By the seventeenth century, nearly 1,500 years had passed since the figure of Britannia had graced the coins of the Roman Emperors. Her revival for Charles II after such a long absence is not perhaps as curious as it seems. From the time of Elizabeth I, Britannia had begun to feature prominently in contemporary drama and literature, symbolising the growing maritime empire of the Tudor Queen.
It was the great jurist, John Selden, who in 1636 actually defended Britain’s claim to the four surrounding seas by pointing out that Britannia had been shown on Roman coins seated amidst the waves. That a Roman-style Britannia should therefore make her appearance on the copper coins of Charles II, at a time when our naval power was under challenge, accordingly ceases to be surprising.
Thereafter Britannia was never absent from the coinage and in subsequent years she became still more obviously a maritime figure. On the famous cartwheel pennies and twopences of 1797 her spear has been replaced by a trident and she is shown seated on rocks in the sea, with a ship in the background.
She continued to reign supreme on the copper, later bronze, pennies of every monarch up until decimalisation and was subsequently chosen to appear on the definitive 50p coin.
By the time the Queen came to the throne in 1952 then, Britannia had assumed the status of an immortal having been an enduring feature of British coinage for almost 300 years. What more appropriate subject, therefore, to grace coins that were to appeal to international bullion markets yet be immediately identifiable as British? She therefore featured on the first gold Britannia coins in 1987 and, ten years later, on the first silver bullion Britannia coins.
Since then aspects of her history and character has been interpreted by different artists and the new portrait by David Mach is the ninth to appear on the Britannia gold and silver coins of the Queen’s reign and now takes a well-deserved place in Britannia’s illustrious numismatic career.
View our full range of Britannia coins here: http://www.royalmint.com/our-coins/ranges/britannia .