Charles X, ¼ ecu 1590 Nantes

Started by Figleaf, February 10, 2022, 08:40:06 PM

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There are two people called Charles X in French history. The second Charles X decided the first one didn't count. He had a point Charles X(1) wasn't a king. He wasn't even a pretender. He was an unwilling marionet, but numismatically, his existence cannot be denied.

At Henri III's death in 1589, the country had two options. One was to go with the wishes of Henry III and follow the legal rules, except that this would mean a protestant as the king of France. The other option was to support the Catholic League, led by Henri de Guise, duke of Lorraine and maintain that protestantism would exclude you from becoming any kind of civil servant, including king.

The problem with the second option was that there weren't any suitable alternatives. De Guise came up with one Habsburg aligned candidate after another, such as a Spanish princess, provided she would marry a "suitable candidate", meaning a son of De Guise. His own league voted them all down. Still, they could all agree on Charles de Bourbon, who was such a good Catholic that he was made a cardinal. No offspring, so De Guise would have yet another chance in due time. In 1584, the League agreed with king Philip II of Spain to put Charles on the throne. Henry III shrugged and had Charles put in prison.

After Henry III died, the league issued coins in his name as well as in the name of Charles X from the mints they controlled, but Charles was apparently uninterested. He supported Henri IV and made it known he didn't want to be king. Being in prison may have influenced those acts, but all doubts were made irrelevant when Charles died in 1590. Saucy detail: French law said only the national engraver had the right to make coin dies (see here). The national engraver had taken the protestant side. Coinage became chaotic, with newly established, competing mints working against each other and coins of questionable quality being issued. Only in January 1596 was order restored.

A word of explanation on the prevalence of the quart d'écu and its little changed design since introduction. Spanish subsidies and military support for the League caused a large influx of Spanish silver coins in France. A study of three treasures of these times found in Bretagne and on the road from Bretagne to Paris established that around 25% of the coins found were Spanish - one of the treasures even consisted entirely of Spanish coins. The quart d'écu was designed to drive the Spanish coins out. It was defined as around 9.5 grams and with a silver content of 0.917. That made it the exact equivalent of 3 reales. Because of the easy rate to the real, the coin became very successful and known by its Flemish name kardeku, especially in Northern France, where Habsburg troops and raiders made incursions regularly, but also in the Mediterranean, including the Ottoman empire.

My coin is a ¼ écu. The mint is Nantes (T). Dy 1177.

Obv: decorated cross +CAROLVS X.Dei:Gratia.FRANCorvm.REX 1596
Rev: crowned arms dividing II and II (denomination), T below SIT•NOMEN•DOMini•BENEDICTVM

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


A very nice quart d'écu and a very complete text. I knew about his existance, but didn't know he was supported by Spain.

Despite being a not-king, this Charles X left this coins for history and collectors. But it's still strange to me how could him, being a not-even-pretendant, have such coinage.

There's a ⅛ d'écu of him giving me the eye from a long time ago, but i'm quite reluctant to buy it due to its price (not exactly low) and that pretendant (or not-even-pretendant) coins don't appeal to me. Or well, it depends on my mood... maybe one day i'll wake up and feel that i need it for living).


Tirant, my advice is to run out and buy it today. It will not become any cheaper and the longer you live, the cheaper it will look. If it's sold tomorrow, you will regret it for the rest of your days. Speaking from bitter experience.

I wouldn't call it a pretender coin. The pretender in the story, Henri de Guise, did not have enough support even to be frank and open on his pretensions. It's more serious. France was effectively split in two, as England was when Cavaliers fought Roundheads, as slave holders and slave traders fought industrialists and merchants in the US during its civil war. As on those two occasions, a conservative, intolerant leadership was fighting a realist and the realist convinced more people. When the French civil war started, the League held a large majority of mints and it was much better financed. Yet, when the French civil war ended, the League had lost and the edict of Nantes proved it. When Louis XIV abolished the edict of Nantes, he put France on the road to becoming a republic.

There is a lesson for Spain in the story also. You can't buy victory. You cannot even win it, unless you have the economic resources, and the economic resources are not the soldiers, but the people and the economy. Spain heeded the lessen at the peace of Westphalia in 1648, which liberated it from the drain of continuous warfare on several fronts since Charles V. It took Napoléon and another 150 years to drive home that you can have protestant allies like Wellington.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


I know i will regret, it has happened to me several times. So, if i ever buy it, i'll show it here eventually.

Guillaume Hermann

Pretender or not-exactly pretender, coins in the name of Charles X circulated. For a numismatist, this makes a strong diffrence with coins in the name of other French pretenders such as Henri V and Napoleon II and IV. This is the reason why I would include it in a collection of French circulating coins...