Focus on the Object
This 22 carat gold coin of Elizabeth I, struck at the Royal
Mint in the Tower of London in 1565, had a value of twenty shillings or
one pound. At that time an unskilled labourer was paid about 6d a day,
making this coin the equivalent of 40 days pay.
simple design of this coin contrasts with the more elaborate styles
of the period. On the front side we see a portrait of the young queen
wearing the characteristic stiff ruff collar and large puff sleeves
of the Tudor period. The inscription around the edge declares her
as Queen of England, France and Ireland. In reality France had already
been lost to the English crown and its claim to Ireland is still being
disputed today. On the reverse we see the royal arms with the three
lions of England and the fleur-de-lys of France.
This coin is made of 22 carat gold (917 parts in 1000). English medieval
gold coinage had always been made of 23 carats and 3¾ grains (955/1000),
but Henry VIII abandoned this high standard of purity in 1545 when
he struck only 20 carats pure. This debasement of coinage caused much
shame for the monarchy. Throughout Elizabeths reign coins of
both 22 carats and 23 carats and 3¾ grains were produced. Although
she wanted to restore the traditional purity, the extra alloy of 22
carat coins made them more hard wearing.