The British Royal Mint has continued to release exciting new additions to the Queen’s Beast series. Learn more below about the latest issues that commemorate the Unicorn of Scotland, Black Bull of Clarence, and Falcon of the Plantagenets, as well as the White Greyhound of Richmond.
What are the Queen's Beasts?
In 1953, British sculptor James Woodford created ten statues for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. These imposing statues symbolically stood guard at Westminster Abbey, where the coronation was held, protecting the new Queen on this very important day. Each statue was created to show the new Queen Elizabeth's geneology who were made up of many great leaders that had ruled before her. Today, the queen is the longest-reigning female monarch in world history.
The statues each measure six feet in height and depict fanciful creatures that represent the traditions of British heraldry, as shown in the shield of the United Kingdom that each beast is holding. Each beast was inspired by the King’s Beasts of Henry VIII that to this day, line the bridge over the moat at his Hampton Court Place. Today, the beast statues that were created for Her Majesty can be found at the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec, Canada, while replicas made of Portland stone are in Kew Gardens in the U.K.
These creatures, which include lions, griffins, unicorns, and others, are not just creations of myth, legend, and fantasy. They also appear in many everyday places in the U.K. such as on pub signs, football team logos, and passports. Coats of arms were originally used by knights, who painted the symbols on their shields and the coats they wore over their armor, so they would know who was friend and who was foe on the battlefield.
These Queen’s Beasts consist of the Lion of England, the Griffin of Edward III, the White Greyhound of Richmond, the Yale of Beaufort, the Red Dragon of Wales, the White Horse of Hanover, the White Lion of Mortimer, the Unicorn of Scotland, the Black Bull of Clarence, and the Falcon of the Plantagenets.
Queen’s Beasts Coin Series
These statues representing centuries of British royal tradition, heritage, and heraldry have now been re-imagined as designs for a new series of coins from the Royal Mint! In the midst of 2016, the Royal Mint launched their new series, "The Queen's Beasts." This collection of silver and gold coins will feature 10 different designs that will be issued at a rate of two per year.
Queen's Beasts Bullion Coins
The coins that started out this series were bullion coins, which were released in 2016. These coins are available in both silver and gold, with the silver coins weighing 2 oz., and the gold in both ¼ oz. and 1 oz. Surprisingly, not only the gold bullion coins are .9999 fine, but the silver coins are too!
These bullion coins were struck with a special chainmail pattern on the reverse, giving them a beautiful appearance that separates them from other bullion coins. They tap into the triple appeal of classic designs, mythical or fantastical creatures, and British history and culture that appeals to so many coin collectors, both British and non-British. Along with that, their high precious metal content still make them an excellent choice for stackers who will pay a little extra for quality.
Queen's Beast Proof Coins
These bullion Queen’s Beasts coins have been so popular with buyers that the Royal Mint announced a line of prestigious collector’s proof versions in December 2016! These proof coins include silver versions weighing 1 oz. and 5 oz., plus gold versions weighing ¼ oz. and 1 oz. The gold coins are .9999 fine, while, unlike the Silver Bullion Queen’s Beast Coins, the silver are only .999 fine. While the bullion coins have no mintage limit, the proof versions are very limited: 8,500 for the 1 oz. silver, 1,500 for the 5 oz. silver, 2,500 for the ¼ oz. gold, and 750 for the 1 oz. gold.
Minting these amazing designs in proof really brings their elegant and historically-inspired designs to life. While they forgo the new chainmail field, they instead boast brilliantly mirrored fields with precisely frosted devices. This provides an air of prestige to the coins, and the stunning contrast of the proof finish looks excellent with the designs I have seen so far.
Queen's Beasts Coin Designs from the Royal Mint
The designs for the reverse sides of the Queen’s Beasts coins of this series are being designed by Jody Clark, who is one of the most-renowned British medallic artist designing coins today. He is best-known as the creator of the current effigy of Queen Elizabeth used on coinage, and as the artist who created the very popular art deco-style Britannia proof coins of 2014, the best-selling issues of the proof Britannia series.
Of his work in creating the Queen's Beasts designs, Jody Clark said he received inspiration from both the original statues in Canada and the replicas in Kew Gardens. “They are very stylized and look imposing as statues, but the challenge was to capture this on the surface of a coin. I researched the origins of heraldry and coats of arms, and wanted to replicate the sense of strength and courage they were designed to convey. I created a sense of movement to make the beasts bold and dynamic, but the shields still feature strongly as they are integral to the story.”
Clark’s initials will appear on the reverse of every design. The obverse of every coin is the very same effigy he designed that was launched in 2015, making this series consist of rare modern coins in which the same artist designed both sides.
The Lion of England
The first beast, the Lion of England, has represented England for centuries, going back to Richard the Lion-heart, son of King Henry II, who was famous for his three golden lions as the Royal Arms of England. Since the 12th century, lions have appeared on the coat of arms of British sovereigns.
The Lion beast designed by Clark stands rampant and fierce, protecting the emblazoned shield which represents the British monarch. It roars as its front paw rests firmly on the shield, a crown upon its head. As the first release of the proof series, the Lion coins are sure to remain very popular with collectors for years to come.
