Yorkshire baron's 12th-century coin sells for £17,000 at auction

An extremely rare silver penny minted by a powerful Yorkshire baron has sold for nearly two and a half times its estimated value.

The coin was found in a Yorkshire field in March
The coin was found in a Yorkshire field in March

The coin, from a forgotten period in British history known as 'The Anarchy', was discovered by a metal detectorist in a Yorkshire field this March, and dates from around AD 1148 to 1152.

The Anarchy was a civil war that began following a succession crisis when King Henry I's only male heir died. He wanted his daughter, Matilda, to become queen, but her claim was challenged by his nephews, Stephen and Henry du Blois, on Stephen's behalf.

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The conflict was intermittent and dragged on for almost 20 years before a peace treaty was agreed and Matilda's son took the throne as King Henry II. During this time, law and order broke down, and as most of the fighting was in the south, rebel barons took advantage to seize power in the north.

Robert de Stuteville, the 12th-century baron who minted the coin, was the custodian of Knaresborough Castle

The coin was struck in the name of Robert de Stuteville, one of the northern lords, instead of the disputed King Stephen. Robert was the son of a Norman nobleman who had settled in England. He witnessed the charter of Henry II at Newcastle in 1158, four years after The Anarchy ended, which suggests he opposed the du Blois claim and was a confidante of the king. He later became High Sheriff of Yorkshire and was custodian of Knaresborough Castle on the king's behalf. He also owned the town of Kirkbymoorside and founded the nunneries of Keldholme and Rosedale, and was a benefactor of Rievaulx Abbey.

The coin, the first example of its kind to appear at public auction since the 1950s, was thought to be worth around £6,000 but sold for £14,000 (excluding auction costs) to a private British collector.

Auctioneer Gregory Edmund, for Spink and Son, said: “It is no surprise given all the uncertainty around at present, that demand for portable assets and the spectacular rarities within them, continue to hit new heights in the open market.

“It is fantastic that the limelight can now return to such an obscure historical figure who played such a pivotal role in our country’s rich history.

“A penny dreadful this most certainly is not.”

Experts have said it is the first coin of its era to be found in over 100 years and is in better condition than a similar example on display in the British Museum.

Mr Edmund said: “It is an understatement to describe this coin as simply 'rare', for it is the first new find of its type to be documented in over a century, despite this type of coin being known about since 1684 thanks to a chance discovery in a mole hill.”

Mr Edmund said: “Robert de Stuteville is a name almost entirely forgotten to British history, and it is mere luck this story can be even told today.”

During The Anarchy, noblemen started issuing coins of their own in the absence of Crown authority.

Mr Edmund said: “As the Archbishop of York had pre-existing rights of the King to produce coins in the city, characters such as Robert de Stuteville used that right during the civil war to promote their own interests.

“However Stuteville’s coinage today is exceptionally rare, being known from only four other confirmed examples, all now held in national museums.

"He was a product of an age when self-preservation guaranteed survival through a time of great turbulence in this country.

“During this time, allegiances were forged between local landowners who chose sides depending on the prevailing political winds at the time.

“This created a highly unusual set of circumstances in which coins were not only stuck in the name of the reigning monarch, but also wealthy private individuals keen to promote their local territorial dominance.”

Experts had struggled to identify the coin, which shows a medieval knight on horseback brandishing a sword, after it was first discovered.

Mr Edmund said: “Since then speculation has been wide ranging about its identity, including suggestions about Robert, Duke of Normandy, the eldest son of the Conqueror and even Robert, Duke of Gloucester, the illegitimate son of King Henry I.

"However, thanks to a re-reading of the obverse legend at the turn of the last century, and as now confirmed on this new coin, the mysterious inscription clearly reads ‘RODBERTVS D STV’ or ‘Rodbertus de Stutavilla’ - the obscure baron at the Battle of the Standard."

Including costs, the buyer paid £17,000 for the coin.