The Henry IV/V divide; a numismatic contention
For the last century numismatists have been debating over where the dividing line should be placed between the issues of Henry IV and V.
This debate has been given renewed attention by Lord Stewartby in his book English Coins 1180-1551 who, somewhat contentiously, calls for those issues of Henry V which lack the mullet (also known to Stewartby as a cinquefoil) to be reallocated to Henry IV. On what is this argument based and what factors must we consider in its contemplation? The aim of this article is to answer these questions within a broader contemporary numismatic context and to focus specifically on the altered dies of Henry IV which are found muled with reverses of Henry V.
It was decreed by parliament that in Easter 1412 an experimental weight reduction of the coinage would take place for a period of two years which was to be ceased if not proven satisfactory (Stewartby, 2009). This change made its mark on the coinage in more ways than just a reduction in weight. Potter (1960) noted the defining characteristics of the new lighter coinage, under mintmaster Richard Garner, as being a slipped trefoil placed upon the breast (as well as elsewhere in the legends) and an annulet/pellet placed by the crown on the obverse.
The use of these latter symbols on Henry V’s class A small silver consolidated Potter’s view that it should be reallocated to Henry IV. Two factors, evident from the surviving specimens, throws light on the problems experienced at the mint during the new coinage of 1412. The tower mint had been inactive since Michaelmas 1408 at which time skilled staff at every level had been reallocated to other duties. New dies, prepared by several different engravers, saw much variation in style and were, by all accounts, quite crude. Dissatisfaction within the authorities was confirmed by an order of 22nd September 1412 whereby the warden of the mint; Henry Somer, in keeping with precedent, was to recruit skilled engravers, moneyers, and die sinkers from the continent.* Secondly, and finally, many dies prepared for the new coinage were of the same module as that of the heavy coinage. These dies were used on flans reduced in size, due to their lighter weight, thus resulting in freshly minted coin that would appear to be clipped. Despite this problem, the larger dies continued to be made beyond the reign of Henry IV and, as such, a problem is created for the numismatist in accurate attribution.
* It should be noted that this sequence of events is Potter’s interpretation and may differ from that of Stewartby
On 20th March 1413 Henry IV passed away in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey and Henry V became king. Shortly afterwards on 14th April Richard Garner was replaced by Lewis John as mintmaster at the tower. This transitional phase was the first regnal transfer since the introduction of the groat and half in which the monarch’s name had not changed. It is for this reason that the following phenomenon has divided numismatists for the best part of the last century:
Obverse dies that were still in use at the end of Henry IV’s reign were recalled so that a mullet could be struck over the pellet to the right of the king’s bust. These dies were then reissued and used in conjunction with both old reverses (halfgroat + halfpenny) and new (groat + penny). These amended dies of Henry IV were used only for a very short period as fresher dies with the mullet incorporated into the design were prepared almost immediately. A view shared by Potter and Walters is that the mullet was Henry V’s distinguishing emblem and was, therefore, used to differentiate his issues from those of his father. Potter continued that the phenomenon of adding a new symbol to old dies was unprecedented in regnal transfer and, as such, could not have been a privy mark. Stewartby (2009) used this lack of precedent to argue that the mark would more likely have been used for an administrative or accounting purpose. The basis for this hypothesis was borne from the instances, required by indenture, in which such marks were; ‘…sometimes used to indicate the coinage of a new master, and would provide a natural explanation of the position in 1413.’. This notion is consolidated by the fact that a majority of the dies used under Lewis John, in office for all but six and a half months of Henry V’s reign, displayed the mullet. As a result of the foregoing argument, Potter’s chronological juxtaposition of John’s new position in office with the definitive coinage of Henry V has now been officially questioned.
Whichever way the regnal transfer problem is approached, there is strong evidence to suggest that the dividing line should be shunted forward to include Classes A and B (without mullet) under Henry IV. It is understood by the author that an arrangement similar to this was adopted in Spink’s SCBC for a period but then promptly changed back. Whether or not this paradigm shift in the coinages classification will be undertaken again, readers of this article can make their own mind up as to where the dividing line should be. In addition, it is fortunate that readers of this article can have the opportunity to purchase a specimen inextricably linked to this fascinating period of numismatics from AMR coins.
Found in Essex, this extremely rare Henry IV/V mule penny comprises one of only a handful of known examples. It displays several characteristics which have been explained in this article; a crude bust, which belies the lack of skilled engravers during the early light coinage period, a mullet punched in to the right of the crown, Henry V’s defining symbol or the privy mark of his new mintmaster Lewis John, a slipped trefoil on the breast, another defining mark, this time for Henry IV’s light coinage, and much more. Indeed no other example of this coin has been offered for sale for many years. Notable, however, that one such specimen did pass through such eminent collections as that of Henry Webb, Hyman Montagu, Frederick Walters, and Richard Lockett.