Unicorn of Scotland
The unicorn has been associated with Scotland since the 15th century when gold coins called unicorns were struck that depicted a unicorn holding the shield of Scotland. Then in 1603 King James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, which united the thrones of the two nations. From this time the Lion of England and the Scottish Unicorn have remained intertwined.
The Unicorn of Scotland has always had a coronet around its neck similar to a collar with a gold chain attached to it. The chains represent the taming of the beast to serve the king. The unicorn is depicted holding the royal coat of arms of Scotland, which has a red lion on it in a rampant stance (which means standing on one hind foot while forefeet in the air) against a gold background. It has remained this way since the time of Alexander III.
Designer Clark Jody said of this design: “Although the unicorn is not real, it shares the same appearance as a horse, so I could draw on reality a little. It has been represented many times in heraldry, so I revisited sculpture and heraldic designs for inspiration.
“I was interested to find that there are certain rules to bear in mind – for example the unicorn always has a cloven hoof. I wanted to add some movement to my design, and for the unicorn to be doing more than just supporting the shield. I showed the beast leaping over the shield a little, and there is movement in the chain, making the design more dynamic.”
The Red Dragon of Wales
The third beast in this series is the Red Dragon. This ferocious creature of legend served as the badge of Own Tudor, grandfather of Henry VII who founded the Tudor Dynasty. The design was carried on, and it was the coat of arms of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales.
Clark's design shows the Red Dragon facing the side, its wings spread and its mouth open ferociously. Its left claw protectively graps a shield bearing a lion in each quarter.
Black Bull of Clarence
The bull has long been a symbol of power and might and is associated with the rise of the House of York during the 15th century.
King Edward IV led his army in a battle in 1461, which was one of the civil wars for feudal control known as “The War of the Roses” fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the House of Lancaster, associated with a red rose, and the House of York, whose symbol was a white rose. During the conflict in 1461 Edward’s army wore the bull on their shields to indicate their allegiance. After his army won this battle, Edward took the throne from Henry VI, and he became the first Yorkist king of England.
On the coins with this design, the bull appears in a defiant pose, looking right, and is holding a shield has two quarters with the gold lions of England, adopted by Richard I, and two with the golden lilies of France, added by Edward III to support his claim to the French throne.
Artist Jody Clark said: “Two strong styles kept appearing in my research – the royal and heraldic, and the fantastical approach. I wanted my designs to be somewhere in the middle of the two really - something that looked like a real beast rather than just a graphic heraldic image. It was important for me to keep a consistent appearance and character throughout the series.
“For the bull I continued that balance of realism and a stylized look. I wanted the bull to be strong and muscular, so I looked at lots of anatomical drawings, classical sculptures for reference. I actually found rodeo images really helpful to capture the beast’s sense of power.”
The Falcon of the Plantagenets
The Plantagenets king was Edward III, who used the flacon as his badge, which descended to Edward IV. The white Falcon in the design is shown holding a shield with a badge depicting a second white falcon within an open golden ‘fetterlock’ or padlock against a background that is light blue on the left and red on the right.
The falcon and fetterlock were popular symbols of both the House of York and the House of Lancaster. Henry VII, who united the houses of York and Lancaster with his marriage to Elizabeth of York, often used a falcon symbol and it was said to be the favorite badge of Queen Elizabeth I. The fetterlock is shown slightly open to symbolize Edward IV’s struggle to obtain the throne.
Yale of Beaufort 2019
The Yale of Beaufort was released in 2019 and features a mythical creature that is a combination of animal characteristics including the tail of an elephant, the jaws of a boar, and the horns of a goat. The Yale was a symbol of Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was the mother of Henry VII and who played an integral role in the infamous War of the Roses.
Like other Queens Beast releases, this coin was released as a silver bullion coins, silver proof coins, as well as ¼ oz. and 1 oz. gold issues.
White Lion of Mortimer
The White Lion of Mortimer was released in 2019 but is actually a 2020 dated coin. The second lion in the series, the White Lion of Mortimer joins the Queens Beast through Edward IV, although the Beast originally belonged to his grandmother who was part of the Mortimer family.
As opposed to the Lion of England, the first release of the series, the Lion of Mortimer does not have a crown and its tongue is often blue instead of red. This symbol was used as an emblem by the father of the Queen, George VI.
The White Horse of Hanover
Released in 2020, the White Horse of Hanover, dates back to 1714. It was then that George of Hanover, known today as George I ascended to the British throne after the death of the last Stuarts, Queen Anne. It too was featured at the Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953.
The design of the coin features the horse in a lively pose, fearsome with its hooves raised and teeth bared. The shield that accompanies the horse displays the three lions of England, the Unicorn of Scotland, a French fleur-de-lis, an Irish Harp, and the Arms for Hanover.
The White Greyhound of Richmond
In 2020 the White Greyhound of Richmond was released, which was the final bullion design and 9th proof release in the series. The titular greyhound is shown holding a Tudor shield of white and green that includes the famous Tudor rose and a crown.
With time, the author expects the Queen’s Beasts to become as iconic to modern British numismatics as the silver and gold Britannia coins are. While that is all that has been released in the series for now, you can return to this article in the future, and it will be updated with any new releases.
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