The year 1066 is one of the most important in the history of the United Kingdom and the British monarchy as William the Conqueror defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings and became king himself. Now the largest Norman coin hoard from that time has been unearthed.
Discovered by metal detectorists in a farmer’s field in January, the 2,528 coin collection features likenesses of William and Harold. Three of the coins feature both likenesses in what appears to be an early form of tax-dodging.
The story, however, begins in 1066.
With the death of King Edward the Confessor, several men claimed the throne for themselves. Harold Godwinson ended up being crowned the Anglo-Saxon king and became a target of three primary contenders: Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, and Godwinson’s own brothers Tostig and William.
Harold would defeat Hardrada and Tostig in battle and both were killed in the fighting, thus, only one challenger remained standing.
William, the Duke of Normandy, landed an equal force of infantry, cavalry and archers in southern England near the town of Hastings. Hearing of this move, Harold moved his infantry-dominated army in an effort to surprise his enemy. But the art of surprise was lost when William’s scouts located the force and reported back.
William had the superior numbers and the superior force, his archers being particularly useful. And so, on October 14, 1066 he met Harold on the nearby battlefield that can still be seen today and their forces clashed from morning to dusk. Towards the end of the bloody fighting, Harold was killed.
After putting down further efforts against him, William became the first Norman King of England on Christmas Day that same year, and he would go on to rule for another 20 years until his own death in 1087.
In financial preparation for the invasion, coins were minted in Sussex and the South East, approximately half of which featured Harold and the other half featuring William and just three featuring both. These coins are known as “mules,” in which a moneyer illicitly reuses an old die to stamp a likeness on an existing coin in order to avoid paying a tax fee.
And as you can see, such coins would have been easy to pass off because the depictions of King Harold and King William I are similar.
Perhaps whoever had them made were preparing for a future with either man as their king. But it’s clear that they never got to put the money to use.
According to Heritage Daily:
The exact circumstances in which the hoard was buried are uncertain. It was buried in the period c.1067–8, but in 1067 the Welsh attacked Herefordshire, in 1068 William himself besieged Exeter, and later the same year the sons of Harold returned from Ireland, raiding around the mouth of the Avon, Bristol and down into Somerset. The last of these is the most likely to be directly associated with the hoard, but all three indicate a period of unrest in the south-west which might lead to wealth being buried for safety.
It is possible that whoever buried the coins intended to retrieve the hoard later on but may have been killed during the raids.
And so, the coins remained under the ground forgotten for nearly 1,000 years as the land around it was used as farmland for livestock and crops until the current owners allowed Lisa Grace and Adam Staples and a group of others wielding metal detectors to explore.
One of the friends came across a single William the Conqueror silver coin, “an amazing find in its own right”, said Staples, something a detectorist might only find once in 30 years. “Two steps later, there was another signal and it was another coin. Then there were beeps everywhere, it took four or five hours to dig them all up.”
They soon had a bucket containing a staggering number of coins, probably worth millions of pounds. The total hoard value would have been enough to buy a flock of 500 sheep in 1067-68, but its precise value today has yet to be revealed.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have unearthed this spectacular hoard. We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years but it’s finally come true,” the pair said in a statement.
Needless to say, experts have hailed the find as one of major importance.
“This is an extremely significant find for our understanding of the impact of the Norman Conquest of 1066,” British Museum Curator of Early Medieval Coinage Gareth Williams says. “One of the big debates amongst historians is the extent to which there was continuity or change, both in the years immediately after the Conquest and across a longer period. Surviving historical sources tend to focus on the top level of society, and the coins are also symbols of authority and power At the same time, they were used on a regular basis by both rich and poor, so the coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”
“Imagine a period of instability with someone in charge of the country that not everybody actively supports and uncertainty in terms of the relationship with the continent,” he continued. “It is the sort of circumstances in which anyone might choose to bury their money.”
And burying really was the only choice since there were no banks in 1066.
But now that the hoard has been found, the process has begun on how to classify it and how much Grace and Staples, not to mention the owner of the property, can be paid for it.
According to the BBC:
Under the Treasure Act 1996, finders of potential treasure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are legally obliged to notify their local coroner. An inquest then determines whether the finds constitute treasure. The act contains a number of definitions of “treasure”, including prehistoric objects, coins that contain gold or silver and are at least 300 years old, or more recent valuable objects that have been deliberately hidden. If the find is declared treasure, the finder must offer it for sale to a museum at a price set by the British Museum’s Treasure Valuation Committee. A reward is then offered to the finders and other relevant parties.
Predictably, there are already interested parties willing to purchase the collection to put it on display, including the British Museum and the Roman Baths and Pump Room in Bath. Bath & North East Somerset Council cabinet member Councillor Paul Crossley expressed his excitement over the discovery.
“We are very excited about the discovery of this important hoard in North East Somerset with such strong connections to our area,” he said. “If we are able to acquire the coins, we will work to display them locally, as well as partnering with the British Museum to make them available for loan to other exhibitions so that they can be seen by a wider audience.”
“This is a very exciting discovery and important finds like this shed new light on the remarkable and fascinating history of our country,” Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism Rebecca Pow added. “If the Coroner rules that the Chew Valley Hoard is Treasure, then I hope it might find a new home in one of the UK’s museums, where it can be seen, studied and enjoyed by all.”
No doubt, metal detecting is going to skyrocket because of this find as people scour the countryside in an effort to find their own buried treasure. Who knows, they might even find more Norman coins. After all, this can’t be the only example of someone burying their money to save it for a later date during a tumultuous time. And when they do find them, they’ll be holding a connection to a king whose descendants continue to rule the United Kingdom to this day.
See the story from ITV News:
Featured Image: British Museum/Twitter