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Currency in Britain, 1650s

 
 
dmp47
 
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 03:30 pm
Doing a historical fiction piece during the final year of the English Civil War. What were the coins used in such a time, and what were their values?
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Type: Question • Score: 11 • Views: 10,273 • Replies: 25
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dmp47
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 03:46 pm
@dmp47,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unite_(English_coin)
Nevermind! ^^
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 07:25 pm
The coin to which you refer was issued in the reign of James I. The English civil wars took place between 1640 and 1650, long after James had died.

Farthings, or fourth pennies were in circulation
Ha'p'nies (half-pennies) were in circulation
Pennies, of course
Twopence--a two penny coin
Thrupence--a three penny coin
Groats were still in circulation, but no new ones were being minted--a four penny coin
Six pence coins
Shillings
Florins, at a value of two shillings
Half crown, ag a value of 2 and six (two shillings six pence)
Crown, at a value of five shillings

The sovereign, a coin of 240 grains of gold, first minted by Henry VIII, were replaced after 1604 (reign of King James I) by the unites, then the laurel--both coins had a value of twenty shillings--however, although still in circulation, they were not being minted any longer. These were eventually replaced by the guinea, a coin valued at 21 shillings, in the reign of Charles II, after the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, after the end of the civil wars. Many foreign coins were used in both England, and other nations in Europe, with most intelligent people having an idea of the rough exchange value of specie (gold and silver coins, having an intrinsic value, which coins do not today possess).

Half sovereigns, at a value of ten shillings, did not appear until much later, late in the reign of King George III.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 09:12 pm
By the way, you say you're doing a piece of historical fiction. Most people in England in 1650 could go from one year's end to the next without ever seeing a gold coin--likely without seeing very much silver, either. They might see a shilling now and again, or a crown or half-crown, but very likely, the only coins they would routinely handle would be farthings, ha'p'nies, pennies, tuppence, thruppence and six penny coins. A skilled laborer living in London in 1650 would be doing quite well if he earned a shilling a day, and he could have kept his family with that. Outside London, a man earning three or four shillings a week was doing very well (for a working class man).

From a document of 1625 (prices attested to an agent of the new King, King Charles I), a barrel of 18 gallons of good ale or double beer would sell for -/3/4 (three shillings, four pence). That would usually be watered to make what was known as "small beer," and so enough small beer for a man's daily consumption for two and half months cost about a week's wages (for a skilled laborer). That would be a value added product, though, and a pound of sweet butter or "best" cheese would cost less than four pence. One stone (14 pounds) of "best" beef ran -/1/2 (one shilling tuppence). Most laboring people rarely ate meat. When Charles Stuart, son of the executed Charles I, was fleeing England after the disastrous defeat at Worcester in 1651, he travelled disguised as the equerry of a gentlewoman. Sitting in a kitchen, he was told to wind up and set the jack (a device for running a spit to turn meat in a large kitchen fire place), and when it became obvious that he didn't know how to do it, he apologized, and told them that he had rarely eaten meat in his life. The lie was so plausible, that no one thought another thing about it.

When people did eat meat, they were more likely to eat mutton than anything else. A quarter of butchered, dressed "best" mutton was two shillings (which is to say, a quarter of a sheep's carcass). A "fat pig" was one shilling, four pence. A goose was one shilling. A couple of lean chickens could be had for six pence, and a dozen pidgeons (for eating) for a shilling--a penny apiece.

The value of money lies in what it will purchase, not in some abstract conception of financial credit. People rarely handled gold coins in those days, so your unite would hardly have reason to enter into the lives of ordinary people, or even "the better classes." Most people ran credit accounts, which were paid quarterly, and as often as not, that payment would be in the form of a letter of credit, or an order on an account at a bank. Such letters or orders would be treated like bank notes, and no actually specie would necessarily change hands. In the run up to the civil wars of the 17th century in England, Charles I reached the point at which he forbade anyone to leave England without permission, and those who did had their luggage diligently searched for specie (gold and silver coins) because so many Puritans and Dissenters were leaving England, and taking their wealth in the form of ready cash, that the country was getting to be dangerously low in specie--in coined money. It is estimated that between 1625 and 1640 (from the accession of Charles I to the beginning of the civil wars) some 12 million pounds sterling in specie drained out of England.

