Old World, New Ideas
Kevin D. Goldberg began collecting European coins as a Middle School student in suburban Philadelphia. Three decades later, he still collects European coins, but now in suburban Atlanta, where he teaches in the Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He earned his Ph.D. in European History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the International Humanities at Brown University, 2011-2013. Kevin has been planning on expanding his collection beyond Europe for the past decade, but is only now getting around to it.
Very few traits of pre-democratic regimes so radically differ from today’s governments as hereditary claims to rule. Before the winds of democratic change swept through Europe and its overseas empires, governing was almost always a family affair. Strict rules determining succession gave rise to myriad dilemmas, with murderous disputes between family members and incestuous relations often providing the fix. One of the more curious resolutions to succession problems was the placing of a child on the royal throne.
Child monarchs were found in all parts of the world. King Tutankhamen of ancient Egypt, who ascended to the throne at age 9, and Puyi, who was less than 5 years of age when he ruled the early twentieth-century Qing dynasty, are just two well-known examples. King Louis XIV of France, the famous “Sun King,” took over Europe’s most important throne before the ripe age of 6. Though always the exception rather than the rule, child monarchs were a recurring feature in global politics before democracy replaced heredity as the preferred method of selecting a ruler.
Coins document this history in a way that can only be described as…well…cute.
Connect with Coin World:
King Alfonso XIII of Spain was installed on the throne at birth because his father, Alfonso XII, had passed away the year before. Although his first 16 years of “rule” necessitated the regency of his mother, Maria Christina of Austria, Alfonso XIII would sit atop Spain’s throne until 1941, when he abdicated in favor of his son, Juan.
Silver and gold coinage, beginning with the 1888 5 Pesetas (25g, .9000 Ag, .7234 ASW), bear the portrait of the adorable infant king. Facing left, the portrait is “bare,” meaning without robe or military insignia. In 1893 and 1894, 50 Centimos, Peseta, 2 Pesetas, and 5 Pesetas coins were struck with the adolescent king’s bust, still facing left, but now with a fine head of curly hair. Two other regency types (1896-1902, 1903-1905) were struck with the bust of the child king. Only the fourth type portrays the king, approaching his 16th birthday, wearing his military attire.
The same decade, the 1890s, saw the ascension of another child monarch, Queen Wilhelmina I of the Netherlands. Like Alfonso XIII, Wilhelmina’s reign would continue into the 1940s, though her legacy is far more politically sound and stamped with courage compared to that of the young Spanish king. Wilhelmina (though not without some accusations of Nazi sympathy) would be the face of Dutch resistance against German occupation in World War II. She spoke (in fluent English) before the U.S. Congress in 1942, where she linked the shared histories of the Netherlands and the United States in an effort to seal an ongoing, democratic alliance. For her courage in Europe, the United States awarded Wilhelmina a WWII Victory Medal.
Only one type from Wilhelmina’s regency period exists, which may explain its high collectability. From 1892-1898, the Netherlands issued denominations of 10 cents, 25 cents, 1 Gulden (100 cents), and a gold 10 Gulden, all with the facing-left bust of the young queen. Unlike later types with an older queen donning the royal crown, Wilhelmina appears somehow commoner-like in this regency-period bust, with a peasant’s face and the grimy, dirty blondish hair of a working-class youth. It is a startling type for this reason alone.
There are yet still other coins with the cherub faces of child monarchs. It is curious to see, as with both cases here, the aging of the monarch over long stretches of time. Many specialists in British coins have this in mind when collecting the over 60-years’ worth of “Vicky” (Queen Victoria) portraits. But while we can still appreciate these lovable faces, we should all be thankful that the age of the child monarch has come and gone.
More from CoinWorld.com: