Britannia came from Blantyre

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The King’s Mistress, from Blantyre, features on Coins

Britannia on Penny

Frances Teresa Stuart from Blantyre

Out of compliment to her, Charles 11 ordered her figure to be perpetuated as Britannia on our copper coins.

portrait of Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond
Portrait of Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond

Out of compliment to her, Charles ordered her figure to be perpetuated as Britannia on our copper coins.

The figure of Britannia is an integral feature of British coins. The personification of Britain by a female figure dates back to the Roman Emperors Hadrian (117-138 AD) and Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD), both of whom commemorated the achievements in Britain by striking coins featuring Britannia. She made her debut seated, resting her head on her right arm, while holding a spear in her left hand with her left arm resting on a shield and her right foot on a pile of rocks. For just over 1500 years, Britannia was lost to numismatics. However, she made her reappearance during the reign of Charles II, first on medals and then on the copper halfpennies and farthings.

Samuel Pepys even makes reference to the medal in his Diary. The entry for 25 February 1667 reads:

At my goldsmith’s did observe the King’s new meal, where, in little, there is Mrs (ie Mistress) Stuart’s face as well-done as ever I saw anything in my whole life, I think: and a pretty thing it is, that he should choose her face to represent Britannia by.

Frances Stuart arrived at Court in January 1662 aged 14 years as Maid of Honour to Charles II’s Queen, Catherine of Braganza. She immediately captured the King’s susceptible heart. He organised elaborate balls in her honour and even wrote a poem about his love for La Belle Stuart. (See The Pleasures of Love – King Charles II )

Frances Stuart, or “La Belle Stuart” as seen through the eyes of Samuel Pepys and beautifully depicted by artist Peter Lely here, won her fame as the love interest of King Charles II and was “immortalized” in coinage as the face of Britannia. Pepys and other writers of the time extolled on her beauty and charms and all noted her dramatic impact on King Charles. Several wonderful websites offer excellent short biographies or stories related to Frances, including: Face of Britannia; 1911 Encyclopedia;Wikipedia and Royalty Restored or London under Charles II by J Fitzgerald Molloy where Frances first appears in Chapter 7. Of note, although some of these sites, and even initially Pepys in his Diary, assume that she was a “mistress” of Charles II, most historians consider her to have actually eluded the charms of the sovereign, remaining a virgin until her “runaway” marriage to the Duke of Richmond.

King Charles II and Frances Theresa Stuart

Frances Teresa Stuart and Charles Stewart, Duke of Richmond.

Charles Stewart married, firstly, Elizabeth Rogers, after June 1659. He married, secondly, Margaret Banaster, on 31 March 1662. He married, thirdly, Frances Teresa Stuart, granddaughter of Walter Stuart, 1st Lord Blantyre, in March 1667. This last marriage was famous, as Frances Stewart had been desired by Richmond’s cousin, King Charles II, as a mistress.

La Belle Stuart

La Belle Stuart

While Mrs Stuart appreciated all the attention, she would not surrender herself to the King. Some of Charles’s closest friends established a Committee for the Getting of Mistress Stuart for the King, but she rejected his advances for several years. It was not until after Frances married the Duke of Richmond in 1667 that she became the King’s mistress.

When Roettier engraved the dies for Charles II’s copper coinage that that first appeared in 1672, he again used Frances’s face for Britannia. As far as we know, this is the first occasion that a royal mistress has featured upon a regal coinage.

The seated figure of Britannia has appeared on the coins of every reign ever since. However, on Edward VII’s florins and some of the Britannia bullion coins of the present reign, she is featured standing.

Frances Theresa Stuart
Portrait of Frances Teresa Stuart, Duchess of Richmond

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