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Coin of the Moment

King John, 1199 - 1216. Silver penny, Winchester mint

"When John came to the throne, he lost his temper and flung himself on the floor, foaming at the mouth and biting the rushes. He was thus a Bad King....
John was so bad that the Pope decided to put the whole country under an Interdict, i.e. he gave orders that no-one was to be born or die or marry (except in Church porches)....
John finally demonstrated his utter incompetence by losing the Crown and all his clothes in the wash and then dying of a surfeit of peaches and no cider; thus his awful reign came to an end."

1066 and all that, Sellar and Yeatman 1930

John: An Awful King
King John (1199-1216) has gone down in British history as a ĎBad Kingí, in the immortal words of Sellars and Yeatman. Stories and films inspired by the Robin Hood legends have idealised Johnís brother Richard the Lionheart (1189-99), while criticising Johnís harsh rule as regent during Richardís absence on crusade. In 1199, John succeeded Richard as king. Johnís reign is remembered for his murder of his nephew Arthur, and his loss of the royal lands in Normandy to the French king in 1204. He also mismanaged his relations with the aristocracy, leading to the issuing of Magna Carta in 1215. His reign ended with the barons in revolt and a French invasion of England.

What does this coin reveal about King John and life in England during his reign?
This coin was minted in Winchester in the spring of 1205, and has a unique portrait of John. English kings were generally shown full-face on medieval coins from Henry II (1154-89) to Henry VII (1485-1509), but here John is portrayed in three-quarter profile. It is a much more lively image than the very flat and static pictures on most coins of the period: compare the coin of King John from Chichester below. The reverse of the coin has the cross design of all English medieval coins and gives the name of the mint and moneyer.

 

Early in 1205, King John ordered the recoinage of Ďclippedí coins. People had been cutting down coins to take the silver for themselves. John ordered all these pennies to be withdrawn and replaced by new coins. From the kingís point of view, as well as restoring the quality of the currency, the recoinage was also a useful money-earner, as his mints charged a fee to recoin old money. However, the recoinage did not solve Johnís severe financial problems, and his need to levy heavy taxes contributed to the baronial revolt of 1215.

Why had clipping of the old coins occurred?
We are not entirely sure, but it may be that heavy taxation, made necessary by Johnís expensive wars in Normandy, and Richardís even more expensive crusades before him, had taken so much money out of circulation that it reduced the supply of silver available. Lack of silver may have led people to seek some by clipping coins.

Very little can improve Johnís image and he seems condemned to play the villain while Richard remains the heroic crusader. However, this coin shows that John could also be an active and innovative ruler, who was prepared to take initiatives in government.