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Sold on 21 February 2024

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The Braintree Hoard of Late Anglo-Saxon Pennies

The Braintree Hoard of Late Anglo-Saxon Pennies



Of the whole Anglo-Saxon period, it is the final chapter that has left the most lasting impression. The vision of a heroic defender of England, fighting to repel foreign invaders, is endearingly romantic. The reality - as always - was a little more complex. Harold II (Godwinsson) was, on his mother’s side, of Danish blood, and was certainly no Ætheling. His claim to be Edward the Confessor’s successor was contentious and his support was not universal. Nevertheless, Harold alone of the leading men of England was equipped with the experience necessary to face the very real threat posed by invasions, and thus when old king Edward died on the 5th January 1066 it was he who was crowned the following day.

In early September, Harald Hardrada, the king of Norway, appeared off the Yorkshire coast, accompanied by 300 ships of fighting men. In short order the local English defences were scattered, and the people of York offered hostages in exchange for peace. Harold II gathered his militia and marched to York. On 25 September he came upon the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge, shattering them. Harold’s victory was impressive and absolute, bringing to a close more than two centuries of Anglo-Scandinavian conflict. It was also short-lived. A few days later, William ‘The Bastard’ set out from Normandy, intent on asserting his own (perhaps quite legitimate) claim over the English throne. His landing was made at Pevensey and the Normans established a good defensive position at Hastings. News reached Harold at York, and with great energy he covered the 190 miles down to London. There he gathered additional forces before continuing on to Sussex. At first light on 14 October, William’s army marched out to meet the English, who were caught by surprise; heavy fighting endured all day. In the evening, the English resolve finally collapsed, their spirit broken by the sight of King Harold struck down (quite possibly by an arrow to the face). As the great historian Sir Frank Stenton puts it, William ‘had won one of the battles which at rare intervals have decided the fate of nations’.


The hoard offered for sale here comprises Pennies struck under the last two Anglo-Saxon kings of England, Edward the Confessor and Harold II Godwinsson, and was buried during the course of 1066, the most recognisable date in English history. Found in the Braintree area of Essex in the summer of 2019 by a team of two metal-detectorists, the hoard was passed to Colchester Museum Services and processed under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. Colchester Museum and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge elected to purchase 16 coins between them, including the two eleventh century Byzantine coins included within the hoard. In late 2023 the balance was disclaimed and returned to the finders. Out of a total find of 144 coins, we are pleased to offer 122 for sale in this catalogue, with only a small handful of coins being retained by the owners. Chronologically, all but two of these were buried within five years of minting; the last two or three types of Edward the Confessor being conventionally dated to the period 1062-66. Obviously, the coins of Harold would all have been struck within the calendar year 1066, although some opinion suggests that they may have continued to be struck at certain mints after his death in October of that year. The absence of any coins of William I provides an approximate terminus ante quem of Christmas 1066, when William was officially crowned.

We will never know for certain why the Braintree hoard was buried, or by whom. We can however make some general remarks based on its composition. The hoard contains a preponderance of coins minted within East Anglia and Essex; this geographical bias is perhaps unsurprising, and suggests that the hoard’s owner was a local man. More unusual is the hoard’s chronological composition, being particularly strong in Edward’s penultimate type and the coinage of Harold II, with the intervening Pyramids type under-represented. It is a well recorded fact that the appearance and weight of the late Anglo-Saxon currency was changed at regular intervals (every few years). This process involved the withdrawal and re-minting of all the coins previously in circulation. This policy served to make the late Anglo-Saxon circulating currency was largely homogenous; typically, we see that hoards from this period comprise only a single type, or two chronologically adjacent types. That the Braintree hoard deviates from this pattern suggest that it represents a ‘savings pot’ built up over time, as opposed to a snapshot of the currency in circulation in England on the eve of the Norman conquest.

We tend to assume that hoards were always buried in response to some looming catastrophe. Indeed, it is tempting to associate the deposition of the Braintree hoard with the disasters that befell England in 1066. More directly, we might link it with the raids and incursions made along the Channel and North Sea coasts by Harold’s rebellious younger brother Tostig in the late spring. However, this need not be the case. It is was perhaps quite common for people who had access neither to banks nor vaults to conceal their wealth in the ground, even in times of peace. While the deposition of the Braintree hoard might not relate directly to the events of 1066, the fact that it was never recovered surely did. Twelve shillings was a considerable sum of money and its retrieval must have been prevented by some great personal misfortune; we cannot say with any certainty whether or not the Braintree hoard’s owner died fighting at Hastings, but it is a tantalising possibility.


