Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 1.55: Stuart Medals

Plate: Engraved in at least four states by George Vertue (1684-1756), after his own drawings. Vertue's own list of engravings records that in 1723, he engraved the medals of both Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots (Alexander 2008, 237). Alexander’s catalogue of Vertue’s works confirms that he engraved versions of the top two items on Plate 1.55 in 1723, then labeled as “A gold MEDAL of MARY Queen of Scots” and “The Coronation MEDAL for the / QUEEN and Lord DARNLEY” (298). The minutes of the Society of Antiquaries of London record that “it was by Ballot agreed that a Gold Coin of Mary Queen of Scots in the possession of Mr. West be engraved by Mr. Vertue” on January 17, 1734 (SAL Minutes II.27). Perhaps Vertue corrected his earlier engraving based on a new specimen of the top object, a gold ryal, provided by James West (1703-1772), who had been elected to the Society in 1726. A version of the plate dated 1734 in the British Museum (1874,0808.2172) shows that Vertue retained the labels as Alexander records them from the 1723 version of the plate. In 1739, however, Vertue revised these labels; he recast the top label as a banner reading, “A gold COIN,” and the second label as a banner reading, “A Silver Piece of the / QUEEN and Lord DARNLEY” (Alexander 2008, 358). In 1739, Vertue added the extra honorifics—“” —to the label matched to the second item; that year, he likewise engraved the silver medals of Queen Anne and Prince Henry, and he added the two center banners. Vertue must have revised the plate one more time, also in 1739, adding the milled proof pieces from Charles I along with their minted counterparts, which are not recorded in Alexander’s catalogue.


1. A Gold Ryal (1555) of Mary, Queen of Scots, from the collection of James West: Minted in Edinburgh, this was the largest portrait coin, sometimes also described as a three-pound piece, issued during Mary's reign. The 22-carat ryal represented here is one of 19 documented variations, each weighing roughly 7.6 grams (Murray 1979, 160-162). An example of this coin can currently be seen in the National Museum of Scotland (H.C4104); other examples can be found in the Ashmolean, Hunterian, and British Museums (Murray 1979, 160).

2. Medal Commemorating the Marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley (1565), from the collection of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl of Mortimer: The name of Darnley precedes that of Mary on the obverse of this silver cast and chased medals; these medals were quickly withdrawn from circulation and replaced with ones that included Mary’s name first or her name only in the inscription. An example of this medal can currently be seen in the National Museum of Scotland (K.2002.2116).

3. Silver Coronation Medal of Queen Anne (c. 1604): A silver coronation medal for Anne of Denmark, Queen consort to James I, believed to be the work of Charles Anthony (d. 1615). The coin is dated 1603 but was likely issued in 1604 because Anne is designated as Queen instead of Empress on the medal, and James I maintained the title of Emperor until 1604. An example of this medal can currently be seen in the British Museum (M.7006).

4. Silver Medal of Prince Henry (c. 1612): A silver medal also attributed to Anthony (d. 1615), likely issued to memorialize the death of the young and popular Prince Henry, eldest son of Anne and James I. An example of this medal can currently be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2001.431.1).

5. Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I, Label A: A milled proof piece for a £1 coin, c. 1630 based on the lis mint-mark visible on the obverse, likely designed by Abraham van der Doort (c.1575-1640) and produced on a die engraved by Nicolas Briot (c. 1579-1646), perhaps with the assistance of “Edward Greene” (Farquhar and Allen 1941, 71). The label, “penes Nobilisse Comitissam de Ponte-Fracto,” indicates that the proof piece was from the collection of the Countess of Pomfret, Henrietta Louisa Fermor (1698-1761), a close friend of Frances Seymour, the Duchess of Somerset and Countess of Hertford, who was the wife of Algernon Seymour, Lord Hertford—the president of the Society of Antiquaries from 1724-1750.

6. Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I, Label B: A milled proof piece for a “unite,” c. 1631-32, designed by Briot and marked by the label, “G. V.”, as belonging to the collection of George Vertue (Kenyon 1884,153).

7. Gold Medal of Charles I, Label C: Not a gold medal, but rather a “silver medal, gilt” with the “King on Horseback” and “[t]he Rose and Thistle Linked” on the obverse, from the collection of Richard Mead, as indicated by the label (Museum Meadianum 1755, 196). This medal is the work of Thomas Simon, and was issued in 1639 to commemorate the Charles I’s defeat of a Scottish Rebellion with the Treaty of Berwick. This is the rarest of the four versions of the medal that were issued (Franks and Grueber 1885, 1.283, no. 93).

8. Gold Medal of Charles I, Label D: We have been unable to definitively identify this medal. It appears to be a very rare silver pattern piece for a Charles I crown, not a gold medal as labeled, and signed with Briot’s distinctive flower stamp on the obverse (Snelling 1769, Plate 6 no. 7). The “R. J. C” in the label is currently untraceable, but the specimen for the engraving may have been supplied by “Mr. Crayke” who was named as one of the committee chairs tasked with completing the history of British coinage in the Society’s Metallographia Britannica project in 1724 (SAL Minutes I.112).


