8th February 2006. Coenwulf’s Mancus.

The Anglo-Saxon Coenwulf, king between 796-821, and descendant of a sibling of the mid 7thc Penda, was responsible, after wresting the throne from the son of Offa, for creating an empire encompassed by the south coast, Welsh border and the Humber.


Map showing England at the time of Coenwulf with modern place names including Biggleswade.

He was brought to wider attention in 2001 when a  Mancus coin of his reign was discovered by the River Ivel, near Biggleswade, Bedfordshire.

Coins had been found dating from the 1st century BCE by the River Ivel but none so prestigious as that of Coenwulf, bought for  £357,832. by the British Museum Today in 2006, and which at the time was the most expensive British coin.



Mancus of Coenwulf depicting him as Roman Emperor showing how the Saxons still looked back to the glory of Empire.

Coenwulf in using the word VICUS (trading centre) rather than CIVITUS), (city seat of authority), is a strong indication that the coin was for trading rather than for ceremonial or presentation purposes.

Besides the inscription DE VICO LVNDONIAE (from the trading place of London), the Mancus shows the King’s name and image.

Smaller than a pound coin and thinner, the Mancus was the value of 30 days wages for a skilled Anglo-Saxon worker and constitutes the earliest gold coin used for a circulating, as opposed to presentation money. The coin is one of only eight gold British coins found dated between 700-1250.

After the decline of the Roman Empire movement by Germanic people’s from across the North Sea created communities in the river valleys such as the now-named River Ivel, (Gifle), often integrating into existing communities, but bringing a different culture, and place names which have evolved over time.

The fertile valley of the Celtic River Gifle (forked) would be ideal for settlement where the Flitt and Gifle joined at Biggleswade-Anglo-Saxon: Biceil’s place and Waed, a ford.



Lead Bulla or seal of Coenwulf. British Museum.

One of the difficulties writing about this period is the paucity of resources, and documentary evidence stems mainly from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of annals dating from the ninth century. Our knowledge of the Biggleswade area stems from a tribal hidage (tax) of the 7thc.


wikipedia.org/lead bulla and map/Pic.

britishmuseum/Pic of coin.

biggleswadehistory.co.uk. Gilfe by D G Hill 1988.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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