There are only a few eras in English history which are better known and more interesting than the Civil War between the followers of King Charles I and Cromwell. After all, the English king mounted the scaffold considerably earlier than his French counterpart; although his execution was not followed by a Republic, but the Commonwealth – a confederation of nations which, in theory, should be held together by the common good, as the name suggests. It ended up being characterized by violence and suppression more than anything else – but that’s another story.
Either way, the English Civil War is not only incredibly interesting in terms of history, but also numismatics, and not merely because large amounts of coins had to be minted to cover the costs incurred by the military. During the English Civil War, various types of money were in circulation alongside each other: coins of the Royalists and the Republicans, coins from the London Tower Mint, but also from mints such as Oxford, Exeter, Bristol, Hereford or Chester, just to name a few of them. If you then also recall that at almost no other time in history people put more multifaceted propaganda on English coins and that during sieges, emergency money was created, which was used alongside “regular” coins, you should easily get a sense of how diverse this period of English numismatics really is. It comes as no surprise that Edward Besly’s book on the coins and medals of the English Civil War, which was first published by Spink in 1990, has been released as a new edition in 2019.
First things first: this is not a catalog that you would use to identify coins. You’d be better off using the comprehensive catalogs of English coinage for that. Besly’s book is a work on the (monetary) history of the time period between 1642 and 1660 that seeks to explain the context of coinage to collectors and addresses unanswered questions. Who better to summarize the book’s content than the author himself? Allow us to cite the blurb: “Following the description of the currency in circulation in 1642 and a survey of the organisation of royalist minting during the war, the royalist mint-franchises are considered in turn. Foreign coinage, siege issues and the emergency coinages of Ireland are all described: and the story of the Tower Mint under Parliament is followed through the Interregnum of 1649-60 to the Restauration of Charles II. Minting methods at a time of transition from manual to mechanised production form an important subsidiary theme.”
In other words, those who have read Edward Besly’s book will have learned about the most important facts and problems related to the coins and medals of the English Civil War. The author is considered a renowned expert of this era. Whenever he isn’t working on books, he works as a curator of the archaeology and numismatics department of the National Museum Wales in Cardiff. Besly has been honored with numerous awards both of the British Numismatic Society as well as the Royal Numismatic Society. Anyone who has read his incredibly well researched and thrillingly written text will not find that hard to believe.
To put it in a nutshell: “Coins and Medals of the English Civil War” is a profoundly numismatic book which nevertheless remains readable for non-numismatists as well. What a brilliant addition to any numismatic library!
You can order your copy on the Spink website.