Reproduced by kind permission of Mr D.G. Heaton who presented this at the Huddersfield Numismatic Society.
Edward`s third surviving son Elfweard, had apparently been declared heir to the throne by the Witan (parliament of Ealdormen) but he mysteriously died less than a month after his father and was never crowned. Speculation was he may have been murdered at the suggestion of his elder brother Athelstan who now succeeded to the throne.
Athelstan`s parentage may have been in some doubt but his father was Edward and his mother Egwina, `a noblewoman’ who may or may not have married Edward. Perhaps to avoid speculation Athelstan was brought up in the court of his aunt Ethelflaed at Gloucester in Mercia and not at Winchester. He was a favourite of his grandfather Alfred and indeed the only grandchild Alfred knew, he being the eldest. Athelstan was immediately proclaimed King in Mercia on the death of Edward.
He was eventually acknowledged King in Wessex but as was a common practice he agreed not to marry in order that a successor would be chosen by the Witan at his death.
He immediately set out to establish his authority. The Welsh paid homage in 926 at Hereford and in the north he summoned the kings of Scotland and Strathclyde to Eamont Bridge in July 927 and made them swear to support him and not the Scandinavians. Thus when he entered York in 927 he was the first Saxon to do so as prior to the Vikings previous rulers had been Angles.
Following this conquest he was declared King of Britain and his coins bear the Legend `TOTIUS BRITANNIA’ usually abbreviated.
On many coins of Athelstan the mint as well as the moneyer were named apart from those of the East Midlands. It is however possible to identify 35 mints. The fact that 80 of the moneyers named on his coins also struck coins for Edward, together with similarities of style, is good evidence that half of Athelstan`s named mints were already established in Edward`s reign. Although the number of moneyers is not an accurate guide to mint output there is no good reason to doubt that Athelstan`s mints with more than 5 moneyers, namely Chester, Derby, London, Norwich, Oxford Shrewsbury and Winchester, together with York were the most productive. York is exceptional. Only one moneyer is named, Regnald, on its mint signed coins. It is however likely that he had minting rights north of the Humber and ‘did a bit of sub-contracting’ as his output was substantial! No doubt a bit of `seignorage’ was payable?
Athelstan decreed that money shall only be coined in a Borough, that every borough shall have one moneyer and that some more important boroughs should have more than one moneyer.
Aethelstan two line penny
Southern and Mercia
Obv: ATHELSTAN REX around small cross
Rev: +ÆELV / VINEMO in two lines. crosses between
1.44g, (S.1089, N.668 HT1, BMC i)
Athelstan Helmet Penny
Obv: Helmeted bust with legend ADELSTAN REX
Rev: Cross crosslet with legend EINARD MONETA
Athelstan`s reign was fairly peaceful by the standards of the day but in 934 he was incensed by the Scottish king forming an alliance with the Norse king of Dublin and marched north with a huge army and devastated Scotland as far north as Fordun, near present day Aberdeen.
His final battle was to emphatically defeat a combined Scots and Norse army at Brunenburgh, believed to be near to Nottingham, in AD937. His final 2 years were peaceful and he died in October 939 at Gloucester, aged 44. He is buried in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire. Athelstan never married and the Witan elected his half-brother the 18year old Edmund.
Edmund (The magnificent)
Edmund was the eldest child of Edward the Elder`s third wife Edgiva of Kent. Raised in Athelstan’s household he had accompanied him on several campaigns and had fought at Brunenburgh.
As usual on the accession of a new king in Wessex the north revolted! Olaf Guthricson the Norse king of Dublin took over York and marched south into Mercia devastating the countryside and towns including the Mercian capital at Tamworth. Edmund confronted him at Leicester where an ineffectual siege followed and Olaf escaped. Talks followed which allowed Olaf to keep York and also the lands in East Anglia which upset the Danes. Eventually Edmund recovered from this set back and marched north. He retook York and the northern lands and even made it as far as Strathclyde where he installed a new scots king Malcolm. On condition he would be faithful to Edmund, Malcolm was given in return the lands captured from the Norse. Edmund had retaken all the lands lost in the early part of his reign and looked to enjoy a long and peaceful reign. However in May 946 at Pucklechurch near Bath, he was stabbed whilst interrupting a fight at a feast and was fatally wounded. He died aged only 24 and is buried in Glastonbury Abbey.
He had two young sons, Edwy and Edgar, both of whom would become kings, but he was succeeded by his younger brother EADRED.
Eadmund two line type penny
Obv: EADMVND REX EBR around small cross
Rev: INGEL / GARMo in two lines, crosses between, trefoil of pellets above and below
(S.1105, N.688 HT1)
Eadred and Edwy
EADRED was 23 when he succeeded and despite being physically weak was every bit a warrior like his brothers Athelstan and Edmund. The north again revolted and installed Eric Bloodaxe as King of York. This infuriated Eadred and he marched north. Rather than attack York directly he laid waste to its surroundings. On his way back to Mercia the Norse attacked and he was forced to turn back to York. He threatened to destroy the city but the citizens threw out Eric. However this was a short interlude and Eric was soon returned to power. Eadred was again forced to go north in 954 and Eric was expelled but on his way back to the Orkney Islands was slain. The remaining Danes and Norse in York readily accepted Eadred as their King putting an end to the Scandinavian kingdom of Jorvik.
