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English Civil War Siege Money

Started by Deeman, January 07, 2022, 03:06:38 PM

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Introduction – The Reign of Charles I

During the reign of Charles I (1625-49) his relationship with Parliament quickly deteriorated. Charles had inherited the autocratic views of his father (James I), which found its expression in the "Divine Right of Kings" to rule as they saw fit. To make his situation worse, the marriage of Charles to a Catholic, the French princess Henrietta Maria, aroused great suspicion. More aggravation was caused when he became embroiled in a new and unsuccessful war with Spain and was unable to persuade Parliament to grant him the necessary funds to prolong it.

When Parliament wanted to impeach the Duke of Buckingham, Charles' favourite, after the failure of a naval expedition against Cadiz, he dissolved Parliament for a second time. When, in desperation, Charles tried to raise money by imposing forced loans it was opposed by over 70 of the gentry who refused to contribute. Charles highhanded response was to have them arrested. He had even less success with his third Parliament, which sat from March 1628 until dissolved in March 1629.

Charles then attempted to rule the country on his own for the next eleven years, making an enforced peace with Spain and also France, after an ill-fated expedition to La Rochelle in support of French Protestants. During this period, he imposed the so-called Ship Money, aimed at supporting the Royal Navy but widely opposed and a source of further unrest. In 1639 he found himself at war with his Scottish subjects over attempts to enforce Protestant reforms onto the Scottish Church. In the so-called Bishops Wars, Charles found himself out-manoeuvred and agreed to a truce, only be defeated when war broke out again the following year.

When, of necessity, Charles was forced to recall Parliament in 1640, the scene was set for confrontation, which culminated in the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642. On 22 Nov 1641 Parliament passed the Grand Remonstrance setting out all the wrongs committed by the king. When Charles tried to arrest five members of Parliament who had opposed him, they escaped and this triggered off a rebellion. One of the decisive mistakes Charles made was to immediately leave London in order to find safety with his supporters, leaving Parliament in control of London and most of the south east of England by default.

For the first three years the war was only spasmodic, interspersed with abortive attempts at a peace settlement. In the opening battle, at Edgehill during Oct 1642, the Royalists gained the advantage, and the Parliamentary army was forced to retreat towards London. This was followed by further minor victories for the Royalists but the situation quickly became confused and the refusal of hard-liners to negotiate a peace with Parliament eventually rebounded on them. The battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 brought about a devastating victory for the Parliamentary forces and the fall of York, which had been under siege. Further Parliamentary victories at Naseby and Langport in 1645 eventually led to the surrender of Charles to the Scots, who had allied themselves with Parliament.

Charles was handed over to the English and held prisoner while negotiations were conducted with Parliament about how the situation might be resolved. Then in 1648 came a second Civil War, with a series of Royalist rebellions and the invasion of a Scottish army in support of Charles after a series of intrigues. All were defeated by the strong Parliamentary forces. Angry at what was perceived as treachery, the army insisted that Charles be put on trial. Having been found guilty, Charles was executed on 30 Jan 1649.


Siege Money

During the English Civil War, Carlisle, Newark, Scarborough and Pontefract Castles were the Royalist strongholds under siege from the Parliamentary Army. These were strategically important and heavily fortified Royalist centres.

Cut off from the outside world, they were forced to produce their own coins to secure the continued loyalty of soldiers and maintain internal commerce. This money was called 'siege money'.

Officials requisitioned mainly silver objects inside the castle walls that were melted down, if smelting pots were available, or otherwise just chopped up to produce coins. The coins were usually cut into a mixture of diamond, circular or octagonal shapes and stamped to establish authenticity. The exception was Scarborough where shapes were random in size and cut.

Assigned coin values were weight dependent.



In 1642 at the start of the English Civil War, the castle was held and garrisoned by Royalist forces. Because of its location far to the north of England, the castle remained under the control of the Royalists for the first two years of the civil war. It underwent an eight-month siege from Oct 1644 to 25 Jun 1645 by the allied forces of the Scottish Covenanters and the English Parliamentarians.

