King John’s penny minted by Willem in Limerick. Taken from the website of the “Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum”

In the data-base of portable finds kept by the British Museum, a silver penny of King John’s coinage from the Limerick mint was recorded from the Isle of Wight in 2005, bearing the name of Willem as moneyer (pictured above.) This is the only Limerick coin amongst 71 records found there using the search term: “King John Irish coins”. Instead, the vast majority of these records (40 exs) were of Dublin coins marked with the name of Roberd.  Such ratios are similar to the description of King John’s coins by Michael Dolley and William O’Sullivan, published by the Thomond Archaeological and Historical Society in 1967. Despite the vast increase in archaeological finds since then, there seems to have been no fundamental change in the coin evidence.

Essentially there are three series of coins of King John’s coins from Ireland. The first bears a portrait and the name IOHANNES and is minted in Dublin – it is thought to belong to the earliest period of John’s acquisition of the title Lord of Ireland  and the moneyers were Elis, Ravl Blunt and Roger.  The second series, entitled DOM coinage by Dolley and O’Sullivan, explicitly noted John’s title as Dominus Hibernie and were struck by 5 mints and 19 moneyers. Dublin dominated coin production within Ireland in this phase: of the 1,095 DOM pence held by the National Museum in 1967, 703 were minted in Dublin by eight moneyers: Adam, Huge, Nicolas, Norman, Rodberd, Tomas, Turgod and Willelm. These are all international names widely favored in the countries of the Atlantic west with the exception of Turgod. This is the same name as Margaret of Scotland’s early twelfth-century biographer who came from eastern England but the name was originally Norse: Þorgautr or Thorgautr.

The other mints producing DOM coinage were Waterford, Carrickfergus, Kilkenny and Limerick. The Waterford moneyers were Davi, Marcus, Walter,–ert (Robert?) Gefrei and Will; the Kilkenny men were Andreh (or Andrew), Simund (Simon) and Waltex (Walter?). It is possible but by no means proven that Davi may have had a Welsh background, given the popularity of that saint in west Wales, while Gefrei is a name found in both England and France. In Limerick, in contrast, the moneyer was SIWA or Siward, seen by commentators as unambiguously Norse in origin.

Dolley and O’Sullivan argued that this DOM coinage had been replaced by King John with a new issue (which they termed REX coins) by 1204/5 when the decision was taken to build Dublin castle with the explicit role of creating both city and treasury.  D.W. Dykes, in contrast, has argued this date should be pushed forward to 1208/9 and identified its introduction with the justiciar, bishop John de Grey of Norwich. The distinction, from a Limerick point of view, may not be much; Dolley and O’Sullivan agreed that, given the confused politics of 1204/5 in the city (William de Burgo’s death, fluctuating political control and its subsequent burning by Meiler son of Meiler fitz Henry), it was highly unlikely that any change in coinage occurred before the spring of 1206 at the earliest and it may have been some years later, around 1210. This makes it easier to postulate a link between the establishment of a new Limerick mint producing REX coins with the period in which the castle at Limerick was being built and direct royal control by Angevin authorities in the city was being strengthened.

Illustration of a Willem farthing from Limerick taken from a blog on Irish coinage:

This second Limerick coinage is marked by the names Willem and Wace – thought by Dolley and O’Sullivan to be the one man. They argued that the use of his surname helped distinguish him from the other Williams in the Dublin and Waterford mints (William was an extremely popular name in the Angevin world at this point) but they felt their case was strengthened by the existence of a William Wace who became Dean and was subsequently Bishop of Waterford in 1223. It may appear odd that a man in charge of minting royal coins in Limerick might be transferred to Waterford in such a fashion but a precise parallel can be found in Roberd of the Dublin mint, who appears to be the Robert of Bedford who gave up the office of guardian of the treasury in 1212, and subsequently became bishop of Lismore in 1218. This was an era when King John relied heavily on clerics as royal administrators and frequently rewarded them with episcopal sees, using the wealth of the Church rather than his own to pay them. The responsibility of minting Limerick coinage would thus seem to have transferred from a local man, Siward, to a cleric in King John’s direct employ. 

Yellow glazed fragment of floor tile from Peter Street, Waterford, showing a mitred head. Thought to belong to the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and to be part of flooring within St Peter’s Church. Taken from the monograph Late Viking Age and Medieval Waterford published by Waterford Corporation p.358

The Black Book of Limerick provides further evidence for Siward. A Syward prepositus de Limirik,  “leader of the urban community” (or precursor of the role of mayor), was one of the signatories of Meyler Fitz Henry’s endorsement of William de Burgo’s list of churches belonging to the see of Limerick in 1201. (The much longer list of witnesses to Meyler’s document gives the impression of an attempt to enforce community support for an original which appears to have been designed in de Burgo’s interests and was signed by very few). Syward prepositus also signed a charter, witnessing Walter Crop’s gift of the tithes of his lands to the church of St Edmund of Athassel, the priory found by William de Burgo. The list of witnesses in this charter is headed by Donatus Ua Briain, bishop of Limerick, followed by de Burgo, Meyler and Thomas fitz Maurice of the Geraldines. Syward prepositus was clearly a man who worked closely with the great landowners of the initial phase of Norman settlement in Limerick.

