A Time of Transition

Table of contents

The term Catholic Kings refers to Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who were the king and queen of the Crown of Castile (1475-1504) and the Crown of Aragon (1479-1516) during their joint reign. The couple got married at the Palacio de los Vivero, located in Valladolid, on October 19th 1469, as she was eighteen years old, while he was seventeen.

On January 15th 1475 prince Ferdinand II and princess Isabella I of Castile signed a document called Concord of Segovia, according to which both of them would have the same power in the future management of their kingdoms. This system remained valid for a long time, but as queen Isabella grew older, she kept transferring ruling competencies to Ferdinand. As a result, by 1500 almost all the power was in the hands of Ferdinand and his Aragonese advisors.

One significant feature explaining the expansion beyond national borders was the efficiency of the Crown’s army, which was under the orders of Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, also known as El Gran Capitán – The Great Captain. He reorganized the military troops, implementing a new combat unit: the tercio, or tercios reales, which was the first modern army under the orders of the Crown, which no longer needed the armed escorts formed by noblemen. This, together with an aggressive marriage policy with the purpose of forming alliances in Europe and the expansion towards the New World, resulted in what would be known as the Spanish Empire of the XVI and XVII centuries.

E-Auction 67 – “Gran Capitán” Collection – Lot 48: Catholic Kings (1474-1504)1 realBurgos. (Cal-294). (LfC1.0.1). Ag3,19 g. B on the obverse shield and without marks on reverse. Before the Pragmatica. Rare. Choice VF.

From the point of view of numismatics, this kingdom meant the transition from the medieval coining to the Reinassance and the Modern Age. The monetary system for silver and copper established by the Pragmatica of 1497 and based on the silver real and the copper maravedi lasted – with just a few changes – practically until 1869, that is to say, for almost 400 years.

The need for changes in the currency had already been assumed in another territories of the Iberian peninsula. Thus, John II of Aragon had carried out some European-style reforms, creating the johani ducat for Aragon and Valencia. Ferdinand II continued with these changes: he created the Valencian excelente in 1483, the Sicilian trionfo in 1490 and the Catalonian principat in 1493, all of which were based on the style of the Venetian ducat.

The Royal Decree of 1475, issued during the first year of their reign, as they were in the middle of a civil war against the supporters of Joanna – Henry IV´s daughter, married to Afonso V of Portugal, -ended with the proliferation of mints during the previous reign by giving the prerogative to only six royal mints: those of Burgos, Corunna, Cuenca, Segovia, Seville and Toledo. Granada was added to the list in 1492. From 1475 on, billon coins were no longer minted in Castile, due to the excesses of the previous reign. At the Cortes de Madrigal of 1476 it was only said: “tres blancas corran por un maravedí e no más” – “three blancas equivalent to one maravedi and not any more”.

E-Auction 67 – “Gran Capitán” Collection – Lot 52: Catholic Kings (1474-1504)1 realToledo. (Cal-459). (LfC7.0.1). Anv.: FERNANDVS:ET hELISABEB:DE. Escudo de Castilla y León con T debajo. Cabeza de águila de San Juan mirando a derecha. Rev.: DOMINVS:MIChI:ADIVTOR:· Escudo de Aragón y SiciliaAg3,34 g. Before the Pragmatica. Eagle looking right. Very rare. XF/AU.

The Pragmatica of Medina del Campo

The reform marking the transition to the Modern Age is the Pragmatica de Medina de Campo of 1497. From the point of view of numismatics, we consider that everything “before the pragmatica” is medieval, while everything “after the pragmatica” is considered modern.

The gold minted in Castile had been following muslim patterns: the golden dobla was the monetary unit called Castellano, which had a higher fineness and weight than the ducat, and became the predominant currency in Europe. As a consequence of this, the Castilian gold was sent abroad in order to be melted, which is why this Pragmática ordered the minting of the excelente or ducat, as well as its multiple, the double excelente, following European patterns.   

E-Auction 67 – “Gran Capitán” Collection – Lot 285: Catholic Kings (1474-1504)Double excelenteBurgos. (Cal-694). (Tauler127 similar). Anv.: + FERNANDVS: ET: hELISABET (hoja de perejil) D: G: REX: ET: REGINA: CAST:. Rev.: *SVB: hVMBRA: ALARVM: TVARVM: PROTEGE: N:Au6,98 g. B between busts. Of the highest rarity. Almost XF. Ex Caballero de las Yndias Collection, 2009, lot 1078.

Regarding the silver coin, the regulations required that the royal mints were the ones coining the reales and its fractions – medios, cuartos and octavos. Although the production of octavos had to be low, as we only know of one from the mint of Granada. Finally, it was ordered to mint billon blancas in all the mints. “Let the reales have our royal weapons on one side, while the other side shows the insignia of my king’s yoke, as well as the insignia of my queen’s arrows. And all around this: Fernandus et Elisabeth Rex, et Regina Castellae, et Legionis, et Aragonun, et Siciliae, et Granatae, o lo dello cupiere. And in the square ochavos, on one side an F. above which there is a crown, on the other side a Y. above which there is a crown and the letters surrounding it.

These coins were so succesful that the types in silver and billon continued to be minted without any changes during the reigns of Charles and Joanna, just Charles, Philip II… until the latter approved the Pragmática de la Nueva Estampa on November 27th 1566. 

The equivalences were as follows: one ducat equalled 375 maravedís, one real equalled 34 maravedís and one blanca equalled ½ maravedí.

E-Auction 67 – “Gran Capitán” Collection – Lot 280: Catholic Kings (1474-1504)8 realesSevilla. (Cal-577). (Lf15.1.29). Anv.: FERNANDVS ET (ELI)SABET DEI G. Rev.: + REX ET REGINA CASTELE LEGIONISAg27,41 g. “Square d” assayer. Knock on obverse. Weak strike. Round flan. Rare. Almost XF.

An International Currency

During the reign of Charles and Joanna the ducat was replaced – although it kept being minted until 1543 – by the escudo in Barcelona in 1535, while it arrived in Castile in 1537 after the Cortes de Valladolid. This coin was worth 350 maravedís and had a lower fineness as a golden coin of reference. The escudos were the only coins minted in the Iberian peninsula carrying the name of those kings, which were produced in some abundance.

Regarding the silver, the economic growth of the first half of the XVI century and the golden supremacy being replaced by the silver supremacy in the international trade explain the appearance of the first silver pieces of approx. 30 g in Central Europe. Following this model, Charles V created some silver coins of a higher value: the Spanish dollar – aka piece of eight – and its fractions – the pieces of four and two – with a theoretical weight of 27,45 g. Thanks to the quality of the new coin, it prevailed as an international currency in the world trade until the XIX century. When creating this coin, the king based on the regulation of Medina del Campo, using the types and legends of the real in order to make sure it would be admitted and respected in the markets.

In 1518 the Cortes de Valladolid asked the king to increase the production of the billon coin menuda. So from 1520 on pieces of 2 and 4 maravedís under the name of the Catholic Monarchs were minted. The only exception were some very rare pieces under the name of Joanna and Charles, coined in the mints of Corunna and Segovia.  

E-Auction 67 – “Gran Capitán” Collection – Lot 314: Charles-Joanna (1504-1555)4 realesMéxico. (Cal-128). Anv.:  CAROLVS : ET : IOHANA : REGES. Rev.: + HISPANIARVM : ET : INDIAR(VM) ·Ag13,71 g. Shield between G – M. Round flan. Large flan. Rare in this condition. Choice VF.

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