum had proved difficult to raise, and John felt himself bound by honour to return to English captivity. He died in London in 1364.
N.J. Mayhew, Coinage in France from the Dar (London, Seaby, 1988)
J. Duplessy, Les monnaies Françaises royale, vol. I (Paris, Maison Platt, 1988)