Eadred could then be justifiably be called king of all the English but he did not live long to enjoy his glory. He died in September 955 at Frome in Somerset aged only 32. He is buried at Winchester.
Eadred two line Penny
Obv: +EADRED REX O around small cross
Rev: HUNLAF / MOE in two lines, crosses between, trefoil of pellets above and below
1.32g, (S.1113, N.706 HT1)
Eadred`s untimely death resulted in the accession of his 14 year old nephew EDWY (the Fair meaning mild mannered) or often named EDWIG. He was the eldest son of Edmund and he reigned for a mere 4 years, dying aged 18 at Gloucester in October 959. His brief reign is only notable in his disputes with his council who favoured his younger brother Edgar.
Edgar (The Peaceable)
The Saxon name EADGAR means `rich in spears’, undoubtedly a reference to his inheritance of military power. When his uncle EADRED died in 955, EDGAR was only 12 years old but was appointed the kingship of Mercia and Northumbria with his brother EDWY becoming king in Wessex. As stated previously EDWY was a weak and troublesome youth and the middle-English and Danes readily accepted EADGAR as their king. So on the death of EDWY in January 956 Edgar was accepted as King of all England.
Although he probably had a formal coronation when he became king of Wessex, Dunstan the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury believed there was a need for a major ceremony similar to those of the King of Franks and the German Emperor.
This ceremony was delayed by some years as Dunstan was unhappy with Edgar`s dissolute lifestyle. Allegedly marrying a childhood sweetheart, Aethelfleda but she either died in childbirth around the year 961 or the two became separated because of his amorous adventures with Wulfryth who later became a nun! Edgar then became romantically involved with Elfrida, a married woman with whom it was surmised may have conspired with Edgar to murder her husband Athelwald in 964.
Elfrida came to epitomise the image of the wicked stepmother by her treatment of Edgar`s young son Edward (The Martyr) in favour of her own son Aethelred.
Dustan counselled Edgar and possibly as a result of his passing from youth to manhood Edgar changed his ways and a grand coronation took place in Bath Abbey in May 973.At this ceremony for the first time a Saxon king was crowned king of all the English, a title used by previous monarchs but never as part of their coronation. Elfrida was also crowned as the first queen of the English. Edgar was thus the first genuine king of England and the coronation ceremony has remained essentially the same in content ever since.
This ceremony marked the end of a peaceful and prosperous reign. The Saxon world would thereafter start to disintegrate and within less than a century be almost wiped away.
Gradually during the early years of Edgar’s reign the coinage had become debased due to the lack of new silver and the continued re-melting of the existing coins. However in the 960’s rich veins of silver were discovered in Saxony, Germany, which resulted in a huge increase in cross channel trade and the import of large quantities of new silver to pay for the exports of grain and wool from England.
This glut of new silver allowed Edgar to fundamentally reform the coinage. With rare exceptions there was only one denomination, the silver penny which was struck in at least 50 mints around the country. The fineness and weight of these coins were restored to the standards set a hundred years earlier by Alfred, and all had the same design, a stylized royal portrait with the king`s name on the obverse and a small cross surrounded by the names of the mint and moneyer on the reverse.
The design of this reformed coinage was continued under Edgar`s immediate successors Edward the Martyr and Aethelred 11, until 979 when it was replaced by a new type with a hand on the reverse.
This set pattern of re-coinage with new types being introduced at interval of between 5 and 9 years, but after Cnut`s reign more frequently, every three years or less. This encouraged the fineness of the English coinage to be envied elsewhere and of course the increase in overall wealth in England encouraged others to want a share!
The constant renewal of coinage was encouraged as the king was entitled to `seignorage’ i.e. payments by moneyers for the right to strike coins, who then took a cut from the difference in weight and fineness of worn coins traded in and the weight of the new coins issued.
A nice little earner and indeed the longer a coin type was issued the lighter it became to encourage merchants etc to re coin their silver.
An example would be the `CRUX’ type of Aethelred and the small CRUX coin issued later in the period of this issue.
COINS OF EDGAR
Eadgar portrait penny - pre reform type
Obv. +EADGAR REX
Rev. +BIRCSIGE M-O LONDCI
Eadgar reform penny
Obv. +EADGAR REX ANGLOX
Rev. +PVNSIGE M-O GLEAV
1.66g, (S.1141, N.752)
Edgar died at Winchester in July 975 aged only 32 and is buried in Glastonbury Abbey.
He was succeeded by EDWARD, son of his first wife Athelfleda but he had opposition from his younger half -brother AETHELRED whose cause, he being only 7 years old was advanced by his mother Elgiva and others who wished to control him.
He reigned for a mere 3 years for on visiting his stepmother and half- brother at Corfe Castle, Dorset, in March 978 he was set upon by those helping him dismount from his horse and stabbed to death!
He was initially buried in Wareham Abbey nearby but he was later moved to Shaftesbury Abbey, Dorset. An interesting tailpiece to his whereabouts is that during an archaeological dig at Shaftesbury in 1931, what were believed to be Edward`s relics were found and for decades they were stored in a bank vault in the Midland Bank in Croydon!
Edward`s coins follow the pattern of his father`s reform type with a Royal Portrait. A single type reading EADWARD, was issued by 35 known mints and several whose identity is not confirmed.