Metal detector Paul Coleman found a lead-lined container buried two feet under ground containing more than 5,000 silver coins made in the reigns of Æthelred the Unready (978-1016) and Cnut (1016-1035). Mr Coleman knew they had stumbled across something significant when they picked up a signal the size of a manhole cover. The coins were hidden inside a lead bucket with the top folded over. If the coroner rules the coins are legally treasure, as expected, he could be in line for a six-figure payout which he will share with the landowner.
It is thought that the coin hoard could be connected to a mint established by Æthelred at Buckingham only 15 miles away from the find site, one of 70 active at the time, including Winchester, London and York, during a remarkable period of history which pioneered the mass production of the solid silver currency in England.
Æthelred became King of England around the age of ten following the murder of his half-brother Edward II in 978 at Corfe Castle, Dorset, after reigning for just three short years. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar but was not his father's acknowledged heir and his succession was disputed.
Æthelred was not generally suspected of being directly involved with his brother's murder, but the attendants of his household certainly were with many, such as the chroniclers John of Worcester and Henry of Huntingdon, pointing the finger of suspicion firmly toward his mother Ælfthryth. The suspicious circumstances of Æthelred ascension to the throne, and the growing legend of St Edward the Martyr, made it difficult for the new king to rally the nation behind him against the raiding Danes which had plagued his reign from the 980s onwards.
Æthelred failed to win or retain the allegiance of many of his subjects and was given the epithet 'Un-raed', often interpreted as 'Unready' taken to mean 'no counsel', but actually a miss-translation of the Old English for 'bad-counsel', seemingly a reflection of the poor advice he received during his reign, and a deliberate pun on his first name meaning 'noble counsel', typical of the royal House of Wessex.
On St Brice's Day 13 November 1002, Æthelred ordered the massacre of all Danes in England to eliminate potential treachery. Gunhilde, sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark, was said to have been among the victims. Her death is thought to have been a primary motive for Sweyn's invasion of western England the following year, in which he campaigned throughout Wessex and East Anglia in 1003–1004.
The Buckingham mint remained active during the time of Cnut, with Æthelred pushing his people hard to raise Danegeld (literally 'Danish tax'), to pay tribute to the Danes. But the pay-off's failed to stop the Danish raids and he fled to Normandy in 1013 when Sweyn dispossessed him.
Following Sveyn's death in 1014 Æthelred returned to England but died two years later in April 1016 during the invasion of Cnut, the son of Sweyn, that sailed up the Thames with a force of more than 10,000 men. He was the first king of England to be buried at St Paul’s Cathedral. Cnut consolidated his position by marrying Æthelred’s widow Emma. Cnut's empire now stretched across the sea to Denmark, and even extended his rule into Norway and parts of Sweden, known as the North Sea Empire.
|The lands of Cnut the Great 1016–1035 (Wikimedia Commons)|
We will never know who buried these coins during these turbulent times or why they never recovered them. However, it is difficult not to speculate on the context of the Buckinghamshire hoard being entangled in Danegeld payments and Danish incursions.
Only half of the 5,251 coins of the Buckinghamshire Hoard have been cleaned so far but all have proved to be in excellent condition and, as coins of the two kings known in the hoard, Cnut and Æthelred, rarely fall below £200 per coin, the total value of the find could be around £1 million.
In July 2009 metal detector Terry Herbert discovered the largest ever hoard of Anglo Saxon treasure in a field at Hammerwich, near Lichfield in Staffordshire. Consisting of more than 3,500 gold and silver warrior artefacts, the ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ was valued at £3.3 million.
Buckinghamshire ancient coin hoard find 'unprecedented' – BBC News 03 January 2015
Metal detecting club finds Anglo Saxon hoard – Museums Association 07 January 2015
* * *