One of the only northern Royalist holdouts after the King's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor, Parliamentarian forces swiftly surrounded Carlisle with guns and earthworks and settled down to starve the city out. It was a blockade rather than a siege. With the city being so far behind enemy lines there was no hope of relief and the city eventually surrendered.

Only three and one shilling circular coins were struck in 1645. The obverse depicts a crown above 'C R' with the denomination below. On the reverse, OBS and CARL above the year. The 3/- coin's value is given by 'IIIs' with the 1/- coin value given by twelve pence in Roman numerals (XII).

Immediately after the siege ended, the Parliamentarian forces seized as many coins as they could for re-smelting. As such, they are extremely rare with very few examples surviving.

Carlisle Castle was the most besieged place in the Britain. Built towards the end of the 11th century, the site has seen a lot of action over the centuries, having previously been occupied by a Roman fort and particularly due to its location on the English border with Scotland. It was also the last castle in England to suffer a siege, being besieged for the last time during the 18th century during the Bonnie Prince Charlie rebellion.

Obverse: Crowned C·R flanked by rosace with denomination 3/- (·III·s) below, within beaded circle.
Reverse: Inscription OBS (obsidum, pellet in O) CARL̄ / ·1645· in two lines with rosace below, within beaded circle.

Obverse: Crowned C:R flanked by three pellets with denomination 1/- (·XII·) below, within beaded circle.
Left reverse: Inscription OBS (obsidum, pellet in O) CARL̄ / ·1645· in two lines with rosace below, within beaded circle.
Right reverse: Inscription ·OBS̄: (obsidum) /.·.CARL̄.·. / ·1645.·. in three lines with rosace above and below, within beaded circle.



The most important Royalist centre was the city of Newark. Located between the rivers Trent and Devon, and at the intersection of the Great North Road and the ancient Fosse Way, the city was a mainstay of the Royalist cause. Because of this, it was the subject of three attacks. The first attempt occurred in Feb 1643 followed by a withdrawal the next day when the Parliamentarians realised that they had insufficient troops for success. After this event, the city repaired its existing castle and mediaeval walls, and a new circuit of earthwork banks and ditches was constructed. Combined with the natural barrier offered by the River Trent, Newark became an impregnable fortress.

In early Mar 1644, a force of Parliamentary troops laid siege to Newark. Royalist forces came to the rescue and the Parliamentarians were allowed to march away, but without their artillery, firearms, and ammunition. The surrendered ordinance was incorporated into the city's defences, while the Parliamentarian command centre during the siege was demolished and in its place was constructed a massive defensive earthwork.

After Scotland defected to the Parliamentarians, a force of 16,000 men marched south to initiate the third and final siege. Arriving on 26 Nov 1645, these troops dug in deep. Since Royalist power in the region was effectively broken, no troops could be brought in to relieve the siege. The city limped along until Charles I was forced to surrender the city as part of his general surrender on 8 May 1646.

It was during this final siege that Newark diamond-shaped siege coins were struck. Due to their emergency nature, these coins were struck only in halfcrown, shilling, ninepence, and sixpence denominations. The denominations, in pence, are marked in Roman numerals on these coins - XXX, XII, IX, and VI for halfcrowns, shillings, ninepence, and sixpence respectively.

The obverse depicts a crown flanked by 'C R' above the denomination. On the reverse, the city name is above the year (either 1645 or 1646) and below the abbreviation 'OBS', which stands for the Latin word obsidum, meaning 'hostage / besieged'. Coins of 1645 are known to have the city spelt NEWARKE. Both obverse and reverse have beaded borders.

Obverse: Crown flanked by C R with denomination below, 1/- to left, 9d to right, within a beaded surround.
Reverse: Inscription OBS (obsidum) / NEWARKE / 1645 in three lines within beaded surround.

Obverse: Crown flanked by C R with denomination below, 2/6 to left, 1/- to right, within a beaded surround.
Reverse: Inscription OBS : (obsidum) / NEWARK / 1646 in three lines within beaded surround.

Obverse: Crown flanked by C R with denomination below, 9d to left, 6d to right, within a beaded surround.
Reverse: Inscription OBS : (obsidum) / NEWARK / 1646 in three lines within beaded surround.



