Cross Coinage: 1180–1554 (England)

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Cross coinage, so named because it depicted a cross on one side, prevailed in England for a period of three and one-half centuries. During that period it appeared in three different versions. The so-called short cross coinage was minted from 1180 to 1247. The void long cross coinage made a brief appearance from 1247 to 1279, and the long cross coinage lasted from 1279 to 1544.

By the twelfth century production of English coinage had slowed to a trickle, and England and much of Europe virtually reverted to a barter and subsistence economy. In 1180 Henry II, king of England, ordered a major recoinage and recruited a Frenchman, Philip Emery, from the famous mint city of Tours, to direct the effort. The obverse side of the new coins bore an image of the full-faced king; bearded, wearing a crown, and holding a scepter. The king’s name was inscribed on the coins as “Henricus” even during the subsequent reigns of Richard and John. The king’s portrait was not true to life. By 1205 the coins had become sufficiently worn and clipped to necessitate another recoinage. King John ordered a recoinage using the same design. The government supplied at its own expense the extra silver needed to bring the coins up to standard weight, a feat that proved expensive and was not repeated by future governments.

In 1247 King Henry III ordered another recoinage, this time at the expense of those who held the worn and clipped coins. The obverse side retained the image of the king’s face, but the reverse side bore an image of a cross that extended through the legend. The legend identified the mint and the moneyer (the individual who physically struck the coins). This English practice of identifying the maker of the coins probably helped to maintain the quality of English coinage. This coinage is called the voided long cross coinage because of its double cross design. It lasted only until 1279.

Edward I returned from the Crusades to find English coinage had suffered badly from wear and clipping. In 1279 he ordered a recoinage, and reduced the weight of each coin as a way of sparing the government or the people the expense of bringing the coinage up to standard weights. Edward I was the first English monarch to mint coin denominations higher than the penny. The obverse side bore a profile, as opposed to a facial, view of the king—shorn of his beard, but wearing a five-point crown. The reverse side bore an image of a broad simple cross, and the legend identified the mint but not the moneyer. This design, called the long cross design, lasted until Henry VIII’s debasement of the coinage during the years 1542 to 1551.

Edward I’s long cross design became synonymous with sound currency and was widely copied, particularly in the Low Countries.