A Relic of the Anglican Church
STUART. Charles I.
Pedigreed by Descent from the Hand of Charles I
1625-1649. Gold Medal (60mm, 79.05 g, 12h). Dominion of the Seas. Original; cast and chased by Nicolas Briot in London. 1639. CAROLVS · I · D : G · MAG · BRITANN · FRAN · ET · HIB · REX · (lozenge and double lozenge stops), Bare-headed bust of Charles I to right, his hair long and with ‘lovelock’ on his left shoulder, wearing a decorated cuirass with the plain collar of his shirt falling over it, and the St. George of the Order of the Garter suspended on a ribbon from his neck; on shoulder truncation, 1639 (barely visible); behind near the edge, BRIOT / NEC · META · MIHI · QVÆ · TERMINVS · ORBI · (Nor is a limit to me that which is a boundary to the world)
, War ship sailing to right, under full sail and with sailors on deck and in the rigging; on the left, seashore with fortress. Cf. MI 285/97 (unlisted in gold and with date on truncation of shoulder); Eimer 136a corr. (no date on truncation of shoulder in gold); P. C. Godman, Itchingfield, Sussex Archaeological Collections Relating to the History and Antiquities of the County 41 (1898), pp. 95-158, and especially pp. 118 ff. and pl. 7 (facing p. 118, this medal); Jones 174 (in silver). EF, Beautifully toned and impressive. Some traces of suspension marks. Unique and of the greatest historical importance. This medal was the personal property of King Charles I and was given, as a keepsake, to Bishop William Juxon during the last few weeks of the King’s life. It has passed by bequest and descent until 2010.
Made for Charles I by N. Briot in 1639 and kept by the King until he gave it to Bishop Juxon in 1649; from Juxon as a gift to his niece Elizabeth Merlott c. 1649, by descent in the Merlott family to Charles Merlott Chitty in 1815, then by descent from him to William Ffarington Chitty in 1867, who, in turn, left it to Percy Sanden Godman in 1878, by descent within the Godman family until 2010, from whom it was loaned for display in the Pepys Library of Magdalene College, Cambridge (1986-2009).
Given its history and associations, this is the most important of all existing British medals and a relic of the Church of England.
Nicolas Briot had become chief engraver at the Paris mint in 1606, but left for England in 1625, in part after a dispute with Guillaume Dupré. He went to London where he worked as a doctor; at some point he was introduced to Charles I and, after producing some splendid work (including the first version of this medal, MI 256/40-41 of 1630) he was appointed chief engraver at the Royal Mint from 1633 to 1645.
Early in his reign, Charles had re-claimed the title ‘Sovereign of the Seas’, an ancient title associated with the kings of Britain since King Edgar in 904 A.D. The 1630 medal had been struck as propaganda in the face of foreign naval incursions into waters claimed by Britain; soon Charles ordered that shipping in the Channel be taxed. In 1634, he imposed yet another tax over the entire kingdom, “Ship Money”, hitherto only used in war time and with Parliamentary consent; this infuriated many and was one of the causes of the Civil War. At that time the British fleet was very much outclassed by the Dutch; in 1639 a Spanish fleet under Admiral Oquendo was forced to take refuge in British waters in the face of a Dutch force under Maarten Tromp. Although at the ensuing Battle of The Downs on 31 October 1639 the British sailed out to aid the Spanish, the Dutch were overwhelmingly victorious.
This was the context in which the present medal was made. The reverse is a reiteration of that from the 1630 medal, but the portrait on the obverse has been updated, showing a slightly thinner Charles with longer hair, his elaborate ruff replaced by a more understated soft collar. The timing of this medal’s production, so soon after the British embarrassment at the Battle of the Downs, suggests that it was produced specifically for Charles in order to assure him that, despite the evidence to the contrary, he still held control of the seas by virtue of his ancient title. The unique gold version was for the King himself (it is also known in silver and bronze), and it was evidently mounted for him to wear on a ribbon.
William Juxon (1582-1663), the man to whom Charles gave this medal, was quite a brilliant churchman who had advanced rapidly, becoming Bishop of London in 1633. In 1636 he was also given the joint position of Lord High Treasurer and First Lord of the Admiralty. He resigned his secular positions in 1641 but remained close to Charles and was with him as his spiritual advisor during his final imprisonment and execution.
At some point in the last weeks of his life the King presented this medal to Juxon, who carried it away and carefully preserved it; during the same period the King gave away a number of his other personal possessions to other people who were close to him. Out of fear of Royalist plots, all the items that were given to Juxon by the King on the way to the scaffold were confiscated; Parliament also removed him from the bishopric of London. He retired to the country until the Restoration in 1660 when he was recalled by Charles II and made Archbishop of Canterbury; he soon fell ill and died in 1663.
Juxon never married and either gave away or left all his possessions to members of his family and public institutions. The present medal was given to his niece, Elizabeth Osborne, on the occasion of her wedding in June 1649 to William Merlott in Chichester; it has an unbroken pedigree from that day to now.
The English Civil War had religious as well as political motivations. The heavily Puritan Parliamentarians believed that Charles’ various religious reforms were bringing the Church of England too close to Catholicism, and the transcripts and letters from the periods of Charles’ captivity during the war show that religious issues were a key part of the negotiations between the two sides. Ultimately, Charles refused to abolish the ecclesiastical role of bishops, and his insistence on this aspect of church hierarchy led in part to his execution on the 30th of January 1649. Almost from the moment of his death Charles was revered as a martyr for the Anglican faith, prompting scores of pious poems as well as a trade in his relics. Upon the accession of Charles II in 1660, a commemoration of Charles ‘King and Martyr’ on 30 January was inserted into the liturgical calendar, initially to prompt the people of England to repentance for the regicide and avert divine wrath. The feast was eventually removed from the calendar in 1859. To this day, Charles I is still the only ‘saint’ created by the Anglican Church since the schism with Rome under the Tudors.
This is the second medal to be associated with Juxon and the last days of Charles I. The other piece is a pattern 5 unite piece by Abraham Vanderdoort (though long thought to have been by Thomas Rawlins), which Juxon gave to another of his nieces, Frances Fisher (née Juxon) on the occasion of her marriage. After a long history, with a first mention in a will of 1751, that piece passed to Hyman Montagu. His sudden death in 1895 resulted in the sale of his collection and the coin came up at Sotheby’s, in the third Montagu auction (13-20 November 1896, lot 352) where it was sold to Spink for £770, at the time the highest price ever paid for a coin in Britain; it then went by private treaty to the British Museum.
The present medal, with its unbroken chain of ownership running from its maker, Nicolas Briot, to Charles I, then to William Juxon and on to today, makes this the single most important medal in the British series.