Metal Propaganda

Table of contents

The Dissemination of the Black Legend by means of the Tokens

Since 1914, as Julián Juderías first spread the term “Black Legend”, there have been many authors interested in the study of the image of the Spanish Monarchy, created and projected by their rivals. Apart from Juderías’ work, we can also mention those of Rómulo Carbia (1944), Ricardo García Cárcel (1996), the Hispanist Joseph Pérez (2009), or the more recent “Empire-phobia” by Elvira Roca Barea (2016), which had a significant public success.

According to these authors, although the origin of this legend can be found in the Aragonese and Catalonian conquests in Middle-Age Italy, the current version came up on December 13th, 1580, as Pierre de Loyseleur, advisor of William I of Nassau – Prince of Orange, – presented a libel entitled “Apologie” before the General Assembly of the United Provinces.

This libel gathered a series of negative judgements, distortions and exaggerations against Philip II and the people over whom he was ruling. He was accused of committing atrocities against American natives; being part of a race, rotten by Jewish and Muslim blood; and embracing an obscurantist and inflexible faith, whose militant branch was the Inquisition. This argument was spread round Europe with the help of pamphlets, posters, prints, paintings, tiles and tapestries… getting into everybody’s minds (Pérez, 2009: 68).

The so-called “paper war” between the Hispanic Monarchy and the United Provinces has also been studied from the point of view of communication by the Professor Ingrid Schulze (1), among others. Although this author tells us about the features of this kind of propaganda and in which ways it was used, she focuses on the written media, while she hardly dedicates any space to something less popular but not less interesting: the propaganda messages engraved on tokens (2).


Tokens are coin-like pieces, usually made of copper, which were used by medieval traders and bankers for accounting transactions (3). They were minted in France at the beginning of the XIII century for the first time and, thanks to the commercial exchanges, they spread throughout the Netherlands, where the circulation was especially large during the government of the Dukes of Burgundy (Ramos, 2007:9).

It was one of these dukes, Philip III, or Philip the Good (1396-1467), who decided to use them in a different way. After securing his power in the provinces of Brabant, Flanders, Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland (1433), Philip ordered the minting of tokens in order to commemorate the more significant events during his term of office. Thus, an accounting tool became an instrument of political propaganda, which was used by the different European kingdoms and territories in the centuries to come (4).

The marriage between Philip the Handsome, descendant of the House of Burgundy, and Joanna the Mad (1496) meant the beginning of the production of tokens connected with Spain. Their son Charles V was the one who introduced them in Castile (Ibáñez, 2013: 9). The next king was Philip II (1527-1598), also known as Philip the Prudent, who had to deal with a revolt in the territories he had inherited from his father’s ancestors. This riot led to the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648).

The war was caused by the resentment among the local elites, who did not accept the king’s interventionist policy.  Besides, there was a religious conflict, due to the expansion of Calvinism in the area. Both sides used the tokens to spread their partisan and religious messages with an iconography including scenes from the Old Testament, allegorical or symbolic images and legends glorifying military victories or expressing desire for peace.

Politics, religion and ancient times converged in a space with a diameter of just a few centimetres, resulting in pieces with a considerable quality and beauty, which Fernando Ramos describes in his “Catálogo de jetones de Nuremberg y de los Países Bajos” (Catalogue of tokens from Nuremberg and the Netherlands). Among the eighty-four tokens mentioned in this book, I would like to highlight one, which was minted after the unsuccessful peace talks of 1579.

In January 1579 the Union of Arras signed by the Catholic provinces and the Union of Utrecht signed by the Calvinists meant a step further in the conflict between Philip II’s monarchy and the rebels, led by William of Orange (1533-1584). In order to avoid a complete breakdown with the territories in the Netherlands, the Emperor Rudolf II offered himself as a mediator. There were diplomatic encounters between representatives of both factions in Cologne.

The representatives of the General Assembly offered the King’s messenger, the Duke of Terranova, peace and obedience to the king in exchange for religious freedom and letting them have their own political system, which also implied keeping William of Orange as their stadtholder – a position he had since 1572.

At the same time, Alexander Farnese, (1545-1592), who had arrived in the Netherlands in order to replace the deceased John of Austria, took hold of the fortress of Maastricht. As Geoffrey Parker says, this victory as well as the retreat of the Walloon provinces of the rebel side encouraged the royal delegates to adopt an uncompromising position and therefore demand the reestablishment of the Catholicism in all the provinces. Thus, the negotiations were interrupted, and the war continued (Parker, 1989: 192).

As far as the propaganda is concerned, it is in this historical context that in 1580 a token was minted in Dordrecht (Holland), whose obverse shows the Pope and Philip II standing next to a rampant lion. This animal was a symbol of power, royalty and dignity, and it was also a heraldic emblem of provinces like Brabant, Flanders or Zeeland. The king offers the beast an olive tree branch as a gesture of peace, while his other hand is hiding a collar. The legend surrounding the scene – “LIBER REVINCIRI LEO PERNEGAT”, which means: the lion, once released, refuses to be chained again – made it clear that the rebel provinces were not ready to show obedience neither to the Hispanic Monarchy nor to the Catholic Church.

Piece coming from Iván Muñoz Collection. Ex Tauler&Fau, Auction 26 - Tokens (03/2019). Lot 4135. Low Countries. Token. 1580. Dordrecht. (Dugn-2797). Ae. 5,53 g. Breakdown of the Cologne negotiations. Wavy flan. Almost VF.


