Fool’s gold

Henry’s penny

For his part, Henry started collecting gold, which he would need to finance an army in Sicily. Frederick had introduced a magnificent gold coin there in 1231, and Henry, with ever a keen eye for the finer things, was determined to do him one better. His English subjects were now instructed to pay their fines in gold leaf or dust; the same went for exemptions from knighthood or poaching in royal forests. In 1257, ten years after Richard successfully managed the minting of silver coinage in England, Henry issued an exquisitely designed gold penny depicting him in all his regal splendor. Of course it failed, primarily because the king had fooled himself into believing all this gold he was collecting suggested a mother lode somewhere. In fact, he had it all, and there was too little other gold in circulation to give it the proper weight. Of the nearly 50,000 coins minted, only 8 survive today, indicating they were melted down as quickly as they could be recovered. It didn’t matter as far as Sicily was concerned, for by that time the venture was ruined and the pope was making Henry the target of his frustration…and extortion.

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