Brass Money

According to Cox, in his Hibernia Anglicana, “The necessities of the State, A.D. 1546, obliged King Henry VIII. to coin brass or mixed money, and to make it current in Ireland, by proclamation; to the great dissatisfaction of all the people, especially the soldiers.”

Ware also says that about this time King Henry, to maintain his charges in Ireland, being hard put to it for lack of monies, gave directions to coin brass money, and commanded it by proclamation to pass as current and lawful money in all parts of Ireland. Simon, in his Essay on Irish Coins, says: “The money struck for Ireland in this reign was little better than brass.” This base coin was made current in Ireland instead of silver, in sixpences, groats, half-groats; and pennies, and it was also circulated in the reign of Edward the Sixth; but Simon says that Queen Mary, on her accession to the Crown, in order that she might ingratiate herself with the people of England, prohibited the currency of the base money there, and ordered gold and silver money to be made of a better standard; but Ireland was particularly excepted in the proclamation issued for that purpose. According to Simon ten thousand pounds worth of base monies were, A.D. 1554 (in the reign of Philip and Mary), coined for Ireland; and, in the years 1556 and 1557, seven thousand pounds worth of the same were coined into shillings, sixpences, and groats for Ireland, and five thousand five hundred pounds more of this base money was coined into “Harp-groats;” so that in less than three years about twenty-three thousand pounds worth of this base money was coined and circulated in Ireland. These coins are estimated by Simon not to have been worth more than one-fourth of the value for which they passed; so that one pound of this base money was worth only five shillings.

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, according to Simon, the ounce of silver in England was first divided into sixty pennies, which was in ancient times divided into only twenty pennies; so that one of the old silver pennies of the reigns of the Edwards, was equal to three pence of the reign of Elizabeth. “The base money coined by Elizabeth being decried in England,” says Simon, “was sent over in great quantities into Ireland, where the Bungals, as they were then called, went for sixpence, and the broad pieces for twelve pence; but in a short time after, the former passed only for two pence, and the latter for a groat; and, when they were refused elsewhere, they passed in Connaught—the first for one penny, and the last for two pence.” Bunn or Bonn was the Irish term applied to various coins, from a groat to a shilling; and geal means “white,” and the bungals above mentioned signify “shillings;” the broad piece mentioned was about half a crown, but of such base metal that its value was afterwards reduced to two pence, and the shilling passed for one penny. About the year 1600, money was coined for the service of the army in Ireland, so debased that it contained only between two and three ounces of silver to nine ounces of brass; this base money, according to Sir John Davies, Fynes Morrison, Camden, and Simon, was sent over in great quantities to pay the army engaged in Ireland against Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, as the war drew yearly out of England upwards of one hundred and sixty thousand pounds sterling. This base money, being extensively circulated, caused goods and provisions of all kinds to rise double the usual price, and impoverishment and discontent, not only among the Irish, but in the English army.

In the reign of King James the First, proclamations were issued ordering the base money of the reign of Queen Elizabeth to pass at one-fourth its former value; that is, the shilling for three pence, and the sixpenny piece for three halfpence; and, in the same reign, it was ordered that money should pass current in Ireland at one-third more than in England: thus, an English shilling passed for sixteen pence in Ireland; five shillings, for six and eight pence; and a pound was equal to about twenty-six shillings.

King James the Second, to supply funds for the support of his army, and various expenses in Ireland, was under the necessity of substituting base money for silver; and, according to Simon, set up two mints, one in Limerick, and the other in Capel-street, Dublin, where a vast quantity of base money was coined, consisting of halfcrowns, shillings, and sixpences, made of a mixed metal of a whitish colour, consisting of copper, brass, and tin; and also some pennies made of copper and lead or pewter, and circulating throughout the country, as a substitute for silver coin. The various base coinages made current in Ireland by the kings and queens of England, and extensively circulated instead of silver money, were, of course, extremely injurious to the trade and commerce of the country, and greatly impoverished the inhabitants.