Gold Ryal (1555) of Mary, Queen of Scots:
Label: A Gold COIN of MARY Queen of SCOTS / penes Jacobum West Ar.

Medal Commemorating the Marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley (1565):
Label: A Silver Piece of the QUEEN and Lord DARNLEY / “E. Collect. Hon.mi Com. OXON & Com. MORTIMER &c.

Center Banner, Left: MEDALS
Canter Banner, Right: & GOLD COINS

Silver Coronation Medal of Queen Anne (c. 1604) and Silver Medal of Prince Henry (c. 1612):
Label: Silver Medals / of Queen Anne & Prince Henry:
Obverse of Queen Anne Medal, Outer Circle: ANNA DG REGINA MAG BRIT FR ET HIB
Obverse of Queen Anne Medal, Inner Circle: FILIA & SOROR REGV DANIÆ
Obverse of Prince Henry Medal: HENRICVS PRINCEPS
Reverse of Prince Henry Medal: FAX MENTIS HONESTAE GLORIA

Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I:
Label: A / penes Nobiliss Comitissam de Ponte Fracto

Gold Medal of Charles I:
Label: C / penes Ri. Mead MD
Reverse: QVOS DEVS

Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I:
Label: B / penes G. V.

Gold Medal of Charles I:
Label: D / penes R. J. C.

Bottom: A. B. Mill’d proof pieces, propos’d for the Gold Coins of K. Charles I. / C. D. Two Gold Medals of the same. / Sumptibus Soc. Antiquariӕ Lond. 1739.


Gold Ryal (1555) of Mary, Queen of Scots:
Label: From the collection of James West, Esq.
Obverse: Mary by the Grace of God, Queen of the Scots
Reverse: The just man lives by faith.

Medal Commemorating the Marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley (1565):
Label: From the Collection of the Honorable Earl of Oxford and Mortimer [Edward Harley (1661-1724)]
Obverse: Henry and Mary, by the Grace of God, King and Queen of the Scots
Reverse: Whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.

Silver Coronation Medal of Queen Anne (c. 1604) and Silver Medal of Prince Henry (c. 1612):
Obverse of Queen Anne Medal, Outer Circle: Anne, by the grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, France, and Ireland
Obverse of Queen Anne Medal, Inner Circle: Daughter and Sister of Kings of Denmark
Reverse of Queen Anne Medal: “Deceitful cunning is safer than innocence” (Pinkerton 1790, 32).
Obverse of Prince Henry Medal: Prince Henry
Reverse of Prince Henry Medal: “Glory is the incentive of an honest mind” (Pinkerton 1790, 32).

Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I:
Label: A / From the collection of the Noble Countess of Pomfret
Obverse: Charles by the grace of God , King of Britain, France, and Ireland
Reverse: United kingdoms flourish.

Gold Medal of Charles I:
Label: C / From the collection of Dr. Richard Mead
Obverse: Charles by the grace of God , King of Britain, France, and Ireland
Reverse: Whom God hath joined.

Gold Milled Proof Piece for Charles I:
Label: B / From the collection of G[eorge] V[ertue]
Obverse: Charles by the grace of God , King of Britain, France, and Ireland
Reverse: United kingdoms flourish.

Gold Medal of Charles I:
Label: D / From the collection of R. J. C.
Obverse: Charles, by the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland; defender of the faith
Reverse: “Second to none of the ancients in virtue” (Pinkerton 1790, 42).

Commentary by Crystal B. Lake and David Shields: Plate 1.55 reflects new findings associated with the Society's efforts to prepare a Metallographia Britannica and exemplifies antiquaries' commitments to documenting especially rare “ancient monuments,” evidenced elsewhere throughout Vetusta Monumenta. More specifically, Plate 1.55 joins Plates 1.43 and 1.56 in recording exceptional examples of numismatic artifacts that could not readily be accommodated by the orderly, chronological history of English coinage as rendered, for example, by Plates 1.37-1.38. Additionally, Plate 1.55 joins Plate 1.20 in reflecting the value that members of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) assigned to numismatic objects as case studies in historical portraiture and in related developments in the technologies associated with engraving and metalwork. Finally, in its deft rendering of a melancholic microhistory of Stuart royals, this print emphasizes the art-historical value of coins and medals and carefully crafts a visual narrative that registers the complex affective contours of popular numismatics in the long eighteenth century.

Composition History

Like Plates 1.20, 1.37-1.38, 1.43, and 1.56, Plate 1.55 represents the ongoing and fraught attempts made by members of the SAL to produce a Metallographia Britannica: a comprehensive history of English coinage. The minutes record that the Metallographia Britannica project officially launched in January 1721/2, and David Alexander’s catalogue confirms that George Vertue began engraving the numismatic specimens featured on this plate as well as Plate 1.20 shortly thereafter in 1723. Prior to 1723, Vertue had engraved only a few numismatic specimens, including the Alfred Jewel in 1710 (Alexander 2008, 231), the headpieces for an edition of Homer’s works in 1715 (233), some unnamed “medals &c. and [a] medallion” in 1718 (234), and an image of “Queen ANNE with medals” in 1719 (235).