After changing hands several times in the early phases of the English Civil War, the Royalists regained control of Scarborough Castle. It served as an important Royalist base, its interception of shipping inflicting serious coal shortages on London.

Things got rather complicated during the Civil War. Sir Hugh Cholmley held the castle for Parliament, but then changed sides to support King Charles. He held Scarborough as a Royalist base for 2 years, until Parliament launched a massive offensive to recapture the castle. In a bloody and bitter siege lasting almost 5 months, Cholmley held out while Parliamentary guns battered the castle. The Great Tower collapsed under heavy fire, and in the end, Cholmley ran out of gunpowder and on 25 Jul 1645, finally surrendered.

But that was not the end of the story. A force of 100 Parliamentary soldiers under a Colonel Boynton held the castle until 1648, but when Parliament failed to pay the troops, Boynton changed sides and came out for the king. The whole bizarre episode ended in Dec 1648 when Boynton surrendered. Parliament wanted the castle slighted so it could not be garrisoned again. The townsfolk objected, and the castle was spared.

From the 1650s the castle also served as a prison. Among those held there was George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends (the Quakers).

The siege money produced at Scarborough was the crudest of the war. All were uniface and depicted a stylised image of Scarborough castle as several vertical towers or the castle gateway above the denomination.

There is also a 'broken' castle design without a denomination. A memoir of the siege written by Cholmley himself provides reliable contemporary evidence both for their issue and for the fact that they were struck to provide pay for Cholmley's garrison. Cholmley states in this memoir that "the Governor [by which he means himself] made use of the plaite which belonged to some persons here hee had particular interest in, which was cut in pieces, and passed currant according to there severall weights." He goes on the say that "some of them had the stampe of a broaken castle with this inscription Carolj fortuna resurgam."

Uniface designs showing a stylised image of Scarborough castle. Left 5/- (S over V), centre 2/10 (S over II, D over VV), right 1/9 (S over I, D over IX).

Uniface designs showing a stylised image of Scarborough castle. Both 6d (D over VI).

Thought to be 2/- (faint 2 II below castle), depicts a stylised image of Scarborough castle as several vertical towers with OB (for obsidum) / Scarborough / 1645 inscribed on reverse.

Uniface designs showing castle gateway. Left 2/2 (S over II, D over II), centre 1/- (S over I), right 11d (D over XI).
Attributed to Scarborough, but Beeston has been intimated purely by virtue of the design even though no documentary evidence exists for coin production there.

Broken castle design without denomination. Inscribed 'Carolj fortuna resurgam' (I, the fortune of Charles, shall rise again).



Modern day Pontefract can be traced back to the Saxon times and featured in the Domesday Book, albeit as two separate villages. The two areas slowly merged and became known as Pontefract, or Pomfret, around the 12th century. The name Pontefract is taken from the Latin Pons, meaning bridge, and Fractus, meaning broken. The exact location of this broken bridge is still debated.

Pontefract Castle was held by the Cavaliers in 1642 when fighting broke out. On 19 Dec 1644, the Parliamentarians and Scottish Covenanters began to siege Pontefract, which eventually surrendered in late July 1645.

In the summer of 1648, the castle at Pontefract was seized by a group of local Royalists as part of a plan to cover the invasion of England by a Scottish army led by the Duke of Hamilton with the aim of releasing Charles I from the house arrest he was under and re-establishing his authority. Its strategic importance had meant that unlike other castles it had not been slighted when it surrendered in 1645. With the defeat of the Scots at the battle of Preston in August the garrison came under close siege.

When the Rump Parliament tried and executed the King, the beseigers called upon the garrison to surrender. They were the only place actually still fighting in the King's name. The Rump had made it illegal to proclaim a new King, and abolished the office on 7 Feb but all their actions were those of a junta without any lawful authority of their own. The reaction of the Pontefract garrison was to proclaim the late King's son as King Charles II, and to continue to hold out in his name.

Within the castle silver siege coins had already been produced in the name of King Charles I, with the motto Dum Spero Spiro (Whilst I breathe, I hope), struck by a somewhat competent engraver. He now produced a new set of dies in the name of Charles II, and with the motto 'Post Mortem Patris Pro Filio' (After the death of the father we are for the son).

