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Commonwealth of England Sixpence #2010-0470

Commonwealth of England sixpence dated 1653; inscribed on obverse with ‘COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND’ encircling the shield of St. George; and on the reverse ‘1653. GOD WITH VS’ surrounding symbols of the Cross of St. George and the Irish harp.

History

This silver sixpence (1653) was minted in the year after the end of the English Civil Wars (1642-52). These wars were a series of armed conflicts and political clashes within and between the kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland, and concerned the nature and limits of royal power, the nature and extent of religious liberty for Protestants and Catholics, and the relationship between the peoples of Britain and Ireland. At the heart was a fundamental debate about the accountability of the ruler to their people and the nature of liberty itself.

Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) played a leading role, as army commander and Member of Parliament, in the English Civil Wars and in the execution of King Charles I in 1649. In 1653 Cromwell used force to dissolve the Parliament. Later in the year he agreed to serve as head of state, taking the title of Lord Protector. It was in that same year that this coin was minted. The word ‘commonwealth’, inscribed on the coin, refers to the period from the execution of the King in 1649 to the dissolution of Parliament in 1653.

During the 17th century, the definition of the term ‘commonwealth’ expanded from its original meaning of ‘public welfare’ to ‘a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people; a republic or democratic state.’ Cromwell’s Commonwealth tended to function as a republic or pseudo-monarchy and is often referred to today as the ‘Old Commonwealth’ or more commonly as the Protectorate. The term Commonwealth is today used to describe the independent member states of the Commonwealth (formerly the British Commonwealth, and made of countries which once formed the British Empire). The term ‘Commonwealth of Australia’ was also chosen to describe the federated colonies of Australia during the Federation debates of the 1890s, with Alfred Deakin deliberately calling on the 17th century English Commonwealth as a reason for the choice of name. Although recent government usage has preferred the term Australian Government and Parliament to Commonwealth Government and Parliament, the Constitution describes Australia as an ‘indissoluble Federal Commonwealth’.

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This silver sixpence is significant as it commemorates the leading role played by Oliver Cromwell in the English Civil Wars of 1642-52 and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Coins were issued every year during Cromwell’s rule, except for 1659. Hammered coins from this period bear no portrait of a king or queen; instead there is a simple puritan design. The reverse depicts co-joined shields of England (Cross of St. George) and Ireland (harp), with a date and the legend ‘GOD WITH VS’. The obverse bears the legend ‘COMMONWEALTH OF ENGLAND’ and a single shield in the centre with a mintmark, to complete the legend. Coins from this period are considered to be rare, and examples similar to this coin are held in the collections of the British Museum (London) and the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge).

Although the Cromwellian experiment collapsed with Cromwell’s death in 1658, the period helped to establish the primacy of parliament over the King. The Cromwellian Revolutions influenced later revolutions in Europe and America, and the development of constitutional monarchies. The period that this coin represents is one of the key global milestones that contributed to the shaping of Australia’s democracy and parliamentary structure.

  • Commonwealth of England SixpenceCommonwealth of England Sixpence —
  • Commonwealth of England SixpenceCommonwealth of England Sixpence —

Details

Diameter 25mm
Medium Silver
Creator’s name Unknown
Date created 1653