Medieval Gold Coins Unearthed in Eastern England
A metal detectorist discovered two ancient and extremely rare gold coins thought to have been lost during the Black Death. Near Reepham, Norfolk, a leopard-shaped 23-carat gold coin was discovered alongside an Edward III golden coin.
The leopard was withdrawn within months of its being minted in 1344 and according to finds liaison officer Helen Geake, hardly any of the coins have survived.
The coins would be worth the equivalent of £12,000 in terms of today’s currency and would have been owned by someone at the top of society’, she told the BBC.
‘For some reason, they didn’t catch on, but when one or two pennies were the equivalent of a day’s wages at today’s minimum wage rate, perhaps very few people used them,’ she said.
Called a florin, leopard and a helm, the coinage was an attempt by King Edward III to produce a gold coin suitable to be used in Europe as well as in England.
But, the gold used to strike the coins was overvalued, which resulted in them being unacceptable to the public. Within months, they were melted down to produce the more popular gold noble, worth six shillings and eightpence.
Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is carried by fleas and transmitted between animals.
The bubonic plague – the most common form – is caused by the bite of an infected flea and can spread through contact with infectious bodily fluids or contaminated materials. Patients may show signs of fever and nausea and at an advanced stage may develop open sores filled with pus.
It devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, most notably in the Black Death of the 1340s which killed a third or more of the continent’s population.
After the Black Death plague became a common phenomenon in Europe, with outbreaks recurring regularly until the 18th century. When the Great Plague of 1665 hit, a fifth of people in London died, with victims shut in their homes and red crosses painted on the door.
Bubonic plague has almost completely vanished from the rich world, with 90 per cent of all cases now found in Africa. It is now treatable with antibiotics, as long as they are administered quickly.
Still, there have been a few non-fatal cases in the U.S., with an average of seven reported a year, according to disease control bosses. From 2010 to 2015 there were 3,248 cases reported worldwide, including 584 deaths, says the World Health Organisation.
Some plague vaccines have been developed, but none are available to the general public. The WHO does not recommend vaccination except for high-risk groups such as health care workers.
Without antibiotics, the bubonic strain can spread to the lungs – where it becomes the more virulent pneumonic form. Pneumonic plague, which can kill within 24 hours, can then be passed on through coughing, sneezing or spitting.
The coins were thought to be lost after the Norman Conquest, as the only coins in circulation were silver pennies.
Dr Geake said no one really knows why Edward III decided to reintroduce the first gold coins in England since the Anglo-Saxon era. The find shows that the leopard, worth three shillings at the time, was in circulation for longer than historians have previously believed.
But, after looking at the circumstances at the time, they realised that it coincided with the Black Death reaching England in 1348 – a ‘cataclysmic’ event which saw coinage issues drop in priority.
‘Usually the authorities would be keen to remove a withdrawn coin as soon as possible,’ Dr Geake said.
The coins were discovered by a metal detectorist in October 2019.