The castle itself finally surrendered on 24 Mar 1649. The year 1649 is now how it is regarded, but as this was prior to 1752, the new year began on 25 Mar, hence the surrender was on the last day of 1648. Prompted by the government the townspeople petitioned for the demolition of the castle, and this was carried out with devastating thoroughness during the summer of 1649.

The siege coins struck at Pomfret may be grouped into two main divisions; the one issued during the reign of Charles I and the other posthumously. Silver coins issued during Charles I's reign were mainly 1/- pieces. Apparently, prior to his execution, some 2/- pieces were struck, but without any denomination marked, value can only be assigned by weight. During the latter part of Charles I's reign, the 1/- weight was 5.9gm and the 2/- weight was 11.3gm. There was also a gold coin struck during the siege.

Shillings struck prior to execution

Obverse: Crowned C R circumscribed by DVM : SPIRO : SPERO (While I breathe, I hope) in a beaded circle.
Reverse: View of Pontefract Castle gateway before it was slighted with OBS (obsidum) to the left and 1648 below in a beaded circle. Left picture has P C flanking central turret above and a hand holding a sword emerging from right tower. Right picture has P XII C down the side of the right tower.

Octagonal and round issues with the same design as the diamond piece pictured left above.

Shillings struck after execution

Charles I died on 30 Jan 1649, but the coins are dated 1648. Until 1752 the new year began on 25 Mar, hence the date of 1648 on coins struck in what would now be regarded as 1649.

Obverse: Crowned inscription in three lines HANC : DE/US : DEDIT/1648 (HANC DEUS DEDIT, God has given it), circumscribed by CAROL : II : D : G : MAG : B · F : ET : H : REX (Charles II, by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France and Ireland), all within a beaded circle.
Reverse: View of Pontefract Castle gateway before it was slighted with OBS (obsidum) to the left and P C flanking standard above and a cannon protruding from right tower, circumscribed by POST : MORTEM : PATRIS : PRO : FILIO (After the death of the father for the son).

The motto of the town of Pontefract is POST MORTEM PATRIS PRO FILIO, adopted after the Restoration in the reign of Charles II.

Obverse: Crowned C R circumscribed by DVM : SPIRO : SPERO (While I breathe, I hope) in a beaded circle.
Reverse: View of Pontefract Castle gateway before it was slighted with OBS (obsidum) to the left and P C flanking central turret above and a cannon protruding from right tower, circumscribed by CAROLVS : SECVNDVS : 1648, all within a beaded circle.

Gold issue after execution

Same design as the previous shilling. The weight of a Charles I unite was 9.65gm. This coin weighed 4.7gm and was therefore probably intended to be a half unite.


A magnificent gallery of photos, well explained. Thank you, Deeman. You captured the chaotic klutziness on both sides that is so characteristic of war: the least clumsy party wins. This was seldom so well illustrated as in the second battle of Newbury, when prince Rupert did not occupy Clay Hill - though he had the time to do so - leaving the high ground to his enemy, who gratefully used it to set up its artillery there.

A similar series of obsidionals was produced in the Netherlands, during its war of independence. In this case, the besieged often held out, so the coins are somewhat less rare. Yet, directly after the siege, souvenir coins were made. It can be hard to distinguish originals and souvenirs and they are often catalogued together.

I this thread, there are two pieces I suspect of being contemporary souvenirs. One is the 2 shillings shown in reply #4. The design is so much better than that of the rest, this die sinker should have done all dies. The (engraved?) lettering is similarly much better than the punches on the other pieces. It looks like someone got a description without a picture of what the tokens looked like and made it for a curiosities collector.

The second candidate is the gold piece in reply #5. I think it is die identical with the coin right above it. In the circumstances of the surrender, it is quite possible that the die came into the hands of a Parliament officer, who had it used one more time on a gold flan to serve as a souvenir or that the jeweller who made the dies kept them until things had quieted down and produced them for a rich local. I could even imagine that the coin above it may also have been a souvenir, but I see no evidence of it.

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