Angel and Sovereign: Henry VII’s Royal Coins, Legitimation, and Relics of Power
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionRoyal Studies Journal. 2021, 8 (2), 76-101. 10.21039/RSJ.258
The introduction of the angel and later the Tudor sovereign gold coins in the late 1400s became part of a political rhetoric aimed at mediating the king’s image, power, and wealth. However, it also played a part in the legitimation of the Tudor dynasty during the later stages of the Wars of the Roses, a time of Yorkist pretenders and foreign opposition to Henry VII’s reign. As only the rightful king was believed to have the gift of healing, Henry VII appropriated both coins and ritual from the Plantagenet dynasty associated with the sanctity of kingship. Ordinary objects bearing the King’s image were imbued by the people with supernatural and political powers. How could the religious function of contact relics also facilitate the use of the non-religious Tudor gold sovereign and other denominations by mimicking the iconography and ritual use of the angel? And how were these coins used as part of political rhetoric to legitimate the claim for the throne to support a myth of royal succession and prove Tudor right by appealing to the public? This article argues that the coins created and empowered the King with saintly abilities, granting the object carrying the King’s image a reliclike power, further fusing the image with people’s belief in the legitimate King’s God-given power of healing. The visual migration or transfer of an image’s symbolic properties, in this case the transference of its sacred properties to secular objects, mediated both the literal and conceptual image of the King as part of political legitimation against the Yorkist pretenders and foreign powers.