The Story of... English Civil War siege money

Many numismatic collectors seek perfection in the rare coins they collect, and are tenacious in hunting down the very best struck coins, with their features and colour untarnished. The 1907 High Relief double eagle awarded to a lucky collector by Heritage recently being a perfect dream.

But of course coins have a historical dimension too, and whilst a world away from the Teddy Roosevelt vision, siege money is desirable in its own right. These are coins produced impromptu due to an acute lack of currency because of a siege.

There are several kinds from around Europe, but the best known are perhaps those produced during the English Civil War. The money was issued in towns loyal to King Charles I which were resisting sieges, either to pay the soldiers (including mercenaries) or just to carry out ordinary transactions.

Scarborough Siege money
Scarborough siege five shilling piece

The first three of these were created in Carlisle (1645), Scarborough (1645) and Newark (1646) during three great sieges.

'An order was published to every citizen to bring in their plate [i.e. silverware] to be coyned, which they did chearfully', a young man from Carlisle noted during the time the town was under pressure from the Scottish army.

Scarborough castle suffered a full year long siege in which Sir Hugh Chomley handed out coins at the rate of sixpence a day to those repairing walls. The Scarborough money, some of which was found in 1995, gives good examples of the rough cut nature of the coins - it is often obvious that they were made from crafted objects rather than featureless metal. The value was determined by the weight of the silver.

Scarborough siege sixpence coin
Scarborough siege sixpence coin (sold for £42,000 at Dix Noonan Webb)

Newark issued its own money during the third siege which is of surprisingly good quality and relatively common.

The Pontefract siege of the Second Civil War (a series of Royalist rebellions against the newly established status quo) issued money during the siege which lasted from 1648 into 1649. After Charles I was executed in January 1649, the coin design was altered to read 'for the son' (the future Charles II) until the end of the siege in March.

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