Modified on February 16, 2024
Combe Martin Silver and the English Civil War 1642-1651
Was there Combe Martin Silver in English Civil War Coinage?
Combe Martin Silver Mines Society (CMSMS) refers to the seventeenth-century 'English Civil War', when the Royal Silver Mines Of Combe Martin were managed by the "devoted and indefatigable" Royalist Thomas Bushell.
He was an English mining expert who governed and defended one of the last bastions of the Royalist cause: Lundy Island off the coast of North Devon. During the English Civil Wars: Bushell is said to have minted silver coinage at Combe Martin - mint mark Lis - and on Lundy Island.
The Old Combmartin Silver Mine on Bowhay Lane is usually open for visits on Thursdays 10:00 am until 4pm, and Sunday mornings 08:00 am until 12-noon.
Our question is, were coins minted and issued from Combe Martin for King Charles I, during the series of conflicts that spanned the entire British Isles.
In that period according to extant letters, Thomas Bushell 'attempted to recover the distressed mines at Combemartin'; and instead of producing silver he may have succeeded in supplying lead for bullets (Amery, Devon & Cornwall notes & queries, 1911).
The so-called 'English Civil War' was not only an English war but a series of wars, starting in Scotland in 1637 and ending with the Anglo-Scottish conflicts 1650-1652. Nor was it very civil.
We found no records of battles in Combe Martin during the English Civil War, yet the neighbouring town of Ilfracombe was involved in the conflict. Ilfracombe was Parliamentarian when the Civil War broke out in 1642.
In the summer of 1644, the Royalist Sir Francis Dodington of Somerset attacked Ilfracombe from Minehead, aiming to capture Ilfracombe Castle (see Bloody Meadow).
Considering Combe Martin’s closeness to these events, it’s plausible that the village was affected by the war. Specific details remain unknown but, according to the British Museum's numismatist Herbert A. Greuber in 1899: local coinage in the King's name was probably struck at Combe Martin.
Combe Martin Silver Mines Society mentions a Civil War Royal Mint at Combe Martin, and says that "in the 1640’s Charles I clothed his army from the Combmartin mines" (online, 2023).
Greuber (1899), places the local mints at Aberystwyth, Bristol, Chester, probably Combe Martin, Exeter, Oxford, Salisbury, Shrewsbury, Weymouth, Worcester, and York ("English Coins", p. 106).
The question may be academic, for even if those mines did not yield enough raw silver in time: silver plate of Combe Martin origin could have been melted down for minting King Charles I coins or 'siege money'.
Furthermore, in 1911, English historian and artist Frederick J. Snell B.A. recalled reading that 'a Combmartin half-crown of 1645 was sold in an auction room in London, for the sum of £5. 12s. 6d' (The Blackmore Country, pp. 272-275).
Snell wrote articles for the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica and was also an alumni of Balliol College, Oxford. Thus he may be considered to be reliable.
Lt Col H. W. Morrieson, F.S.A, President of the The British Numismatic Society in the early twentieth-century, submitted a persuasive paper titled The Coinage of Coombe-Martin 1647-1648.
Morrieson produced coins which, he logically concluded, were issued by Thomas Bushell whilst he was in charge of the Combe Martin silver mines during 1647-1648.
Following the death of his mentor Sir Francis Bacon in 1626, Bushell had moved to southwest England to become a mining engineer and Warden of the Mint.
Charles I appears to have believed in his divine right to rule, anointed by the Almighty. During the winter of 1641-42, relations broke down between King Charles I (1600-1649) and Parliament.
The unity of purpose between the Lords and Commons also collapsed, starting the descent into civil war, the transition to a Commonwealth republic, and government without a King.
During the conflict, coins were struck in several provincial Mints to supply the coinage for the regions under Royalist control. The Mints were set up to melt down silver plate, and allegedly Combe Martin silver, to make coins.
Many of these coins carried an abbreviated form of the Wellington Declaration - a manifesto by King Charles I near the start of the English Civil War- on the reverse.
If Morrieson's analysis was correct, he appears to settle the argument over whether or not Combe Martin silver mines ever produced any Civil War coinage.
On retirement from the Royal Artillery in 1905, Lt Col Henry W. Morrieson (1857-1933) took up numismatics. He was President of the British Numismatic Society during 1915-1919, and 1928-1932.
Morrieson contributed a paper on the Bristol Mint, one of four papers for the British Numismatic Journal on the coins of the Civil War Mints of Charles I.
He thought it probable that Bushell struck Royalist coins from Combe Martin silver, sometime between 1646 and 1648, though that has been disputed.
See the report by Lt.-CoL H. W. Morrieson (F.S.A.) at the British Numismatic Society. Morrieson reported Bushell's difficulties in working the Combe Martin silver mines for the Crown's monetary supply.