Farrenegale or ‘ferann na Gall’ – ‘the land of the strangers’ is the area of Limerick identified with Omayl in the Black Book of Limerick. See Rathurd is on the right.

Ten years later, in 1215, a charter of the “community” of Limerick was signed by a Sywardus de Ferendona, Walter Crop and a Sywardus Minetor amongst other “citizens of Limerick”. This states that as inhabitants of the city, they agreed to the wish of King John that, in return for £10 rendered annually to Dublin, Bishop Edmund of Limerick should be given ten ploughlands of land in Omayl with its inhabitants and its possessions. (King John wanted the bishop to be compensated for the damage he had done him by constructing royal mills and fisheries in the city.)

The word Minetor is a variant spelling of the Anglo-Norman mineter ‘a man who made money’. As Brian Hodkinson has pointed out in his book, Aspects of Medieval North Munster, it seems reasonable to see Sywardus Minetor as the man who minted the early coins of Limerick. Given the existence of a second Sywardus, however, it cannot be said that Sywardus Minetor was necessarily the prepositus, especially as Sywardus de Ferendona was listed in primary position, suggesting he was the most important citizen of the day.

Ferendona is probably Farndon, south of Chester. This is an area which provided early members of the Merchant’s Guild of Dublin during the middle years of King John’s reign: “Roger de Fardun” and “Alan the Crusader de Ferendon”. (Chester had a long history of Irish trade stretching back into the tenth century.) It is perfectly possible that it was this man, from a merchant background in north-west England, who was the early prepositus of Limerick. On the other hand, moneyers for the Norman kings were often prominent in civic affairs and English examples could include aldermen, lawmen, merchants and royal officials. The question as to which Syward was the prepositus of Limerick (and/or the Siward of the coins) must remain open.

This problem also raises the Norse origins of Siward/Syward.  The original Norse name was Sigvarðr but the loss of the central g, according to Gillian Fellows Jensen, was something which most probably happened during the period the name was adopted by people living in Anglo-Saxon England. Certainly Siward/Syward is a very common name in English records of the eleventh and twelfth centuries while it is not a personal name found in Irish documents of the same era. (Moreover, a name with the same initial first element, Old Norse Sigfrið shows retention of the central guttural in Irish as in the name Sichfraid recorded in the annals in 933.) Thus if Siward the moneymaker was a Limerick Ostman, he most likely represented later arrivals coming from England rather than earlier colonists from Scandinavian lands and he may even have arrived in Limerick with the Normans as Hodkinson speculated. I disagree, therefore, with the suggestion in the current issue of the North Munster Antiquarian Journal, by Lenore Fischer, that Siward’s family arrived in Limerick before AD 900.

The modern Rathurd townland, St Nicholas civil parish, from

On the other hand, the linkage of either or both of our Sywards with Rathurd townland in the parish of St Nicholas, a place-name recorded in the Black Book in 1252, is very convincing as others, as well as Fischer, have argued. This was land which apparently formed part of the territory awarded to the city in burgage by Bishop John de Grey between 1209 and 1213 and which was already being transferred into private ownership by 1215. It seems to me very likely that the name Rathurd or the ráth of Siward was created in this early thirteenth-century period, when we know of at least two powerful Siwards who were prominent in Limerick life and we also know that there were strong links between the inhabitants of the port and the agricultural estates forming its hinterland (see previous post on haymakers and sheep-shearers).  

The relatively tiny number of Limerick coins from King John’s mints need to be kept in mind. Only four half-pence of Siward’s minting, out of a total of 1072 half pence (and one penny) were found in the nearby hoard from  Corofin in Co. Clare, deposited in the early 1220s. The 17 coins of the later REX type in that hoard, (14 of them half-pence) were all Dublin coins, 15 of them linked to the name Roberd. Moreover these tiny numbers of Limerick coins have to be seen in the context of a potentially long period of use. We know of no new coinage minted in Limerick until the years 1252-4 when a house was hired in the city for the purpose of a mint (costing the Irish exchequer 4 pence per week).  Modern numismatists stress the fact that trade is not dependent on coin usage and it seems clear that turning good silver into coin was not seen as a priority in early thirteenth-century Limerick. In that context, the creation of a mint in the city seems important for its political symbolism rather than for any boost it may have given to economic activity. In producing coins, Syward Minetor and William Wace were most likely agents of King John, working to enhance his local authority, but we cannot identify them with the large scale acquisition of bullion which the king may have hoped to secure within the walls of his Limerick castle.

Image result for moneyers die

The craft of money-making with die – taken from the website

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