Fine gold: Henry VII type 1

Type 1 sovereign.jpg

The designs for all sovereigns struck in fine gold consist of an enthroned portrait and a shield of the Royal Arms set against a Tudor rose. But the first issue of 1489, of which only a couple of specimens are known to survive, is highly distinctive - both for the simple background on the obverse and the large crown above the shield on the reverse.

More so than any later types, the first sovereign bears a striking resemblance to the real d'or - a gold coin issued in 1487 in the Netherlands. It may be that the Dutch coin served as the prototype for the sovereign, or it may be that the real d'or and the sovereign were both inspired by contemporary Spanish gold coins.

Fine gold: Henry VII type 2

Henry VII sov type 2.jpg

In the past it has been broadly accepted that the sovereign of the second type, with its field liberally scattered with fleurs de lys, was struck in connection with the French expedition of 1492. But this seems less likely in the light of recent work.

Fine gold: Henry VII type 3

Henry VII fine type 3.jpg

Perhaps the most distinctive features of the third type are the greyhound and dragon standing on the pillars of the throne. The dragon was Henry's badge at the battle of Bosworth Field and is said to have been the ensign of Cadwaladr, 'the last king of the Britons', from whom Henry claimed descent.

Fine gold: Henry VII type 4

Henry VII sov type 4.jpg

Coins of the fourth type, all struck from a single pair of dies, are the least rare of Henry VII sovereigns.

Fine gold: Henry VII type 5

Type 5 sovereign Henry VII.jpg

The portcullis of the House of Beaufort, a symbol of the Tudor dynasty, was inserted below the enthroned portrait on the fifth type. Henceforth, the basic lay-out of the design would change very little on the fine sovereigns of Henry VII's successors.

Fine gold: Henry VIII

Henry VIII sov.jpg

A unique sovereign of Henry VIII with a mintmark showing the sun breaking through clouds survives in the British Museum. Numismatists have long suspected that this highly distinctive mintmark, located at the start of the inscription on both sides of the coin, may be in some way connected with the birth of Henry's long-awaited son on 12 October 1537.

Fine gold: Edward VI

Edward VI fine sov.jpg

An extreme rarity held in the Royal Mint Museum is a double sovereign of the special Southwark issue of 1551. In essence, the coin is a piedfort - of double weight but standard diameter. The assumption is that these double sovereigns were intended as especially prestigious presentation pieces.

The only other Tudor sovereign of which piedforts are known is the final type of Henry VII.

Fine gold: Mary I


Mary I fine sov.jpg

A number of the sovereigns issued by Mary I bear the date 1553 or 1554 in roman numerals at the end of the obverse inscription. They are the only Tudor sovereigns to be dated.

Fine gold: Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I fine sovereign (v2).jpg

On many of the later sovereigns of Elizabeth I, the tressure surrounding the portrait continues up to the queen's head rather than stopping at the sides of the throne. Although this change may seem inconsequential, it attracted full-throated criticism from one numismatist in the 1930s who described the result as being 'both inartistic and incorrect...[as] the tressure is made to pass between the Queen's head and the back of her throne!'

Sovereign issues of the Great Debasement

Issued 1544-50
Face value 20 shillings


During the Great Debasement, sovereigns were issued at four different standards.



Standard 1

Standard 2

Standard 3

Standard 4

Issue dates











23 carat (958)

22 carat (916)

20 carat (833)

22 carat (916)


Debasement: Henry VIII type 1

Henry VIII type 1 sov.jpg

For the debasement sovereigns, the traditional shield-on-rose reverse design was abandoned in favour of a shield of the royal arms with lion and dragon supporters, with a monogram HR in a panel below.

Debasement: Henry VIII type 2

Henry VIII type 2 sov.jpg

A slight reduction in the diameter of the coins in 1544 required some modification of the design, most obviously the removal of the tressure surrounding the enthroned portrait.

Debasement: Edward VI

Edward VI deb sov.jpg

While retaining the enthroned portrait, the sovereigns of Edward VI are distinctive for showing the king wearing doublet and hose instead of robes, and holding a sword innstead of a sceptre.

Sovereigns struck in crown gold after the Debasement


1551 – 1604

Face value

20 shillings







916 gold

Post-debasement: Edward VI

Edward VI sov post deb.jpg

Bearing a half-length portrait, the crown gold pieces of Edward VI are the first sovereigns not to carry an enthroned effigy of the monarch.

Post-debasement: Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I pound.jpg

A remarkable portrait of the queen with long, flowing hair and a highly ornamented dress appears on the crown gold sovereigns of Elizabeth I.

Post-debasement: James I

James I sovereign.jpg

With the accession of the Stuart dynasty, the Royal Arms were amended to incorporate the Scottish lion rampant and the Irish harp in the second and third quarters.

The images on this page are from the Royal Mint Museum except for the following which are (c) Trustees of the British Museum: Fine gold, Henry VII type 1; Henry VII type 2; Fine gold, Henry VII type 4; Fine gold, Henry VIII; Debasement, Henry VIII type 1; Post debasement, James I

Below you can find more information on the history and specifications of Tudor sovereigns.


Specifications and design

For the sake of clarity, issues of the Tudor sovereign can be usefully divided into three groups: sovereigns struck in fine (995) gold; sovereign issues of the Great Debasement; ad sovereigns struck in crown (916) gold after the Debasement.

The tables below provide images of every major design type of the Tudor sovereign.

View list of inscriptions and their translations



But Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went His way (Luke 4:30)


This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes (Psalms 118:23)


The shield of faith shall protect her


Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered (Psalms 68:1)


Sovereigns struck in fine gold


1489 – c.1593

Face value

1489 - August 1526 20 shillings

August - November 1526 22 shillings

November 1526 - 1551 22 shillings 6 pence

From 1551 30 shillings




995 gold



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