The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford took delivery of an early Christmas present today (December 6 2010) in the form of a spectacular hoard of golden angels.
© University of Oxford
The hoard of 210 English gold angels and half-angel coins dates to the Tudor period and was found in the nearby Cotswolds. It was secured by the museum after it raised more than half of the hoard’s asking price through a mixture of private and philanthropic contributions, together with grants from government and public sources.
Bridging a timespan between 1470 and 1526 and covering the period of the Wars of the Roses to ten years before the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the hoard is the largest intact assemblage of its kind. It also contains some rare pieces, most notably from the second reign of Kings Henry VI (1470-1471) and of Richard III (1483-1485).
It was discovered in the summer of 2007 during building work in the village of Asthall, near Burford, on land belonging to Eton College, and declared Treasure in April 2010. It was later valued by Treasure Valuation Committee at £280,000.
Historians believe the valuable hoard was buried in the early period of Henry VIII (1509-1547); perhaps in an effort to hide church wealth as the King set about attacking ecclesiastical power during his Dissolution of the Monasteries.
© University of Oxford
Alternatively it may simply represent a merchant’s wealth - a testimony to the accumulation of wealth in the region, which was made particularly rich from the wool trade.
The meaning and design of the coins themselves are also subject to historical conjecture. Angels and half-angels were first minted in 1465, bearing the Archangel Michael slaying the dragon on the obverse, and it has been suggested that this is an allegory of the overthrow of Lancaster by York.
As befits such a glittering collection of coinage, there is also a magical element to their story. In the second half of the 15th century, the introduction of the pious angel coincided with the popular practice of the Royal Touch.
Since medieval times, kings were involved in the healing of tuberculosis of the neck (scrofula, the King’s Evil), a practice which involved touching and the giving of alms in the shape of coins. Touch pieces retained the design of angel coins for centuries.
“This is clearly an inspirational collection,” said Dame Jenny Abramsky of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which helped secure the funds for the purchase of the hoard.
“That it has now been saved for future generations to enjoy is testament to how private philanthropy, government funds such as the National Heritage Memorial Fund and public funding bodies can effectively come together to secure our most important heritage treasures.”
Following conservation, the hoard will go on display in a special exhibition in the Ashmolean’s new Money Gallery for a year from March 22 2011.
In Pictures: see the Asthall Tudor hoard in more detail