Collectively, the numismatic plates in the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta illustrate both the pitfalls and the promises of the Society’s Metallographia Britannica project. Coins and medals were popular objects of antiquarian study by the early eighteenth century (Woolf 2003, 221-258; Schnapp 1997, 132-138). The interest that Renaissance scholars took in numismatics resulted not only in the formation of substantial collections of old coins and medals but also in the increased production of so-called “modern” coins and medals; by 1700, as Frances Haskell explains, numismatic objects of study “existed in huge quantities” (Haskell 1993, 14). Scores of coins and medals, in other words, had been collected during the Renaissance; still more had been discovered as well as produced. This state of numismatic affairs meant that rare specimens, curious variants, known gaps in the numismatic record, and forgeries also abounded, calling out for the expertise of the learned, eighteenth-century antiquary. Consequently, a Metallographia Britannica—with its imperative to discover, identify, classify, and arrange so many objects—was necessary, but it also threatened to become unwieldy; indeed, the SAL never completed the comprehensive history of British coinage that they had envisioned.

Despite the difficulties the SAL encountered while trying to assemble a complete history of British coinage, Plate 1.55 reflects their enduring interest in numismatic studies while it also embraces the digressive qualities of numismatic research. After completing engravings of the top two items associated with Mary, Queen of Scots in 1723, Vertue appears to have devoted his attention primarily to the engravings of Tudor medals and coins that would later constitute Plate 1.20, which was finally completed in 1731 with the addition of Browne Willis’s (1682-1760) silver crown from Henry VIII. Alexander’s catalogue records that three years later, Vertue began work on four prints of coins and medals for Martin Folkes (1690-1754) and returned to his engravings of the medals of Mary, ostensibly with a better specimen of the top medal in hand from James West (Alexander 2008, 298). The Society’s minutes confirm that the SAL balloted to have Vertue engrave the “Gold Coin of Mary Queen of Scots in the possession of" James West (1703-1772) on 17 January, 1734 (SAL Minutes II.27).

Hugh Pagan suggests, however, that Vertue began this work two years prior; the correspondence conducted between Willis and Folkes attests that in 1732, Vertue had “provided Folkes with a proof of a plate illustrating gold coins attributed to Edward III, Henry IV, and Richard II, and that he was at work on another plate illustrating coins of James I. By September, Vertue had also executed a proof of a plate illustrating gold coins of Mary I and Elizabeth I, and…a plate or plates of Charles I’s gold coins, were also envisaged” (2003, 159). Folkes left for his continental tour following his failed bid for the presidency of the Royal Society in 1733, but the Society’s Minute Books record that Vertue brought “Proofs of the Gold Medal of Mary Queen of Scots and of the silver Medal with the head of Henry Earl of Darnley struck upon their Coronation” to a meeting of the SAL on 4 July, 1734 (SAL Minutes II.45).

When Folkes returned from his tour in 1735, he let his plan for numismatic engravings lapse, and he published the first edition of his Table of English Gold Coins as a text-only project in 1736; Willis quickly complained to Folkes about the lack of illustrations in the Table, and this appears to be the context in which Vertue returned once again to Plate 1.55 in 1739 (Pagan 2003, 159). In 1739, Vertue added the silver medals of Queen Anne and Prince Henry and corrected the banners describing the first two specimens. In 1723, Vertue had identified the Ryal as a “gold MEDAL,” but in 1739, he designated it as a “Gold COIN”; in 1723, Vertue had identified the wedding medal as a “The Coronation MEDAL,” but in 1739, he designated it as a “Silver Piece” (Alexander 2008, 358). The two milled proof pieces and gold medals produced during the reign of Charles I were also apparently added later that year, making Plate 1.55 complete.

Despite Vertue’s continuing efforts to engrave numismatic specimens in concert with Folkes’s research, Folkes would publish his Table of English Silver Coins as another text-only project in 1745. The engravings of English coinage that Folkes had hoped to produce with the support of the SAL, a renewed effort to complete their Metallographia Britannica, would not be published until 1763 by which point, new plates had been engraved under the direction of Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) while extant plates had likewise been substantially reworked by a new engraver, Francis Perry (d. 1765) (Pagan 2003, 160). Vertue’s Plate 1.55—which notably includes medals as well as coins—would only be featured, then, as part of the Vetusta Monumenta series. In his own notes, Vertue signaled the print's appropriateness for Vetusta Monumenta as a depiction of rare, old numismatic objects by titling it, “Scarse English Coins,” and linking it to Plate 1.56, “ditto” in 1739 (Alexander 2008, 243).

