The history of the Groat - The Medieval English Silver Coin

The Groat: A Journey Through Time and Coinage


The groat, a coin steeped in history and intrigue, has left its indelible mark on the world of numismatics. From medieval England to distant lands, the groat has played a significant role in trade, culture, and the evolution of currency. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the fascinating journey of the groat, exploring its origins, significance, and enduring legacy.

Origins and Etymology

The term “groat” finds its roots in the old French word “gros,” meaning large or great. Initially, it referred to any thick or sizable coin. However, its historical significance lies in its association with English, Scottish, and Irish silver coins.

Early Beginnings

  1. Edward I’s Innovation:

    • In the late 13th century, King Edward I of England introduced the groat as the largest silver coin in circulation.

    • Its value was set at four pence, making it a substantial denomination during that era.

    • The immediate ancestor to the English groat was the French gros tournois, which circulated in the Holy Roman Empire and other parts of Europe.

  2. Scottish and Irish Groats:

    • Scottish groats were minted during the reign of David II.

    • Initially worth fourpence, later issues were valued at eightpence and even a shilling.

    • Irish groats made their debut in 1425 and continued until the reign of Elizabeth I of England.

    • Two emergency coinage issues further enriched the groat’s history.

The Weight and Silver Content

  1. Standardisation:

    • The pound sterling was based on a Tower Pound, equivalent to 5,400 grains (350 grams) of sterling silver (92.5% purity).

    • Consequently, the English groat contained 90 grains (5.8 grams) of sterling silver.

  2. Progressive Lightening:

    • Over time, groats became lighter:

      • Edward III’s coinage (1351) weighed 72 grains (4.7 grams).

      • Henry IV’s coinage (1412) reduced it to 60 grains (3.9 grams).

      • Edward IV’s coinage (1464) further lowered it to 48 grains (3.1 grams).

  3. Silver Fineness:

    • From 1544 to 1560, the silver fineness dipped below sterling standards.

    • After 1561, groats were not generally issued for circulation for about a century.

The Legacy

  1. Collectibility:

    • The groat remains admired by collectors for its rarity and size.

    • Despite its historical significance, it is not commonly encountered today.

  2. Marco Polo’s Mention:

    • Marco Polo, in his travel accounts, referred to the groat when describing the currencies of the Yuan Empire.

    • He based his conversion on 1 bezant = 20 groats = 1331⁄3 tornesel.


The groat, once a powerful coin in medieval England, now resides in the annals of numismatic lore. Its journey—from Edward I’s innovation to Marco Polo’s observations—reflects the ebb and flow of history. As we marvel at its legacy, we recognize that the groat, like Shakespeare’s timeless plays, continues to captivate and inspire generations

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