Anglo-Saxon law and numismatics: A reassessment in the light of Patrick Wormald’s the Making of English Law
British Numismatic Society, Vol. 77, (2007)
Since Michael Dolley and Michael Metcalf established that Edgar introduced a system of periodic recoinages in c.973, the numismatic evidence for the thoroughness of the recoinages has offered historians valuable evidence for the effectiveness of Anglo-Saxon government. In Simon Keynes’s words, ‘the reformed system of coinage as a whole demonstrates the remarkable degree of sophistication attained in one area of royal government in the late tenth century, and thus suggests to the historian what he can reasonably expect in others’. However, the lines from king to mint are hard to trace in practice. The very limited written evidence touching on the coinage gives only a fractured picture of its administration. Together with Roger of Wendover’s thirteenth-century reference to Edgar’s recoinage, the clauses in Athelstan’s Grately code (II Athelstan), Edgar’s Andover code on the one coinage (II-III Edgar), /Ethelred’s coinage laws (TV /Ethelred’, 5-9) and the punishments for forgers laid down in his Wantage code (III /Ethelred, 8, 16), form almost the entire written evidence for the administration of the coinage.2 References to money and coins in use are relatively more frequent in the written sources, such as the charters, but here too, the references to transac- tions in the laws have been of particular interest given their evidence for royal concern on the matter.3 Understanding the laws is thus a key step in understanding the written evidence for the administration and the use of the coinage, and illuminating these processes in practice.
There has been no wider discussion of the coinage laws in relation to numismatics since R.S. Kinsey’s consideration of these passages in his article ‘Anglo-Saxon law and practice relating to mints and moneyers’ in 1958-59, though Mark Blackburn has examined Athelstan’s coinage and the numismatic clauses of the Grately code in detail. Kinsey’s article was based on wide and thoughtful reading in the numismatic and historical literature of his day, but a comparison of the open questions facing Kinsey, writing before presentation of the sexennial recoinage thesis, compared to the questions under discussion today, reveals how far the study of the late Anglo-Saxon coinage has come. The growing body of single find evidence has been of particular importance in improving our understanding of coin use in England.