My husband surprised me a week or so ago when a little package arrived from the other side of the Pond. It contained a silver Short Cross penny minted in Great Britain for Henry II (1154-1189 AD)! Henry II was Eleanor of Aquitaine's second husband. I now hold this penny close as I write my time travel novel. (For those of you who may not know, I am writing an sf time-travel novel in which my heroine goes back to the twelfth century to meet Eleanor of Aquitaine as a child.)
On my coin, the lettering around the edge is cut off. On the head's side it is supposed to read "HENRICUS REX" or Henry the King (Henry II). The tail's side lettering is also somewhat missing, but it says it was minted by a man named Hugo in Lincoln, England.
Hubby got the coin from eBay. The package that came in the mail included a note giving the coin a provenance which tells us what is also hinted at on the coin surface itself: that it came from England, was minted during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), and that it is one of many Short Cross pennies that were minted during that time. It also tells us that it was minted at the Lincoln mint by Hugo Moneyer who was, as his name indicates the moneyer or minter of coins there.
I got a chill reading this slip of paper, remembering the classic BBC series from the late '80s called THE LOVEJOY MYSTERIES starring the magnificent Ian McShane in the titular role. According to the show, the provenance means everything in the world of antiquing. If you had one that was associated with an object you owned, you were in the money. If you faked a provenance for a copy of a valuable antique and you did a good job, you were also in the money. But in LOVEJOY, you also faced the real possibility of going to jail. If you had no provenance, you were out of luck, unless the buyer's expert was convinced your article was genuine. Lovejoy always walked that line very closely.
My coin is a Class 1 Short Cross penny, which means it was minted sometime during 1180-1189. The way to identify Class 1 is that King Henry's crown always has five pearls in it. (You can just barely count these on my coin.) Class 2, which was minted from 1189-91 and is very rare, can be identified by Henry's head having massive curls on both sides of his head. Class 3 through Class 8 were minted in successive years and have their own identifiable markings (some markings more consistent and, therefore, some identifications more accurate than others).
Following is an example of a Short Cross penny with most of its features intact (because it was stamped more on the center of the silver slug).
This example shows a silver Short Cross penny minted in Northampton England by a moneyer named Willhem during the same period my coin was struck. It is the same basic stamp, although the lettering on the tail side identifies Willhelm instead of Hugh and Northampton instead of Lincoln. On this coin, which is of higher quality, the cartoon-y image of HENRICUS REX is very clear. It is actually quite an amusing image considering what a serious and warring king he was, even fighting with his own progeny over the kingdom.
The Short Cross penny was actually the second coin to be minted after Henry II came to power in 1154. The first coin, The Tealby penny was struck first shortly after Henry took the throne away from King Stephen (1135-1154). The Tealby penny was introduced to help restore public confidence in British currency. Thirty different mints were used to create the Tealby coinage. This proved to be too many production sites to keep up standard practices. The Tealby penny was an acceptable currency in the kingdom, but the coin itself was of low quality. So in 1180, the Short-cross penny was produced. It was a new style of coin whose quality was more stable than previous coins because fewer mints were allowed to operate and quality could be controlled more easily.
My coin is from the Gisors Hoard found in 1970 in France. It was one of only three Class 1 coins minted in Lincoln to be found there. Gisors France is a town in the Norman Vexin near where the kings of England and France would meet until the beginning of the 13th century. The hoard of coins were found in the court of a house built on the town's medieval wall. The English silver pennies were found in a leather bag at the bottom of what had been a hemp sack full of French copper coins. The copper coins had corroded into a mass of green metal that had melded with bits of hemp material from the bag. However, the leather bag, although degraded, had protected the collection of silver.
In researching my coin, hubby discovered that there is an Eleanor of Aquitaine coin as well. However, he was unable to find a specimen for sale. I was interested to know more, so I dove in. What I found was that the Eleanor coins are somewhat rare and are believed to have been struck around 1185 after Henry II had died and when Richard I, the Lionheart, ruled England. Eleanor would have been about 63 years old.
Maybe, someday, I'll hold an Eleanor of Aquitaine coin in my hand. Who knows? But for now I am very happy to hold a Henry II silver Short Cross penny. And my husband, of course!