It was an ill-advised marriage—Mary Stuart and Henry Lord Darnley. As the son of Margaret Douglas, granddaughter of Henry VII, Darnley was in the line of succession for the English throne, as was Mary Stuart whose grandmother was a sister of Henry VIII. With Elizabeth on the throne with no children, the Stuarts had strong claim to succeed her—and eventually did with Mary Stuart’s son, James I.
Lady Margaret Douglas, a daughter of Henry VII and wife of Matthew Stuart, the 4th Earl of Lennox, sent her son to Scotland hoping that he would marry the other—and more favorably born—candidate for the throne—Mary Stuart.
Love did not blossom until Darnley fell ill with measles, and in the process of nursing him back to health the 23 year old Mary Stuart fell in love with the 19 year old Darnley. They married despite the disapproval of Elizabeth I, the English Privy Council and most of Mary’s Scottish advisors. The two were married in July 1565, and Darnley soon began to push for promotion from King Consort to King of Scots.
The numismatic note of this marriage is understandably brief. At the time of the marriage a 30 shilling ryal was issued showing facing busts of Henry and Mary (Spink 5424. Burns Plate LXV:903B. SCBI 58:1165A). This particular coin issue was “rapidly withdrawn, no doubt because of the clear implication they carried that Darnley’s status was to be seen as equal to that of the queen.” (Holmes, SCBI 58, p 8 citing a 1565 letter).
Archibald and Cook (2020) explain that when the teenage Mary married the French Dauphine Henry at Notre Dame Cathedral in April 1558, he was the immediate successor to the French throne (he became King of France 15 months later) and as such his name, Francis I, preceded Mary’s on her Second Period Scottish coinage. Not true for Darnley, whose lack of a royal throne prospect of his own meant his name could only be in the second position. (Incidentally, Archibald & Cook also debunk the notion that the turtle climbing a palm tree on the reverse of the ryal was a symbol of the futility of Darnley’s ambition.)
By 1566 Darnley’s kingship quest was in full bloom. In March he was drawn into a short-lived plot for a coup against Mary that failed. At the end Darnley, thanks to Mary, helped her escape from Edinburgh to Dunbar Castle. The reunion was rocky. Darnley disdained attending the Christening of his son at Stirling Castle, was notoriously promiscuous and ultimately caught syphilis. He was killed in February 1567 in a plot that probably involved Mary.
The ryal shown here with Henry’s name preceding Mary’s was minted using a genuine reverse die, probably in 1566. Whether the piece was created as a lark, as a proposed pattern or as a misguided but genuine effort at declaring himself king (Roman emperor aspirants used coins as declarations), it fits with the Darnley push for power at that time. The minters used a worn reverse die (Burns II: p. 340: 5. Fig 905) and a concocted obverse die. Though the name of John Acheson, master moneyer from 1588 to 1582, is mentioned as part of a later irregular coin issue (Murray. 1987) there is apparently no record of whether he was involved, how the reverse die was accessed or how the HENRICVS obverse die was created. However, Holmes (2006) notes that he “is currently of the opinion that they (this issue) may result from unauthorized activity at the mint.”
Murray and Rampling (1989) in a discussion of irregular Marian coinage during the “Long Siege” of Edinburgh Castle in 1572 refer to this 1566 issue noting “the other unusual contemporary ryal recorded is the Lockett specimen with an obverse die having Henry’s name preceding that of Mary.” (The Lockett specimen is the piece in the Edinburgh Museum.) This BNJ article concludes with the note “Mrs Murray noted that the coin shares a reverse die with coins of the regular issue, and is, in consequence, probably genuine despite its low weight.” (The Marian Civil War was a conflict between Mary’s followers and supporters of her infant son James VI.)
Rampling and Murray illustrate their text with the “low weight” Lockett-Edinburgh Museum piece of 27.81 grams, the lowest weight of the three known pieces. The Davisson 2015 piece weighs 29.71 gm. The Davisson 2021 piece weighs 28.93 gm., weights closer to the weight of other 1566 ryals. (The weight range for the thirteen 1566 ryals listed in SCBI 58, National Museum of Scotland, is 30.02 to 30.54 grams). Overall, the “low weight” is a modest deviation for that era. Given the exigencies of its issue, it is within a reasonable range.
(Mintage records from the era range from sketchy to non-existent. The principal reference cited by Murray in 1987 for the Marian coinage that began in March of 1572 comes from an 1833 publication and a brief reference in Cochran-Patrick’s 1876 publication of Records of the Coinage of Scotland.)
A search of sales records and a survey of numismatic literature shows no examples being offered at auction of this issue other than the Lockett piece and the Davisson 2015 piece. These three pieces remain the only examples we have been able to trace. Beyond the references cited below, a numismatic literature review utilizing the exhaustive 1997 publication by Harrington Manville, Numismatic Guide to British & Irish Periodicals 1836-1995 and the 1993 Cumulative Index to Spink’s Numismatic Circular Volumes 1 to 100 revealed no additional research or background on this intriguing artifact from a volatile era of Scottish history.
Archibald, Marion with Cook, Barrie. “The Palm-Tree Ryal of Mary Queen of Scots Revisited.” The British Numismatic Journal, Volume 90. 2020. Pp. 165-181.
Holmes, N. M. McQ. Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles. 58. Scottish Coins in the National Museums of Scotland. Edinburgh. Part I. 1526-1603. Oxford University Press. 2006.
Murray, Joan E.L. “The Coinage of the Marians in Edinburgh Castle in 1572.” The British Numismatic Journal, Volume 57. 1987. Pp. 47-53.
Murray, J. E. L. and Rampling, D. J. “The Coinage of the Marians in Edinburgh Castle in 1572—An Addendum." The British Numismatic Journal, Volume 59.1989. P. 213.
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