English mint administration, moneyers and monetary reform in the reign of Henry II, 1154–1189

Gilbert M Stack, Fordham University


In the latter half of the twelfth century King Henry II of England (1154–1189) undertook a comprehensive reform of the English mint system. Control of the coinage was an important prerogative of the English crown and the coinage itself a prime symbol of the king's power, authority and prestige in England. Unlike their peers in continental Europe, English kings before Henry enjoyed an enforceable monopoly over mint activity and coin production which had been sustained since at least 973 and had only been successfully challenged during the civil war which dominated the reign of Henry II's immediate predecessor, King Stephen. One of the many challenges Henry II faced at the start of his reign was the need to firmly reestablish the royal monopoly over the mints and the coinage. In the next thirty-five years Henry would go far beyond this goal, revitalizing the coinage, improving its appearance and quality, and enhancing the profit which the crown derived from the mints producing the coins. Henry II accomplished this remarkable feat in two distinct phases. First he introduced the cross-and-crosslets coinage in 1158 and used the coinage to reestablish the royal monopoly and gradually tighten his control over the operation of the kingdom's mints. While successful in reasserting the king's authority, this first phase of reform also demonstrated the king's inability to effectively hold the mint officials accountable for the product of their mints. To rectify this situation, Henry II introduced a substantial reconfiguration of the administrative structure of the English mints in 1180 and accompanied this second phase of reform with a new coinage. The resulting short cross coinage and its accompanying administrative reforms succeeded in bringing accountability to the mint by dividing the primary functions of the mint between two royal officials (the moneyer and the exchanger), and making it in the political and economic self-interest of both officials to keep their opposite number honest. Henry II's successful reform of the English mints enhanced both his prestige and revenue. More importantly, it also created a stable currency that his successors maintained essentially unaltered until 1247.

Subject Area

Middle Ages|European history

Recommended Citation

Stack, Gilbert M, "English mint administration, moneyers and monetary reform in the reign of Henry II, 1154–1189" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3125026.