During the First English Civil War (1642 to 1646), roguish mining engineer and entrepreneur Colonel Thomas Bushell (c. 1593 – 1674) was a devoted Royalist and a Master of the Mint.
A staunch supporter of the King and an authority on mining and coining, Bushell provided the finance for the King’s army, and also worked in Combe Martin while governing Lundy Island off the coast of North Devon. Bushell was a friend and protégé of the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon.
When the Civil War broke out in 1642, King Charles I lost control over his Tower Mint; York and Aberystwyth had royal mints but pop-up mints had to be hastily established. It is widely believed that Combe Martin and Lundy had provincial mints in this period.
The Royal Mint states that Britain’s military history and that of its money are inseparable. Coins equipped, clothed and fed armies. They bought horses and weaponry and, behind enemy lines, hard currency bought release from capture.
Combe Martin Lead For Royalist Bullets
However, in Amery's Devon & Cornwall notes & queries (1911): "It cannot well have been Combe Martin ; there is an extant letter from one of Fairfax's lieutenants in February, 1646-7, saying that Bushell intended to employ himself in "recovering the distressed works of Commartyn myne."
"It is highly probable that the [Combe Martin] mine then yielded only lead for bullets, there being neither time nor opportunity for extracting the silver from the ore" (Amery, 1911).
Combe Martin Civil War Coinage
Local silver for the Royalists in the English Civil War was initially brought from mines in Wales, and from the Combe Martin silver mines from about 1644. There is extant Charles I coinage dated 1644, attributed to Combe Martin.
Half-crowns assigned to Combe Martin -1644 - have the usual obverse type of the king on horseback ; but on the reverse the royal shield within the Garter, crowned, with supporters, lion and unicorn.
Above, C R; and below, date 1644; around, CHRISTO • AVSPICE • REGNO [ 'I rule under the auspices of Christ']. This is the only denomination attributed to this place.
The Charles I Combe Martin silver Half Crown, 1645, showed the King on horseback with grass under horse. Oval shield within the garter, and with supporters, surmounted by a crown dividing C—R crowned, and under the shield is the date (Deakin, 1899). These fine pieces are extremely rare nowadays.
The reverse of this Half Crown features an abbreviated version of the Declaration of Wellington, a manifesto set out by Charles before the first set-piece battle of the English Civil War.
The text between two lines, reads ‘RELIG:PROT:LEG:ANG:LIBER:PAR’ which is an abbreviated promise to uphold ‘the Protestant religion, the laws of England and the liberty of parliament’ (Britannia Coin Co., 2023)
Silver has historic value as a precious metal for bullion, coins and tableware, although the Royal Mint stopped using silver in 1947.
A bullion coin is struck from refined precious metal (bullion) and stored for value or an investment, rather than used in day-to-day commerce.
According to the Royal Mint: throughout history, war has caused coin production to become broken.
Any weakening of state control risks allowing a usurper or regional power to assume the right and responsibility for making money.
Kings could be denied access to the mint and to supplies of imported gold.
From the Roman invasion to the twenty-first century, coinage has been problematic throughout British history.
And during the English Civil War (1642–1651), supplies of royalist coinage – while vital - were limited.
Parliament controlled wealthier areas in the south and east of England together with most of the key ports and, critically, London, the financial capital of the kingdom.
In order to win the war, King Charles I needed to capture London, which he consistently failed to do.
At a later stage of the war, Combe Martin silver was used to mint coins for the Royalists. Historically, precious metal coinage has bought the loyalty of armies, as well as spreading propaganda.
Control of the coinage could mean victory; so to bolster his bullion, Bushell “borrowed” metal from rich people and from Oxford colleges.
Craftsmen on both sides requisitioned silver objects for coinage. With limited access to gold, Bushell had high denomination coins minted from King Charles’s court in Oxford, striking silver pounds weighing over four ounces each, the largest circulation of coins ever seen in Britain.
The gold Triple Unite - struck at Oxford in 1643 - was worth £3 at the time. Silver coins issued at Bristol, the halfcrown (2/6), shilling, sixpence, groat, threepence, half-groat (tuppence) and the penny, were typical.
Bushell eventually worked in Combe Martin while governing Lundy Island, the last bastion of Royalist territory, which he belligerently defended for the Crown.
In 1643-4 Bushell had received the grant of Lundy from the King, together with the customs of the lead, an extension of his lease of the royal mines of Wales, and a lease of the lead mines at Combe Martin.
Bushell was ideally situated at Lundy, able to travel by sea to Aberystwyth, and apparently spending a great deal of time in Combe Martin as either the lessee or owner of its mines.
In 1645 the Royalist army foundered, and various strongholds surrendered. Bushell wrote to King Charles offering to defend Lundy Island, and pledged not to surrender without permission.
On 10-11 Sept 1645, Bristol fell to the Parliamentarians, and just before this, Thomas Bushell transferred his mint equipment property from Bristol to Lundy, striking coins from there.
From Lundy Island, Bushell also controlled the silver mines at Combe Martin, and attempted to work them without success, for they were not drained.
Lundy was the last Royalist territory held between the first and second civil wars.
On May 14th, 1646, Bushell wrote to the King again and, on July 14th, received permission to surrender Lundy. At that time the King was a defeated prisoner at Newcastle. For Bushell however, things were quite the reverse.
Bushell held out, and imposed numerous demands on Parliament which apparently agreed to all his terms.
After months-long political discussion, plea-bargaining, and an Armistice, the island was finally surrendered on Sept 10th, 1647.
Subsequently, metals were imported from the colonies, and Combe Martin’s mines were deserted and closed for over a century.
Bushell survived the English Civil War and enjoyed the support of England's rulers thereafter, no doubt thanks to his roguish character, his mining expertise, and not inconsiderable ability.
In 1674, Thomas Bushell died aged 80 and, according to Westminster Abbey, he was for some unknown reason buried in Westminster Abbey’s Little Cloister where the clergy spent much of their time.
Perhaps the privilege was due to his achievements and royal patronage in life.
Or his wife Anne may have had exercised influence. She was the widow of Sir William Waad, English statesman, diplomat, and Lieutenant of the Tower of London.
That’s not the only mystery, for this Thomas Bushell apparently has neither an extant grave marker nor a monument.