Patterns of monetisation and coin use in England and Wales during the Middle Ages
New interpretations made possible by the Portable Antiquities Scheme
- Richard Kelleher
- Barrie Cook, curator of Medieval and early modern coinage
- Prof. Chris Gerrard, Durham University
- Dr John Naylor, Ashmolean Museum
- An Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award
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More than 17,000 medieval coins dating from the Norman Conquest to the reign of Henry VIII, and his debasement of the coinage, have been found in England and Wales through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. These coins were found extensively across lowland and coastal areas, but patterns seen in material found through the use of metal detectors are often subject to a number of factors which can affect distributions and their interpretation. Initial mapping has shown a range of spatial and temporal patterns in the development of the use of coinage during the period, particularly in the late twelfth century which saw a significant rise in the provision of coinage from English mints. This increasing availability of coins continued into the thirteenth century as, at the same time, money was used more and more across a broader spectrum of society.
Project aims and output
The project aims to develop new approaches to the study and interpretation of medieval coins (1066-1544) using a core dataset of material recorded by the PAS, the vast majority of which have been recovered by metal detectorists.
The project is based around a number of interrelated aims which address questions on the development of the use and spread of coinage: the social and economic frameworks within which coins were used and how this affected their use and loss; the patterns of foreign coins found in England; the deposition of coins within domestic, funerary and wider landscape contexts; the exploration of the secondary use of coins such as their conversion into items of jewellery, piercing for use as amulets or folding as part of pilgrimage vows.
The finds have been made in a wide range of locations, from ports and major towns to small, rural communities whose inhabitants appear to have begun participating in some form of monetised economy.
From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century new dynamics affect the distribution and composition of the finds record. Questions concerning the availability of silver, the introduction of a gold coinage, the scourge of inferior imported coins and the relationship between towns and their hinterlands are all areas which this project will address.
Non-monetary use of coins
Coins were used for non-monetary purposes, shown in both their placement in the landscape and in terms of how they have been manipulated. Three main types of adaptation have been identified, consisting of conversion into a brooch or badge, piercing and folding.
The latter category is of particular interest with folded coins on the PAS database numbering over 130. Documentary evidence suggests that these coins may be interpreted as part of pilgrimage vows, with coins folded as a promise to a saint. Further study will explore the dynamics of where these finds are occurring, the nature of the manipulations found and what can be suggested about the meanings invested in these objects by their final owners.
R. Kelleher, ‘Coins in Context: Archaeology, Treasure and the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ with I. Leins, in The British Museum and the Future of UK Numismatics. Proceedings of a conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of the British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals, (ed.) B. Cook (British Museum Research Publication 183, 2011), 18-24.
R. Kelleher, ‘Reused coins in the English later medieval period (c1200-1600)’, in The Archaeology of Medieval Europe Vol. 2. Twelfth to Sixteenth Centuries, eds. M. Carver and J. Klápste (Aarhus University Press, 2011), 267-8.
R. Kelleher. ‘The 'English Custom': folding coins in medieval England’, Treasure Hunting Magazine (April 2010), 79-82.