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Elizabethan Currency, Money and Coinage

Be it the Golden Age of English history or the peak of English renaissance, the Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) has always been viewed very highly. Moreover, the factual knowledge available related to that era reveals that in the England of Elizabeth, money was not an abstract concept.

The money and currency of that period were all in coins and, that too, only of gold and silver. There were no copper coins and certainly no paper notes. Even the pennies were either of silver or gold. The worth of a coin was the same as the value of the constituent metals.

Elizabethan Currency
Coins from the Elizabethan era

Elizabethan Coins Value

The basic denominations of the coins were pounds, shillings and pence. According to the then system, twelve pence used to make one shilling, and, twenty shillings used to make a pound. These were constant values, and, never varied relativity to one another.

Sovereigns, Nobles, Angels, Festoons, Royals and crown were the name of the values that fluctuated due to the time-to-time minting and depended on their weight and purity.

A gold coin worth one pound was sovereign. Interestingly, there was no coin called ‘pound’ until 1538, though that was the basic monetary unit. An angel was the gold coin worth ten shillings. The crown was made in both gold and silver, and, it was worth five shillings. Royal is now spelled as ‘rial’ or ‘ryal’.

Elizabethan Currency
Elizabethan period coinage

Gold has always been more valuable than silver and people at that time considered the monetary equivalent of gold in comparison to silver more precious. The difference in the value of same denomination of gold and silver coins was so much so that the gold coins were hoarded and silver coins were circulated in the market. Thus, a seller accepted a lower price if the payment was made in gold.

The “Money of Account” was related with book-keeping. This term was related with the accountancy in those days. Until 1583, pound was a money of account. The weight of the silver or gold present in the coin determined the value of that coin. Gold and silver were always alloyed with other metals to make coins. Fineness was the term used to determine the amount of gold or silver present in the alloy used to make the coin.

Elizabethan Currency
Gold and silver coins from the Elizabethan era

Wages/incomes of people in those days were similar to the mechanism present in today’s scenario as it was purely dependent on the job.

A lot of things could be brought in lesser money in those days; those golden days of the history of England. The names of the values of the coins suggest the richness and royal life in England. Over and above all, England was already a well-off country compared to other nations of Europe. And, currency in the form of gold and silver coins strengthens the very same fact.

Basic denomination of money

Basic denomination during Tudor times was pound, shilling, and pence.

12 pence = 1 shilling
20 shillings = 1 pound

penny was written as d
shilling was written as s
pound was written as £

A sovereign was a gold coin worth 1 pound i.e. 20 shillings. Term “pound” came into being after 1583.

An angel was a commonly used gold coin = 10 shillings (Half a pound).

“the sweet voice of an angel would get things done” – the origin of this term you can see above

Crown coin in both gold and silver = 5 shillings = Venetian ducat = Flemish gelder, or a French êcu.

Half-a-crown was worth 2 shillings 6 pence.

The shilling was a silver coin worth 12 pence. The sixpence was a silver coin worth 6 pence.

A groat was a silver coin worth 4 pence.

A penny was a silver coin. A coin worth 2 pence was called tuppence.
A half-penny was called a ha’-penny.

The farthing was a 1/4-penny fragment although less practical, was used during low inflation years.

Guinea came in the late 17th century. So not during the Tudor era.
High-amount transactions like land, feudal fines, or calculating dowries were done in “the Mark” (13s 4d) or two-thirds of a pound.

Expenses during Tudor times

Daily expenses were typically in shillings and pence.

Food and drink = a few pennies. Pot of ale would be a penny or little more.

Tipping – house servants would get a tip (called vail) of a few pence. Common vail used to be about a penny.

For greasing the palms, gifts were more common than money.

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