The reverse shows a scene inspired by Aesop’s Fables (5). We can see a lion lying, chained to the base of a column and wearing Philip II’s collar, which has the inscription INQVI, shortening for Inquisition. On the left, there is a small mouse, gnawing the collar in order to release the lion (6), as the legend says: “ROSIS LEONEM LORIS MVS LIBERAT” – the mouse releases the lion by gnawing the leash.

As we can see, the intention of the message is pointing out that Philip II and the Catholicism are the enemies and the ones responsible for not reaching the peace. At the same time, the Prince of Orange, represented by the mouse, is being praised. He is represented allegorically, as the one releasing the United Provinces from the Catholic oppression and Philip II’s Holy Office (Ramos, 2007: 36).

On this last point, although the Inquisition started in Castile in the last decades of the XV century, the attacks launched by Orange and the Protestants were rather recent. As for the Holy Office’s actions against the Jewish converts and Moriscos, at first it was not condemned but praised by the rest of Europe. However, that attitude changed after the Autos-da-fé of Valladolid and Seville of 1559 and 1560, where several dozens of Lutherans were turned in to the royal court and burnt at the stake (Pérez, 2009: 88).

From that moment on, the Inquisition was presented as a symbol of fanatism, intolerance and obscurantism, of everything Hispanic in general, and of Philip II in particular. At the same time, the fear that it might be established in the Netherlands too was instigated, although this never quite happened. The token was also part of this message and became one of the foundations of the Black Legend.

The rest of the history is well known. On March 15th, 1581 Philip II put a price to William of Orange’s head, which was an excuse for the latter to reject his lord. Shortly after, the General Assembly, who had gathered in The Hague, acknowledged Francis, Duke of Anjou (1555-1584), as their king. 

In order to justify the definitive separation of the Hispanic Monarchy, the “Apologie” was printed that same year. It presented Philip II as someone against any natural right and, therefore, without any authority over his vassals (Gallegos, 2014: 220). The echoes of “Apologie” still resound nowadays and part of the arguments keep being used by both strangers and locals. This proves the Dutch victory in this propaganda war, where this small copper disc was both a soldier and a witness.


(1) Schulze’s research was included in a monograph entitled “La Leyenda Negra de España. Propaganda en la Guerra de Flandes” (1566-1584), which was published in 2008 and may be translated as follows: “The Black Legend in Spain. Propaganda in the Dutch War of Independence”.

(2) Most of the bibliography on tokens comes from Anglo-Saxon or Francophone countries, where the exonumia (a discipline studying objects connected with coins, but without being coins strictly speaking) is more popular. As for Spain, we can highlight “Plomos y jetones medievales de la Península Ibérica” (“Medieval weights and tokens from the Iberian Peninsula”) by Crusafont, Labrot and Boll (1996); the catalogue by Fernando Ramos González and the studies on medieval tokens from Navarra by Miguel Ibáñez Artica.

(3) Although the tokens had no book value, they circulated as coins when the latter were scarce. They often had a hole in order to demonetise them and prevent their circulation as real money (Ibáñez, 2013:14).

(4) Tokens have also been used in another ways, which may sound more familiar to us: as telephone tokens, casino chips, or coins in small towns and cooperatives (Ibáñez, 2013:6).

(5) This fable tells us the story of a lion who takes pity on a little mouse, who later returns him the favour by releasing him of a hunter’s net. There were two editions of this work in the Netherlands of the XVI century: one of them with prints by Eduard de Dene (“De warachtighe favulen der dieren”, 1567) and the other one with prints by Marcus Gheeraerts (“Esbatiment moral des animaux de, circa 1587) (Ramos, 2007: 36).

(6) As a curious fact, a contemporary version of this fable can be found in the Disney movie “The Lion King” (R. Minkoff and R. Allers, 1994). In the scene where the character Scar is introduced, he leads a short conversation with a mouse he has caught and, unlike in Aesop’s Fable, he tries to eat him. This is a way to tell us that Scar, unlike his brother Mufasa, lacks the magnanimity, attributed to lions as well as to kings, so he could never be a good king (which proved to be so).


GALLEGOS, Federico (2014). “La guerra de los Países Bajos hasta la Tregua de los Doce Años”. (The War of the Netherlands until the Twelve Years’ Truce). Magazine Aequitas, no. 4, pages 167-252.

IBÁÑEZ, Miguel (2013). “Jetones medievales con el escudo de Navarra” (Medieval tokens with the coat of arms of Navarra). Archaeology works Navarra, no. 25, pages 5-142.

PARKER, GEOFFREY (1989). España y la rebelión de Flandes (Spain and the uprising of Flanders). Madrid: Nerea.

PÉREZ, Joseph (2009). La Leyenda Negra (The Black Legend). Madrid: Gadir.

RAMOS GONZÁLEZ, Fernando (2007). Catálogo de Jetones de Núremberg y de los Países Bajos en el Museo de las Ferias. La Guerra de los Ochenta Años en “imágenes acuñadas”. (Catalogue of tokens from Nuremberg and the Netherlands at the Museo de las Ferias. The Eighty Years’ War in “engraved images”). Medina del Campo (Valladolid): Foundation Museo de las Ferias.

Did you like the post? Share it!