Exploring a 1670 Medallion

This medallion was a gift from my grandfather.   It was minted in 1670 by  John Roettiers,  during the reign of Charles II and his wife Catherine of Britain.

A medallion to celebrate colonization, the motto written on one side of the coin states, ”diffuses in orbe Britannus.” It neatly encircles most of the world. Loosely translated this means Britain moving throughout the world- Imperial claims almost four hundred years ago.

Charles II returned to England, after having been thrown out by Oliver Cromwell . At the time this medallion was minted, he had been back ten years.   His reign is called the Restoration-as in the restoration of the monarchy (and restoration of the theatre, and women on stage).

The other side of the medallion shows Catherine and Charles II in typical Roman profile fashion.  In 1670 Charles II was forty years old and Catherine was 32.  They had been married for eight years.  Catherine was Portuguese. Their marriage was childless, but even after request from Parliament, Charles refused to divorce her.  As part of her cultural impact, Catherine brought tea and the use of the fork to England.

Five years before the minting of this medallion, England faced a great plague that killed 100, 000 people and killed almost 20% of the population.  It was caused the bubonic plague- made famous by the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy.” If people were believed to be infected they were literally shut up in their homes (the healthy with the sick), and a red cross was posted at their door.   Guards, if they could be found, were hired to ensure that the people inside did not escape.  Dogs and cats were slaughtered with the understanding that they might be causing the plague, but in reality this only made the situation worse because the lack of predators bolstered the rat population (the true carriers of the disease).

Four years before this medallion and just after the plague was subsiding,  London was besieged by a great fire that destroyed  13,000 homes. Samuel Pepys, a diarist and politician at the time, provides a first -hand account of the fire in his journal. It started in Thomas Farynor’s bakeshop- incidentally he was baker to King Charles II.  While there was minimal loss of life in this fire, it destroyed a majority of London that had to be rebuilt.

Charles had no legitimate heirs, but had many children from his mistresses.  The present Dukes Richmond and Grafton can trace their lineage from Charles II, as well their most memorable family member: Princess Diana.  It is said that Prince William of Wales will be the first descendant of Charles II to be monarch.

On closer inspection, it is evident that the continent of North America seems to be missing on John Roettiers design of the world- yet the Mayflower had landed at the tip of Cape Cod in 1620, and  It was Charles II who granted the charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company and named it Rupert’s land. Certainly North America is only on the periphery of British interest at this time.  Little did they know how important this large continent would be to future history.


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