The Fishpool Hoard:
Evidence of Lancastrian Resistance 1461-1464?
You’ve never heard of the Fishpool Hoard?
Me neither until I saw it in the British Museum. What surprised me was the dating – around 1464 – as I’d never seen a reference to the hoard in anything I’d read about the Wars of the Roses. What next surprised me was that this hoard had featured in a Ten Most Important Treasures programme (or similar title) on BBC2. The British Museum display didn’t make it seem so remarkable.
In fact it is a remarkable find – all the more so for being something of a puzzle. The usually suggested context is that it was linked to Lancastrian resistance to Edward IV in the early 1460s, resistance that ended with defeat at the Battle of Hexham in Northumberland in May 1464. The hoard, however, was found in Nottinghamshire, a very long way from Hexham. So are the two really related – that’s my ‘enquiry question’!
A WORD version of this activity and accompanying resource can be downloaded:
The Fishpool Hoard
The hoard, consisting of both coins and jewellery, was discovered in 1966 by workmen at Fishpool near the village of Blidworth in Nottinghamshire. It appears that the hoard was deliberately concealed since the coins were found neatly stacked, suggesting that they had been in a cloth container which had disintegrated.
The coin hoard consists of 1,237 gold coins, mostly English nobles (a noble being worth 6s. 8d. or one third of a pound), half nobles and quarter nobles. They range in date from 1351, when gold coinage was introduced into England, to the latest coins in the group: 63 coins of Edward IV, of a particularly heavy type issued between 1460 and August 1464. The hoard also included 233 foreign coins: issues of James II of Scotland, Charles VII of France and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The coins have a face value of about £400, equivalent it has been suggested to over £300,000 today but possibly far more.
The jewellery consists of four rings, two lengths of gold chain and four pieces of jewellery (see PowerPoint for images).
The following details indicate the splendour of these items:
1. set with a turquoise which was believed to protect against poisoning, drowning or riding accidents
2. plain gold with the inscription ‘Lift up your whole heart’
3. inscribed with a figure of a saint and the words ‘in good heart’
4. a signet ring inscribed with a hawk’s lure and ‘in good heart’. The device of a hawk’s lure was used by the Sacheverell family of Nottinghamshire.
The jewellery includes:
A tiny enamelled padlock, inscribed ‘de tout’ and ‘mon cuer’ (of all ... my heart).
A heart-shaped brooch inscribed ‘je suys vostre sans de partier’ (I am yours wholly).
A pendant cross with a ruby and four amethysts
Dating and Context
The latest coins in the hoard date from 1463-1464, according to Dr Marion Archibald, the British Museum curator who examined the hoard and wrote a description in The Numismatic Chronicle for 1967. Dr Archibald suggested that the dating of the latest coins meant that the hoard was probably buried some time across the winter of 1463-4 to the summer of 1464. (The battle of Hexham took place on 15 May 1464).
This dating suggests a connection to the Lancastrian resistance to Edward IV between 1461 and 1464. For all the claimed decisiveness of the battle of Towton in Match 1461, Henry VI, Queen Margaret and Prince Edward had not been captured by Edward IV and they still had the support of noblemen who had joined them in exile in Scotland and periodically won control of the north-eastern castles of Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh and Alnwick.
However the link of the dates could be no more than coincidence so what is the evidence that strengthens that link?
Firstly, the hoard is unusual because late medieval coin hoards generally consist of much smaller sums, as the rich and powerful never needed to hide their treasure in the ground. It has far too large a value to belong to a gentry family (such as the Sacheverells whose device may be on one of the rings) or a merchant. The size of the sum suggests the hoard was connected to a royal family or a high-ranking nobleman.
Secondly, the presence of coins from Scotland, France and Burgundy suggests that the hoard may have formed part of the Lancastrian royal treasury or perhaps a war chest because these were the countries where Queen Margaret was raising money on behalf of her husband Henry VI in 1461-63. There also seems no reason why Edward IV or his supporters would have buried such a hoard at this time.
So, if this was Lancastrian money, why was it buried? The usual suggestion is that it was buried by someone fleeing south from the battle of Hexham. We do know that one Lancastrian leader , Sir William Tailboys, was caught in possession of an even larger sum of money in the same month as Hexham. According to Gregory’s Chronicle, Tailboys was captured near Newcastle when hiding in a coal-pit ‘and he had much money with him, gold and silver, that would have caused much sorrow if it had reached Henry, late king of England, for he had armour and weapons enough but his men would not go with him unless they were paid. They waited daily and hourly for the money that Tailboys should have sent or brought to them. the sum was 3000 marks [£2000] …. Tailboys lost his head at Newcastle.’
This extract follows the account of the battle of Hexham in Gregory’s chronicle so it seems reasonable to assume that Tailboys had fought at Hexham and was fleeing north-eastwards, to join the King but also to the Lancastrian-hold castles on the coast which offered the safest passage into exile. To take this a step further, it is possible that the Lancastrian treasury had been broken up and distributed amongst several carriers (one of whom was Tailboys) to try to ensure at least some of it remained in Lancastrian hands. Perhaps the Fishpool hoard was another part of the Lancastrian treasury, one that was sent south in the possession of other loyalists but who had to abandon the money when being pursued by the King Edward’s men? If so, they got a very long way before being captured.
In support of this argument Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum gave me this additional information:
‘Work by the 15th-century specialist Dr Christine Carpenter has identified the incumbent Forester of Sherwood Forest (where the hoard was found) as a prominent Lancastrian sympathiser who was indeed removed by Edward IV shortly after Hexham – heading in his direction might have been a useful thing.’
My main doubt about this argument that the hoard had been sent south after Hexham is that it does not seem logical that any Lancastrian would flee south when the route to safety lay north and north-east to the coast and castles such as Bamburgh. Another possibility is that this money was actually on its way north from Lancastrian supporters in the south, to pay for the Lancastrian military action in the far north-east. If it was still on its way north when news arrived of defeat at Hexham its carriers may have buried it to think of what to do next – and never had the chance to return to collect it. However there is no more evidence to support that argument than any other.
We cannot be certain why this hoard was buried or by whom but it may have a use with A level students studying the 15th century. Firstly, the hoard does show the craftsmanship of the period, a very different aspect to balance the usual focus on battlefields! Secondly, you could give the students the information about the finds (but no more than the description of the coins and the jewellery) and ask them to read up on the events of 1463-64 to see if they can identify any event that might be connected with the hoard. This might be an intriguing way into the events of these years.
With thanks …
I am grateful to Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum for his prompt response to my queries about the hoard.
Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.