A silver ryal of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, dated 1566 but possibly
issued later, reflects the turmoil and intrigue among the British
royalty in 16th century England.
The extremely rare piece highlights Davissons Ltd.’s auction No. 35,
closing Feb. 3.
The upheaval among contenders for the British throne during the
middle part of the 16th century swept aside Mary, Queen of Scots, from
the throne, first replaced by her cousin-turned-husband Darnley, and
later her son, who would become King James IV of England and Ireland,
and James I of a unified England and Scotland.
According to Allan Davisson, Darnley was “a dashing but dissolute
spouse,” and began scheming early on to become the real rather than
the titular king on the Scottish throne.
“In those 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 hoist Darnley upon the throne.”
Two years after marrying Mary and becoming king consort, Darnley was
assassinated in 1567.
In 1572, Maitland created counterfeit half-merk and quarter-merk
coins during the reign of Darnley’s successor, his son birthed by Mary.
The ryal in this auction does not exhibit the die rust that would be
expected if it were struck in 1572 when those counterfeits were made.
“Dies just didn’t stay that way back then if they weren’t used for
six years,” Davisson said.
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Given the solid weight of the example he is offering, the lack of
die rust and the fact that Maitland later was involved in
counterfeiting, Davisson said it seems “reasonable to assume that the
coin [in this auction] was issued by the pro-Henry plotters while they
were plotting his ascent as full-fledged king. An issue date of 1566
using a genuine 1566 reverse die matched with a ‘custom made Henry
first [die]’ does not require much of a speculative stretch,”
according to Davisson. “From my point of view nobody’s put this together.”
Three pieces of this type are known, and Davisson said, “I haven’t
seen one offered and I’ve never had one before so it has to be rare.
One pieces is in the National Museum of Scotland, and another was in
the Richard C. Lockett Collection, but a true mintage number may never
be known, he said.
The example offered in Davisson’s sale is described by the firm as
Good Very Fine, and carries an estimate of $1,500.