The Style of the Print

Plate 1.55 depicts a selection of coins and medals depicting Mary, Queen of Scots, Anne of Denmark, Prince Henry Frederick, and Charles I. Rather than simply reproduce the designs of coins and medals, as he did on Plate 1.20, Vertue here represents a collection of kindred objects nestled together into convincing illusionistic space. The trompe-l’oeil techniques on display in Plate 1.55 are evident in other engravings in Vetusta Monumenta (cf. Plates 1.13, 1.36, 1.42, and 1.49), but the three-dimensional qualities of Plate 1.55 serve not only to convey factual information about the items it depicts—such as the varying weights of the coin, medals, and proof pieces—but also to accommodate a range of affective responses to the objects themselves. The top ryal, a heavy gold three-pound piece, sinks into what looks like a cushioned surface while the lighter silver pieces below press more softly, casting slivers of crosshatched shade. The two center medals of Anne of Denmark and Prince Henry appear lighter still, and Vertue’s print thereby emphasizes the intimacy afforded by their centrally-placed three-quarter profile portraits. The gold proof pieces for Charles I at the bottom of the plate appear to float, marking a difference in weight from the similarly small but evidently far heavier gold ryal at the top. Whether pulled by gravity into the shadows or allowed to skim and float off the surface of the print, the objects on Plate 1.55 remind viewers that coins and medals were touchable, graspable objects.

The series of labels that Vertue includes similarly convey factual information about each object while also emphasizing the tactile intimacy of numismatic collections and study. A floating fabric label at the very top identifies the ryal; below, a pinned fabric label identifies its provenance in the collection of James West. Crenellated and scrolled paper labels—as well as another fabric label, flattened—appear throughout the top half of the plate, but decorative labels do not attend the proof pieces and medals of Charles I in the lower half, which was notably completed in 1739, sixteen years after Vertue began engraving the upper-half of the plate. Vertue keys the specimens of Charles I’s milled proof pieces and gold medals to a description that appears in a wispy ornamental frame at the very bottom. Although shifts in the format of the labels may be the consequence of the time-lapsed that occurred in the print’s development, the format of the labels nevertheless foregrounds varieties of weight, thickness, and pliability that also characterize distinctions between the coin, medals, and proof pieces represented on the print.

Vertue’s composition works to direct the eye’s movement around the plate while also encouraging viewers to linger on each represented numismatic specimen in isolation as a solid, three-dimensional object. His decision to depict some reverses and obverses horizontally and others vertically, and particularly his careful placement of the labels, help to create the effect of movement. The two center labels—“MEDALS” and “& GOLD Coins”—transform from crenellated metal into ornamental wisps. The former label directs a viewer’s eye up to the end of the word and to the top of the plate where Mary's ryal rests heavy; the latter directs the reader’s eye back down the plate to where Charles I’s milled proof pieces and gold medals float. Charles I, facing left on both the obverse and reverse of the last depicted gold medal at the bottom, appears to look directly at a wisp from the ornamental key; the viewer’s eye is thereby directed back up the left-hand side of the plate to the “MEDALS” label which points to the heavy Ryal. Here, the viewer’s gaze can descend to linger on the center specimens before glancing right again to the “& GOLD Coins” label, which directs the eye back down the right-hand side of the plate. The obverse of the gold medal of Charles I at the center of the print, which features a tangle of rope that swirls around a rose and thistle, figures the eye’s movement through Plate 1.55 as a whole.

Negotiating Jacobite Sympathies

By encouraging viewers to alternate between considering each object as a graspable specimen and looping around and through the collection here assembled, Vertue also deftly handled what was surely the fraught project of producing a veritable Stuart family reunion in print following the Jacobite rising of 1715 and the Battle of Glen Shiel in 1719. Plate 1.55, in other words, resists interpretations that would arrange the objects it depicts into a historical narrative celebrating or condemning a succession of Stuart monarchs. The matter of examining and depicting a numismatic history of the House of Stuart was especially delicate because Stuart coins and medals persisted throughout the eighteenth century as tokens of Jacobite sympathies.

Stuart-issued coins and medals became important objects in Jacobite material culture as a consequence of their original importance as “ideological weapons in the Civil War” (Peacock 1999, 191). As Kevin Sharpe explains, Charles I “had a keen sense of the potential of medals as images of kingship” (2010, 215). Early in Charles I’s reign, “official and commemorative medals were struck on many occasions, and in rough and base states for popular distribution and in fine examples and precious metals for nobles and courtiers” (Sharpe 2010, 215). Charles I’s use of coins and medals as pieces of “Art” as well as “State,” in John Evelyn’s (1620-1706) phrasing, accelerated during the English Civil Wars (1696, 69). Charles I set up a number of pop-up mints to produce coinage to pay his armies in the 1640s (Kelleher 2017). “[M]edals and badges” commemorating the lives and deaths of Royalists also “proliferated” (Sharpe 2013, 129). In collaboration with his designers and engravers, Charles I constantly tinkered with the images and iconography that appeared on his coins and medals, including representations of himself as a divinely-ordained king, a peace-broker, and a strong military commander (Sharpe 2010, 358-63).