Bridport was the location of only small-scale mint activity during the mid-eleventh century. The mint appears to have entered abeyance during the reign of Edward the Confessor, except for a short period when a few Small Flan Pennies were struck under Hwæteman. This moneyer, who shared his services between Bridport and the nearby mint at Dorchester, continued his occasional employment at the former throughout the reign of Harold and the early part of that of William; during this time he was Bridport’s sole moneyer. Coins of William struck at the mint of Bridport are very rare, and those of Harold extremely so; only a single specimen was known to Hugh Pagan while the Chew Valley hoard, otherwise strong in the coinage of Wessex, added only a single specimen.

Writing in 1984 Kenneth Jacob noted the existence of only five Pennies struck at the Cambridge mint under Harold II, three of which are held in museum collections; Hugh Pagan made no additions to this list, while the great Chew Valley hoard contained not a single Penny of Harold struck at Cambridge. The current hoard contains three coins - one of the moneyer Beorhtric and two of Godwine, all of them great rarities.

The hoard also offers an excessively rare pair of die-duplicate Harold II Pennies from the Guildford moneyer Leofwold. An extremely rare moneyer for the Facing bust type of Edward the Confessor, Pagan records only one specimen from the reign of Harold (BMC 31).

From the late tenth-century, the mint of Hastings appears to have been fairly active, producing a steady flow of coinage down to the Anarchy in the mid twelfth century. The exception to this rule is found within the reign of Harold II, when output appears to have been greatly reduced. Pagan, in his survey of Harold II's coinage, notes only eight specimens of Hastings, compared to 15, 41 and 30 at the nearby Sussex mints of Chichester, Lewes and Steyning respectively. This pattern is also borne out by the recent Chew Valley hoard: of the 1,238 coins of Harold II contained within, only three carry a Hastings mint signature. Hastings, then, is demonstrably an extremely rare mint in this type and the current specimen is only the second to be offered for sale by public auction in the last forty years. The other, sold through these rooms, achieved a hammer price of £20,000.

Few pennies of Maldon are known from the reign of Edward the Confessor, and even fewer from that of Harold (there was only one example in Chew Valley). The presence of three die-duplicates here can be explained by the proximity of the mint to Braintree. In a later period Maldon appears to have held a close relationship with the nearby mint of Colchester; Rory Naismith notes that in 1086 ‘the two made a joint payment to the king for their respective minting privileges’. The co-operation of the two mints can also be detected in the reign of Edward when Godwine (Maldon’s sole moneyer under Harold) was temporarily transferred to Colchester during the currency of the Hammer Cross type.

The find adds dramatically to our knowledge of the Suffolk mint of Sudbury which is also local to the hoard’s Essex find spot. Previously unrecorded for the Pyramids type, it is now known from two Pennies and two Halfpennies, all of which are offered for sale here. (Braintree 32-5). The same is true of Harold II; previously unrecorded, the present offering includes no less than five Pennies - all die duplicates (Braintree 105-109).

It is curious that the obverse dies used to strike both these groups of coins has been ‘marked’ by the addition of pellets in the field and, in the case of the Harold II coins, an additional small wedge that leads from the ‘X’ in the legend to the king’s sceptre. The fact that these marks occur on two consecutive issues from the same mint and moneyer reflects a deliberate policy of privy marking (see H.A. Parson ‘Symbols and Double Names on Late Saxon Coins’, reprinted from BNJ 1916).

The hoard also offers an excessively rare pair of die-duplicate Harold II Pennies from the Worcester moneyer Vikingr. Although he struck throughout most of the last six or seven issues of Edward the Confessor, none of his coins survive in quantity. Pagan recorded two specimens in his overview of the coinage, the present offerings double that figure and it is worth noting that no coins of this moneyer were present in the Chew Valley find.


We are particularly fortunate that the following catalogue contains not only the rarest and most academically interesting English coins from the Braintree Hoard, but also those pieces in the finest state of preservation. The dispersal of these coins by auction will allow them to be studied and enjoyed by numismatists across this island (and indeed beyond); it is our hope that this will, in turn, promote further research into this wonderful coinage.

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