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Rethinking the Henry Darnley Ryal (lot 291)
Henry Darnley, a cousin of both Elizabeth I and Mary, became Mary’s husband in 1565. A dashing but dissolute spouse, Henry began scheming early on to become the real rather than the titular king on the Scottish throne. In these intrigue driven times, there was little problem finding influential backers. Protestant nobles like the Earl of Morton and Sir William Maitland brought a plan to gain the throne to Darnley.
Their effort to traumatize Mary by murdering her confidante and secretary, David Riccio, in front of her failed. Mary, pregnant at the time with the future James VI/I rallied an army and routed the plotters. Maitland may have been defeated but was apparently not daunted. An article on Marian coinage (BNJ 1987. Joan Murray, “The Coinage of the Marians in 1572”) cites him as involved in the 1572 counterfeiting of half merks and quarter merks, James VI issues.
This article and a subsequent article in the 1989 BNJ (Rampling and Murray, “An Addendum…”) notes that the piece “has none of the properties of the ryal now provisionally attributed to a Marian source.”
While neither of the BNJ articles suggests it, it does seem a reasonable assumption that this coin issued with Henry’s name first, HENRIC & MARIA, was issued by the pro-Henry plotters. An issue date of 1566 using a genuine 1566 reverse die matched with a “custom-made-Henry-primary” die does not require much of a speculative stretch. Interestingly enough, the weight, particularly of the piece in this sale, was within the tolerance range for a regular issue -- not intending to defraud, but to declare. The genuine die does not show the rust or deterioration that might be expected from a die that sat around for several years before its use.
Darnley was assassinated in 1567 in a plot that became a significant factor in Mary’s downfall.
The piece itself is very rare. I have been able to trace only three examples: the Lockett example (Oct 1930:913.) (Lockett also had a two-thirds ryal with the same reading, lot 911.); the SCBI National Museum of Scotland example, 1189; and this piece. This piece originally came from U.S. dealer Robert Vlack.
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