Charles I’s opponents followed suit, often repurposing his image on their own coins and medals (Peacock 199, 193-95). As Vertue put it, during “these times of action for and against the Republic or change of monarchical Government,” “the Public was affected more or less, so the use of Medals was multiplied” (1753, 25). Following Charles I’s defeat, Charles’s supporters minted medals commemorating the martyred king while Cromwell’s government set to work at redesigning the numismatic objects that featured Charles I’s royal visage and iconography, which Vertue documented in his treatise, The Medals, Coins, Great Seals and other Works of Thomas Simon (1753). The medals and coins that Charles I had previously issued, however, continued to “[circulate] among the Royalist community as tokens of loyalty and hope” throughout the Interregnum (Sharpe 2013, 129). Following the Restoration in 1660, Charles II repurposed the iconography that his father had used on his coins and medals for this reason (Sharpe 2013, 129-35).

Murray Pittock and Neil Guthrie have both extensively documented the enthusiasm eighteenth-century Jacobites felt for seventeenth-century Stuart-issued coins and medals. Originals of the medals issued by Charles I to commemorate events such as his coronation were prized in the 1700s—so were the coins he issued that the Interregnum government failed to remove from circulation, the memorial medals that proliferated following the regicide, and the numismatic productions of Charles I’s descendants; Jacobite clubs continued to mint new, collectible medals commemorating Stuart monarchs as late as the early nineteenth century (Pittock 2013, 127-32). In addition to rebranding Charles I’s numismatic propaganda with his own likeness, Charles II also famously reintroduced the practice of the royal touch as proof of the king’s divine right, minting medallion touch-pieces to be given as mementos to the individuals that he had professed to cure; these were also collected as well as worn throughout the 1700s by Jacobite sympathizers (Guthrie 115-16).1

Plate 1.55 is remarkable, then, for the ways in which it emphasizes the materiality of the objects it represents without fully participating in the loyalist fervor that motivated collectors of these objects Jacobite communities. As the son of Catholics, Vertue himself must have been well aware of these communities and their collecting cultures. He engraved a number of Jacobite prints, anonymously, following the 1715 Rebellion (Alexander 2008, 211). Between 1731 and 1735, Vertue also published a series of plates depicting Charles I and his loyal supporters (Alexander 2008, 217). Although many antiquaries were suspected Jacobites—and in the case of Thomas Hearne (1678-1735), declared themselves as such—Rosemary Sweet has shown that antiquaries’ “ideological commitment[s]” were far from one-sided (2004, 35-36). Neither Vertue’s political sympathies nor his antipathies are readily evidenced by his oeuvre, and the interests he takes in antiquities appear consistently to be historical and aesthetic rather than polemical. Nevertheless, Plate 1.55 notably excludes coins and medals from the reign of Charles I that prominently touted this monarch as the divinely-ordained patriarch of a royal dynasty. For example, Charles I’s wedding and coronation medals as well as those celebrating the birth of Charles II and James II, all mentioned by Evelyn, are not included on the plate. Medals and coins associated with the regicide—such as the Juxon Medal, which resembles the proof piece from the Countess of Pomfret’s collection (labeled “A”)—are likewise palpably absent.

As Guthrie explains, however, objects associated with Charles I could be collected with more impunity by Jacobite sympathizers because they afforded their owners a degree of plausible deniability as to whether or not the artifacts stood as “proof of sedition intent”; this was less the case when it came to images of James I and, especially, James II (2013, 55). In this context, the absence of a coin or medal featuring James I on Plate 1.55 is noteworthy. In 1727, Vertue engraved onto Plate 1.20 the medal issued by James I in 1604 to commemorate the Peace with Spain on a plate featuring Tudor medals, but no images of James I were added to Plate 1.55 when Vertue updated it in 1739 to include the two medals depicting James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, and first son, Prince Henry. On the one hand, it’s possible that members of the SAL harbored a lingering resentment towards a king who had famously taken “a little mislike of the society,” as Henry Spelman politely put it (1723, 70). On the other hand, excluding a medal or coin featuring the image of James I from the collection of Stuart artifacts assembled on Plate 1.55 also helped to ensure that the plate was less likely to be interpreted or collected as an expression of Jacobite sympathies.

In many regards, the medals depicting Anne of Denmark and Prince Henry stand as implicit condemnations of James I’s character—vain, inconstant, and tyrannical, according to the majority of eighteenth-century historians. The conflicts between James and his queen regarding the care of their eldest son, Prince Henry, would have been well known to Vertue’s original audience. Thomas Birch, in his Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain, which was illustrated by Vertue, offers a representative recounting of Anne’s repeated attempts to wrest custody of the young Henry away from the guardians that James I had tasked with Henry’s care (1743, 56). Anxious for Henry’s well-being, Anne suffered multiple miscarriages. Although Henry was restored to Anne’s custody following James I’s coronation, Anne was still distraught, and she continued to be wary of the company with which James I surrounded the young prince. Henry, pictured here beside his mother in Plate 1.55, was a beloved public figure when he died in 1612 at the age of 18. An autopsy confirmed that Henry died from natural causes, but many—including Anne—suspected James I’s lackeys of foul play (48).