He also contended that a small issue of Combe Martin silver coinage was minted between 1646 and 1648, thus 'these coins were extremely rare'.
To support his theory, Morrieson found that Bushell spent most of his time at Combe Martin between February 1646 and 1647, and May 1648. Bushell also appears to have had a house at Northam between Bideford and Appledore.
How the Wars Started
The Civil Wars were fought between Charles I and Parliament between 1642 and 1651. The Wars of the Three Kingdoms - a series of British Civil War battles and rebellions - had begun in 1639, and by 1642 King Charles I needed money for his Royalist army. This was when the Combe Martin mines became important.
In April 1640, Charles was forced to summon a Short Parliament, asking them to fund his army against Scotland. At this juncture his personal rule without a Parliament came to an end. Parliament began a programme of legislation to restrict the King’s powers and purge ‘popish’ practices from the Church.
It further tried to govern England’s armed forces by means of a Militia Bill, for which Charles refused assent. Three weeks later, Charles dissolved the Short Parliament.
Opposition to Royal policy was almost unanimous at the time, yet distrust of the Scots and alarm at Parliament's extension of powers eventually rallied support for Charles.
Parliament passed the Militia Ordinance - legislation without royal assent - in March 1642, taking control of the army and excluding the King from appointing militia commanders.
Ordinances sanctioned by the Commons and Lords were to be regarded as valid in law without the need for royal assent. This was the trigger for the outbreak of the First English Civil War in August 1642.
To cut a long story short, popular support for Parliament forced the King and the royal family to leave London, on January 10 1642. And a month later, the King refused to surrender control of the militia to Parliament.
During June 1642 he revived medieval commissions of array in response to the militia ordinance.
On 12 July 1642, Parliament voted to raise an army and commissioned the Earl of Essex as Captain-General. A month afterwards, Charles raised his Royal Standard at Nottingham.
The Civil Wars marked the beginnings of the modern British Army tradition with the creation of the New Model Army, the country’s first national army comprised of trained, professional soldiers.
During the ensuing Civil War of 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, Charles I needed to capture London, something which he consistently failed to do. In victory, coins were struck from the spoils of war. In times of crisis, coins were struck from whatever sources of precious metal were available.
Buried in hoards for safekeeping or covertly shipped overseas in case of invasion, coins were more than just currency. They were a means to spread propaganda and declarations, also a powerful tool to win popular support and victory.
Parliamentarians had taken control of London and its Tower Mint. Charles established his own parliament in Oxford in 1644 and directed his affairs from there. The king was forced to establish provincial mints in parts of England that were still loyal to him, and the king’s coins bore his proclamations.
Both sides were surprised that the King was able to maintain a field army against Parliament. How it was achieved cannot be fully ascertained because most of the contemporary records are lost.
Forces loyal to Charles established their own means of production, striking oversized silver pound coins of equivalent value to their gold counterparts.
After a devastating death toll which saw up to 200,000 people dead, Charles I was brought to trial before the victorious Parliamentarians at Westminster Hall, in 1649. He was found guilty of treason and beheaded in the same year, the only British monarch ever to be executed.
Silver could not save the kingdom, for "Parliament was supplied not only with the money, plate and other contributions of the most disloyal city of London, but also the rest of their faction throughout the Kingdom.
There was money raised for suppressing the rebellion in Ireland, the twentieth part of all men's estates, the excise on all commodities, and lastly the sequestration of the estates and plundering of all in their power" (Jens Engberg, 1966).
To conclude, it is not certain if Combe Martin mined and issued Civil War coinage for King Charles I. However; H.W. Morrieson the eminent British numismatist and Fellow of the Society of Antiquities, together with Oxford historian and author J.F. Snell B.A., suggest it happened.
© Author, Aug 7 2023
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Boundy, Wyndham Sydney (1961). Bushell and Harman of Lundy. Bideford: Gazette Printing Service.
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Engberg. J., 1966: Royalist Finances During the English Civil War 1642- 1646.
en.wikisource.org/wiki/Alumni_Oxonienses:_the_Members_of_the_University_of_Oxford,_1715-1886/Snell,_Frederick_John. August 2023.
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Gaunt, P. The English Civil War: A Military History (2019). London, Bloomsbury Academic.
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Morrieson, H.W. F.S.A. (n.d.), The Coinage of Coombe Martin, 1647-1648; www.britnumsoc.org/publications/Digital%20BNJ/pdfs/1929_BNJ_20_14.pdf. August 2023
Open Library (2023): Bushell, Thomas (1594 – 1674).
The Coinage of Coombe-Martin, www.britnumsoc.org/publications/Digital%20BNJ/pdfs/1929_BNJ_20_14.pdf. August 2023.
UK Parliament: The breakdown of 1641-2. August 2023.
www.combemartinmines.co.uk/about/. August 2023.