Elizabeth I: The restoration of currency
Good and bad money
Queen Elizabeth I's father, King Henry VIII, had reduced the purity of English silver and gold coins to fund foreign wars and an extravagant lifestyle. Many of Henry VIII's 'debased' silver coins actually contained more cheap metal such as copper than silver. As the coins wore down the copper shone through his image, earning him the nickname 'Old Coppernose'.
To put things right, Elizabeth I ordered all old coins to be re-made into new, purer coins. Elizabeth's new coins were made of 'fine' silver and gold once more.
Photo © National Portrait Gallery, London
A question of honesty
To test the honesty of Mint officials, 'trial plates’ made of gold or silver were divided up and distributed to the Mint, Treasury and Goldsmiths’ Company. Samples of metal from the plates were regularly compared to coins made at the Mint. If they were not identical, the Master of the Mint was in trouble!
Before the Mint could produce Elizabeth I's new coins, metal workers needed to calculate the amount of silver or gold in Henry VIII’s coins. In a process called assaying, a sample was weighed and melted in a furnace, and the precious and non-precious metals separated out by a series of chemical reactions.
Assaying could be hazardous work. In 1560 a group of German metal workers fell ill at the Mint. They eventually died, probably of arsenic poisoning from the melting process.
A royal visit
On 10 July 1561 Elizabeth I visited the Mint at the Tower to check the progress of her new coins. In preparation, the Mint bought in bags of gravel to cover the muddy street so she did not get her dress and shoes dirty. Rumour has it she even struck some gold coins herself.
The Mint story continues
Discover the next dramatic changes to The Mint with Charles II and the mechanisation of The Mint