Although Evelyn presumed that these medals were minted in Scotland before James I assumed the throne of England, later numismatists have argued that they likely appeared after the king’s coronation in 1603 (Farquhar 1908, 148). Many see the work of English royal engraver Charles Anthony (d. 1615 ) in the sophistication of both medals’ designs. Anthony struck similarly-styled coins and medals for Elizabeth I who had, of course, called for the beheading of Mary, Queen of Scots, James I’s mother—an event James I reportedly bore with equanimity (Granger 1769, 1.314). Henry’s youthful appearance suggests that the undated medal could have been struck before his death in 1612, but Anthony worked under royal commission until 1615 and likely struck this medal in posthumous commemoration (Devon 1836, 316; see also Plate 1.20). Anne of Denmark’s title on her medal, “Queen of Great Britain,” also points to a later minting than Evelyn presumed; James styled himself as “Caesar” on his official coins until October 1604 (Coronation Exhibition 1902, 32).

The kind, youthful countenance on Henry’s medal provoked tragic reflections by admirers and numismatists alike throughout the eighteenth century (Evelyn 1697, 103; Pinkerton 1790, 32). In his Biographical History of England, James Granger reports that James I himself was not moved by the death of his eldest son; rather, James I “thought himself eclipsed by the splendor of [Henry’s] character,” and he reportedly “ordered that no mourning should be worn” to grieve the loss of Prince Henry (1769, 1.315). In Plate 1.55, Vertue reunites mother and son, an ill-treated queen and a prince beloved by the public. Both of the striking, realistically-rendered busts sit in deep relief. In contrast with the other items displayed, these portraits do not turn away in profile but face forward in three-quarters view, almost directly confronting the viewer from the center of the print as keenly-observed human portraits. Situated at the center of the plate, Anne and Henry compel viewers with their outward gaze, imploring reflection on the tragedies that their medals have outlived.

Numismatic Art and Technology

By withholding images of coins and medals that explicitly depicted the figure of James I, Plate 1.55 resists construing all of Stuart history as a narrative of rightful successions tragically interrupted. The numismatic activities undertaken during James I’s reign, however, constituted significant developments in the history of England’s coinage and medals. When James I ascended the throne in 1603, he began immediately to reconceive the iconography that appeared on the coins he issued. James I had a well-known “fondness for medals and medallic portraits,” and he seized on the opportunities that coins provided for disseminating his image throughout England, thereby also authorizing and controlling the narratives associated with his rule (Farquhar and Allen 1941, 56). As B. J. Cook explains, Elizabeth I had flooded England’s marketplaces with coins bearing her own image in a wide-ranging recoinage act of 1560 (2018, 307). James I responded by issuing coins that, in contrast to those of Elizabeth I, emphasized his martial, manly prowess (308).

In lieu of an uninterrupted Stuart succession, Vertue’s engraving constructs a genealogy of artists instead. Like Elizabeth I before him, James I employed Nicolas Hilliard (1547-1619) in the work of designing and engraving his new coins as well as medals; Plate 1.20 confirms that Hilliard’s work particularly intrigued members of the SAL, especially Vertue who admired the “curiositie” of Hilliard’s productions (“Vertue’s Note-Book” 1931-32, 24). James I continued, as Elizabeth I had, to employ the services of Anthony, who served as chief engraver of the mint from 1596-1615. Although it’s unclear whether Vertue knew that Anthony had designed the medals of Anne and Henry here portrayed, Horace Walpole (1717-1797) noted that Vertue suspected Anthony was the engraver for the James I medal on Plate 1.20 (1762-71, 2.39).

While Anthony was still in his service, James hired the Dutch artist Abraham van der Doort (c.1575-1640). Court records indicate that in 1612, van der Doort was assigned to be the keeper of Prince Henry’s personal art collection, which included the first recorded royal numismatic cabinet (Henfrey 1874, 100). When Henry died, Charles inherited his brother’s numismatic cabinet and with it, his and their father’s passion for medals. Charles also inherited the services of van der Doort, whom he tasked with designing patterns for his own coins and medals when he ascended the throne in 1625 (Farquhar and Allen 1941, 57). Vertue prepared van der Doort’s catalogue of Charles I’s collection for publication in 1757, and he knew that van der Doort had worked closely with Nicolas Briot (c. 1579-1646). Briot arrived in England from France in 1625 and was shortly thereafter hired by Charles I to modernize the mint (Challis 2004). Briot brought with him to England a new mechanized method for producing milled coins, as shown on the proof pieces and medals for Charles I labeled A, B, and D in Plate 1.55. Thomas Simon (c. 1623-1665) apprenticed under Briot, as Vertue knew, before he was hired to produce the seals and coinage for the Commonwealth (Vertue 1753, 2). In the medal labeled C on Plate 1.55, the presence of Simon’s initials can be detected, dimly, inside the shoulder of Charles’s cuirass.