If you are doing historical fiction about that period, coins would be rare and precious possessions of common people, and even the well off would not be going around jingling ready money in their pockets.
0 Replies
 
Mame
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 10:05 pm
@Setanta,
You neglected to say what a shilling was worth.
solipsister
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 03:32 am
@Mame,
a dozen pidgeons a penny apiece

a shilling is a kings ransom and a vocation
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 04:21 am
@Mame,
Twelve pennies=one shilling

Twenty shillings=one pound
Francis
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 07:18 am
@Setanta,
Amazing thing, in England they price a liter of fuel in pence even though it's greater than a pound.

1 liter petrol = 102.9 p instead of 1.029 £.

Memories of the old times, probably...
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 09:10 am
With 12 pence in the shilling, and twenty shillings in the pound, an accountant had an uphill struggle to learn his profession, but after having accomplished that, the arcane knowledge required to do sums in that system assured him of a good living for the rest of his life. Kinda of like printing money . . .
saab
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 10:56 am
@Setanta,
Don´t forget Twenty-one shillings = one guinea
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 10:59 am
I already mentioned that, but the guinea was not in existence in 1650 . . .
0 Replies
 
McTag
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 11:08 am
@Setanta,

Quote:
With 12 pence in the shilling, and twenty shillings in the pound, an accountant had an uphill struggle to learn his profession, but after having accomplished that, the arcane knowledge required to do sums in that system assured him of a good living for the rest of his life. Kinda of like printing money . . .


A hundredweight of wheat at twelve and threepence three-farthings a bushel? Let's see now.....
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 11:41 am
Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie . . .


Protest song from the reign of Charles I . . .
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 11:54 am
Jack and Jill, too . . . Charles I tried to increase the tax on a jack (one quarter pint) of water (the English have been mad for bottled water, "source water," for centuries), of honey, of beer and of any other liquid sold under license. Parliament wouldn't go along, so, by fiat, he reduced the volume of a jack, thus increasing the tax by reference. Since a gill (pronounced as "jill") is an eighth pint, half a jack, it was claimed by outraged citizens that he had reduced that, as well. Saying that "Jack fell down, and broke his crown" was a veiled thread, and saying that they took him home and wrapped his head in brown paper was a reference to the manner in which taxes were remitted--wrapped in brown paper.
0 Replies
 
Mame
 
  2  
Reply Tue 5 May, 2009 01:59 pm
@Setanta,
Thank you. I always wondered about that.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 6 May, 2009 01:16 pm
@Mame,
You welcome, Darlin' . . .
0 Replies
 
Larry 37
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Dec, 2014 12:25 pm
My sixth great grandfather a yeoman from Tintinhull Somerset.Left his wife an income of 20shillings a year. He died in 1659.
0 Replies
 
roger
 
  1  
Reply Thu 25 Dec, 2014 12:45 pm
So, what the hell is two bob four?
Rah
 
  2  
Reply Sat 2 Apr, 2016 05:42 am
@roger,
From rah
Before decimalisation a bob was a shilling - so two bob four was two shillings and four pence. When the groat ( four pence coin) was in circulation two bob four could have been called two and a groat. My grandfather ( born in Kent UK in 1880, died in Kent UK 1967) always thought and calculated and spoke of amounts using the groat ( removed from circulation part way through his life) as well as the other coins that continued in circulation. To us, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Sixpence was a tanner, so two and a tanner was a half crown, or two shillings and sixpence. One might say that something cost "two and a kick" ( two shillings and sixpence) but the half crown coin was never called anything except a half crown and the sixpence coin was always & only called a tanner. And, by the way, we who used it found no difficulty in calculating amounts in £sd. We knew no other system, we were all taught our multiplication tables up to 12x12 and the daily & frequent use of division and number bonds up to 12 and up to 20 while calculating costs & prices & change meant that we had more practice in metal arithmetic than we did after decimalisation. I was a primary school teacher at the time of decimalisation and having to teach the new system meant that I grasped it more quickly than many adults. But even I found the new system less versatile, less varied . And certainly less linguistically rich!
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 2 Apr, 2016 06:00 am
Cool . . . thanks for the account.
0 Replies
 
 

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