From her Roman origins through to the twenty-first century, Britannia has been an enduring symbol of the courage and character of the small but spirited island that is Britain.
The remains an evocative figure on modern day coinage, but in a completely new idea for the 2011 Masterpiece Medal, Royal Mint Engraver Robert Evans asks us to imagine a young Britannia, abandoned yet never entirely crushed – perhaps in the manner of Boudicca. For his second design, his imagination was captured by Britannia’s strong maritime history as he explains:
The Artist’s Inspiration
‘Britannia’s long association with Britain’s coinage is well documented, but it can be difficult to look with fresh eyes on such an iconic image. Designing the Masterpiece Medal, without coinage restrictions, has given me the freedom to take a fresh sheet of paper for Britannia, to look beyond my own associations with her – which I am sure many people share – and to tell her story in my own way. Early Roman images of Britannia tend to show her as sad, even deflated. Yet she went on to become our symbol, we took her to our hearts, a warrior, our champion.
‘I wanted to capture that spirit, and so I looked back to Britain’s abandonment by the Romans as, recalled to defend Italy, they left the Isles of Britannia to the mercy of invaders. Britain appealed to Emperor Honorius, only to be told, ‘Defend yourselves.’
- The Emperor Claudius conquered Pretani in 43AD
- His victory was celebrated on his coinage depicting a triumphal arch with the legend DE BRITANN
- The Romans finally abandoned Britannia in 410 and Britons were told ‘defend yourselves’
- Britannia flourished ‘great and free’
'I was inspired by the finality of Rome’s severed connections, and the stark choice to fight or to succumb, and in my first design Britannia became a spirited young girl who, surrounded by the remnants of the departed Empire, seizes the discarded sword of Rome to challenge Britain’s enemies. For my second design, I wanted to re-chart Britannia’s maritime history, showing a more mature and confident Britannia and reflecting her connection with our naval heritage by depicting her as very much ‘of the sea’. My design shows Britannia both merging with the sea and emerging from it, protecting the ships at her hand and inspiring the exploration that would bring Britain prosperity and security. Though this Britannia is inspired by Nelson, who when told that the armies of France and Spain were to attack our island nation, answered, ‘I do not say they cannot come; I only say they cannot come by sea,’ my Britannia is strong yet not aggressive, with neither armour nor weapon, for here Britain does indeed rule the waves.’
Britannia Masterpiece designer Bob Evans
The Artistry and Story Behind the Design
The new Masterpiece Medal is entirely devoted to that ‘fayre and beautiful nymph’ Britannia herself. On one side, a brave young Britannia, abandoned by her Roman captors yet never broken, takes up arms to defend herself; on the other, a more mature Britannia, the wheels of industry in her skirts, demonstrates her mastery over the waves.
- Britannia’s birth and progress is told in the spectacular new Masterpiece Medal
- Engraver Robert Evans asks us to focus on two thrilling chapters in her story
- A brave young Britannia prepares for battle
- Britannia evolves to ‘rules the waves’