Vertue’s notebooks indicate that he was hard at work trying to determine which artists had made their mark on which coins and medals while engraving the three numismatic objects associated with Nicholas Hilliard that appear on Plate 1.20; about the same time, he began engraving Plate 1.55, notably setting the objects associated with Mary, Queen of Scots on a different plate than those associated with Elizabeth I (“Vertue’s Note-Book” 1931-32, 7). Plate 1.55 would go on, nevertheless, to pick up where Plate 1.20 left off by documenting the work of engravers and designers who followed in Hilliard’s wake. The artists responsible for the top two coins on this print—the ryal of Mary, Queen of Scots and the wedding medal—remain unknown, but both of these objects speak to Vertue’s interests in portraiture, design, and the technologies of the mint while also contributing to the twisting, punctuated sentimentality that characterizes the plate as a whole.

By including the word “milled” in his bottom caption, Vertue hints at a larger history of numismatic artists who aimed to produce coins and medals in increasing quantities while ensuring their viability both as currency and as enduring representations of English monarchs. All of the objects on Plate 1.55 are notable for their raised rims, hammered in the case of the earliest specimens on the plate and milled to the edges in the Charles I examples. Rimmed edges protect coins and medals; they keep the raised obverses and reverses from wearing down as the objects are exchanged, hand to hand, over long periods of time; they also make coins and medals difficult to counterfeit, file, and clip. Rimmed edges could be produced by hammering, but a mis-strike of the hammer could easily offset the rim, leaving one edge of the coin or medal vulnerable to filing and clipping. Cast coins and medals also featured rimmed edges, but variabilities in the metallic makeup of the base for the object often compromised the coin or medal’s quality of relief. Cast medals, like silver wedding medal for the Queen and Lord Darnley here on Plate 1.55 and the Coronation Medal for Edward VI on Plate 1.20, were often chased after they were cast in order to enhance their reliefs and correct any errors that had occurred in the casting process.

When Briot began his work in Charles I’s mint, he heralded a sea-change in coin and medal production in England. In France, Briot had invented new machinery that promised to produce more delicate, more high relief objects more quickly than the traditional methods of hammering and casting. Briot never managed to consistently demonstrate proof of concept, but his vision for a milled coinage would be perfected by Peter Blondeau (d. 1672) in the reign of Charles II; after 1695, all of England’s coinage would be machine struck, as Briot had once envisioned (Porteus 1969, 214). Plate 1.55 anticipates that achievement.

The technical design history of the coin and medal edges preserved in Plate 1.55 complements the emphasis Vertue also places on numismatic portraiture. Throughout his career, he documented and copied historical portraits as well as produced his own “heads” for a variety of projects. Plate 1.55 includes crowned as well as uncrowned profiles, a double profile portrait, and two three-quarters portraits—all of which are executed by Vertue in a way that emphasizes fine details and high reliefs. Here, however, Vertue appears to have reconstructed the portraits featured on the coins and medals, employing some of the same trompe-l’oeil qualities he used to convey the objects’ weighty materiality. Comparing Vertue’s engravings to extant examples suggests that the profiles of the top coin and medal were likely worn; comparing Vertue’s engravings of the two silver medals depicting Queen Anne and Prince Henry also shows that he softened the visages of the Stuarts, slightly emending their facial expressions into arrangements that convey a curious combination of prideful determination and mournful resignation.

Mary, Queen of Scots in the Eighteenth Century

Vertue’s idealized renderings of the numismatic portraits returns us to the affective tenor of the plate that emerged over the course of its completion. At the very top, Mary’s ryal sets a tone that filters through the whole of Plate 1.55. Jayne Lewis has shown that Mary, Queen of Scots was a towering figure in eighteenth-century Britain’s cult of sensibility; the unfortunate queen’s history, popularized by dramatic performances of John Banks’s The Albion Queens; Or, the Death of Mary Queen of Scots (1704), provoked lurid flights of fancy and, reportedly, countless tears as eighteenth-century audiences debated “how much of Mary’s tragedy stemmed from personal guilt, how much from blind sexual passion, how much from religious persecution, how much from weakness of character, and how much from simple bad luck” (Lewis 1998, 3). Lewis’s assertion that Mary’s sentimental appeal was enhanced throughout the 1700s by a “pattern of repetition and return, of recovery and the uncovering of compulsively maintained ambivalence” is confirmed, in many ways, by Vertue’s rendering of her and the Stuarts that were her progeny on Plate 1.55 (167). The depiction of Mary’s young face, bright profile, and delicate necklace on the ryal are counterbalanced by the dark hatching underneath the heavy, three-pound piece, foreshadowing her fatal decision to marry Lord Darnley.

In 1735, Vertue published a print portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots based on a painting by Hilliard that functioned in ways similar to this deeply-shaded engraving of her ryal; in the 1735 print, Mary stares out directly at the viewer, and between her and her crown, an armed, menacing, and skeletal figure of death grips the portrait’s frame, peeping out directly at the viewer from under a curtain caught in the middle of descending over Mary’s image. Mary does not, she cannot, see him. By setting the wedding medal that named Darnley before Mary as the prime monarch below the ryal, Vertue invites viewers of Plate 1.55 to reflect on the disastrous consequences that Mary either haphazardly dismissed or could not foresee when she took Darnley for a husband. Having returned to Scotland in 1560 following the death of her first husband, the French King Francis II, Mary refused to relinquish her claims to the English throne and, indeed, she strengthened them in 1565 by marrying Darnley, her first cousin and grandson of Henry VII. The primacy of Darnley’s name over Mary’s on the “silver piece” featured here on Plate 1.55 divorce it from others struck on the occasion of their wedding, all of which inscribe Mary’s name first or her name alone (Burns 1887, 338-42). Concerns about Darnley’s ambitions—like Mary, he also had a claim to the English throne—likely informed this particular specimen’s rapid removal from circulation shortly after issuance (Cochran-Patrick 1884, 12). So rare was this object when Vertue engraved Plate 1.55 that Bishop Robert Keith (1681-1757) continued to assert in 1734 that “there is never any one Penny of Gold or Silver, of a larger or smaller Size, to be met with...carrying the King’s Name before the Queen’s: Which to me is a strong presumption that any such has never been stampt” (Keith 1734, 1.378).

Plate 1.55 confirms that a such a wedding medal or coin had, of course, “been stampt.” Vertue’s revisions to the label indicate the object’s rarity; it was a difficult artifact to classify definitively. The specific revisions Vertue made also, however, gesture to the complex matter of the object itself as an authorized or unauthorized sanctioning of Mary’s and Darnley’s claims to sit on the English throne as Tudor descendants. Vertue first denoted the item as a “Coronation MEDAL for the / QUEEN and Lord DARNLEY.” In many ways, that was an accurate description of how Darnley, especially, must have imagined the object, but naming it as a “Coronation MEDAL” in the early decades of the eighteenth century risked reiterating both Mary’s and Darnley’s claims over those of Elizabeth I. The “silver piece,” in contrast, neutralizes the potential the medal or coin had to promote a particular narrative of succession.

Counterfactual Speculations

In revising the label he provided for the silver cast and chased medal commemorating the marriage of Mary and Lord Darnley, Vertue also doubled up on the honorifics it lavished on his patron, Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1661-1724), in whose collection the object could be found and who had died shortly after Vertue completed the first engravings for Plate 1.55.

The label bearing Oxford’s twice-honored name slopes downward to the right, pointing to what was at the time of the engraving a memento mori of the young Prince Henry, the first son of James I who was, in his turn, the first and only son of Darnley and Mary. Eighteenth-century audiences for Plate 1.55 must have paused when looking at the plate at this point to reflect on the possible futures for Britain that went unrealized. If Mary had not married Darnley, if Darnley had not been murdered, if Mary had not been beheaded, if Henry had lived to be king instead of his younger brother, Charles I—how might the history of Britain have been different?

The presence of Oxford’s twice-honored name on the label stands, however, as a moderating check on such counterfactual speculations. Oxford’s tenure in Queen Anne’s service had been fraught with controversy. Oxford, himself an old Whig, opposed the most radical members of both parties as they vied for power in Queen Anne’s court; eventually, Oxford would throw his lot in with the Tories in order to broker the controversial Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, bringing an unpopular end to the War of Spanish Succession. When George I ascended the throne in 1715, Oxford was brought up on charges of impeachment, the most serious of which implicated him in the attempted Jacobite rebellion; eager to establish the peace with France over the matter of carving up the Spanish empire between the Bourbons and the Hapsburg’s, Oxford had diplomatically indulged a correspondence with the Jacobites (Speck 2004). After serving two years in the Tower, Oxford was acquitted without going to trial in 1717. Oxford was exiled from George I’s court, but suspicions regarding his Jacobite sympathies were somewhat ameliorated. Oxford was remembered again for the important roles that he had played as an agent of William III in securing both the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the 1701 Act of Settlement.

With its winding juxtaposition of smoky tendrils and heavy weights, Plate 1.55 yields mournful moments of counterfactual speculation, but it does not allow its eighteenth-century viewers to take recourse in more direct, polemical narratives of the happy rise, the tragic fall, or the return—either promised or threatened—of the House of Stuart. At the bottom of Plate 1.55, Charles I smiles placidly under his heavy crown; his line of sight is animated from the reverse of the medal, where another vision of Charles I rides in a full suit of armor atop a horse that walks at a lazy pace leftward. Directed upwards by Charles I’s sword and the wisp of the bottom key’s ornamental border, the viewers of Plate 1.55 can imagine that if Charles I could only—or would only—lift his head up, then he would see another vision of himself, one without his crown; he would see his mother in her cold grief over the death of his older brother, would see Mary locked eye to eye with a jealous, ambitious husband, would see a young Mary herself, his grandmother, staring starkly lock-jawed into the same leftward distance, too. Perhaps, Plate 1.55’s viewers and Charles I alike might have remembered Mary’s poignant motto, “en ma fin est mon commencement”—in my end is my beginning—and pondered its significance for the House of Stuarts, for the history of Britain, and for the antiquarian project of collecting and preserving their objects.


[1]: Touch-pieces were often punched so as to be strung through with a ribbon and worn discreetly around the neck under the shirt.

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