January 2004 Issue
James C. Johnston Jr.
Photos by Steven Vater



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    James C. Johnston Jr. was born in the historic Oliver Pond House in Franklin, Massachusetts where he has lived for 58 years. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in History and is the author of several books. He has also written more than 1,500 articles and monographs in The Numismatist, Linn’s Stamp News, The Regional Recorder, and other publications.
   Johnston was a teacher in the Franklin system for 34 years and has been associated with Johnston Antiques since 1962. He is a well known appraiser of antiques, books, fine arts, stamps, and coins. He is a founding member of the Massachusetts Suburban Antique Dealers Association, a member of the American Numismatic Association, and the American Philatelic Society. He has also been President of the Franklin Historical Society since 1985.

    Johnston is also a well known lecturer whose topics cover a wide range of social history, antiques, coins, stamps, and the fine arts, as well as, politics and political and military history.


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 Coins of the Thirty Years War...  By James C. Johnston Jr.

           The Thirty Years War was fought between the years 1618 and 1648. During that period, Protestant Europe lined up behind Sweden’s king, Gustavus Adolphus, and Catholic Europe aligned itself with the  Holy Roman Emperor, Matthias II, in preparation for the great religious struggle. Politics and religion made strange bedfellows even then. The de facto ruler of France was a Prince of the Holy Roman Catholic church, Cardinal Richelieu.

            His king, Louis XIII, found rulership such a burden that he allowed Richelieu, as head of the royal council, to rule. The Cardinal aligned France with the Protestants to provide a counterweight to the might of the Holy Roman Empire. The “realpolitic” of the situation was of greater interest to Richelieu than was religion. At the same time, Protestant England occasionally found itself on the Catholic side, because of her hatred for France.

As many as 3,000 Protestants in Paris were slaughtered by the Catholic Queen Catherine De Medici in 1572. Known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the event was celebrated by Catherine’s uncle, Pope Gregory XIII, with this bronze papal medal.

Pope Gregory XV backed the Holy Roman Empire in its war against the Protestant League.

The Protestant princess of the Holy Roman Empire sided with members of the Protestant League, such as Friedrich VIII, who is depicted on this thaler minted in 1625.

Three emperors ruled the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years War. Ferdinand II, depicted on this coin, came to the imperial throne in 1619, succeeding Matthias II. He died in 1637. It was up to his successor, Ferdinand III, to see an end to the war in 1648.

            If you are confused by all this, just think how the people spending the coins illustrated here felt. Religion and politics were truly ugly companions at the time. Coins and medals were propaganda tools in the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Consider the famous bronze papal medal struck by Pope Gregory XIII in 1572. In that fatal year, Admiral Coligny and 3,000 Huguenots (French Protestants) were invited to Paris to discuss their religious differences. But in the middle of the night on St. Bartholomew’s Day, they were dragged from their beds and slaughtered. Some historians report that tens of thousands more died in the wake of the slaughter in the French countryside.

            The Pope, who was Queen Catherine de Medici’s uncle, thought that this was a good thing and struck a medal celebrating the event. In France, Protestants were not favored until 1598, when Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes giving them some rights. Henry had been a Protestant, but he became a Catholic for purely political reasons remarking, “Paris is well worth a Mass.”

            The Thirty Years War began when three agents of the Holy Roman Emperor were sent to Prague in 1618. The Protestant Czechs did not like what they heard, so they tossed the Emperor’s envoys out of the window. The word “defenestration” is now part of the language. It is defined by the Britannica World Language Dictionary as follows: “the act of throwing out of a window... used specifically as popular vengeance in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).” The Czech Communists defenestrated Jan Masaryk in 1948. Some things never change.

Some states that made up the Holy Roman Empire were ruled by bishops like Archbishop Paris of Salsburg, who minted this thaler in 1621.

This medal was designed by the great Dadler and pictures Sweden’s warrior king Gustavus Adolphus, who was the leader of the Protestant League. This medal was struck in 1631, a year before he was killed at the Battle of Lutzen.

Queen Christina, played by Greta Garbo in the movie of the same name, was to give up the throne of Sweden. She eventually moved to Rome, became a Catholic, and died in the Vatican.

Frederick of Brunswick-Luneburg sided with the Protestant League and minted this thaler with his own likeness in 1640.

            That act is what started the bloody thirty years mess. During the next three decades, so many men were killed that Germany’s male population was reduced by almost half. The name “Germany” itself was a strange geographical concept. Germany was made up of hundreds of states consisting of kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, free cities, and bishoprics loosely under the nominal rule of the Holy Roman Emperor who was also Archduke of Austria, King of  Bohemia, Overlord of Hungary, and a lot of other things as well.

            The Emperor’s northern subjects were technically in revolt against him when they sided with Gustavus Adolphus and the Protestant League. Central Europe was bathed in blood all in the name of one brand of Christianity or another for 30 years.

            In turn Matthias II, Ferdinand II, and Ferdinand III graced the Austrian Imperial coins of this period. Protestant princes like Friedrich of Sachson-Attenburg and Frederick of Brunswick-Luneburg, were on some of the coins of the anti-imperial Protestant League. The numismatic output of this period was rich. Money was needed to pay the troops and merchants to provision the armies in the field.

              Archbishop Paris of Salsburg, as well as other southern German Catholic rulers, also turned out tons of coinage. It is interesting to note that  Chester L. Krause’s Standard Catalog of World Coins 1601-1700, devotes 624 of its 1,152 pages to the coinage of Austria and Germany, or, more properly, “The Germanies.”

Ferdinand III ruled as Holy Roman Emperor at the time of the minting of this silver three groschen coin in 1647.

This huge one-and-one-half thaler coin was minted in Munster in 1648 in honor of the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War. Lions pull Apollo’s chariot over swords and armor on the ground.

Cardinal Richelieu crushed Protestants in France but supported the Protestant League against the Holy Roman Empire as a matter of policy.

These Dutch coins were  seen all over the commercial world during the period of the Thirty Years War.

            Sweden also was central to the history and coinage of this period for she was a rich superpower dominating most of Scandinavia, Finland, and the Baltic area. Her hero-king, Gustavus Adolphus, can be seen on a thaler-and-a-half-size medal struck a year before he was killed on the Battle Field of Lutzen. This would be his last victory.

            His daughter, Queen Christina, would reign, then abdicate, the throne in favor of her cousin, Charles X Gustavus. She would drift off to Italy after the loss of her lover and settle in Rome where she would live and die a Catholic among her father’s sworn enemies. She was as pretty as can be,  even in the crude portrait of her on the half riksdaler (seen here) minted in 1643 in the 25th year of the Thirty Years War.

            The Netherlands had a special reason for fighting in this struggle. For the Netherlands, this was a war for freedom from Austria and Spain. These two Hapsburg political powerhouses had dominated the “Low Countries” for centuries, and for almost a century the House of Orange-Nassau had been fighting for freedom and national identity. The interesting thing about the Dutch was that they had little or no history of religious bigotry. If you recall, this is why the Pilgrims went to the Netherlands before they colonized in America. There, Catholics and Protestants lived side by side in relative harmony.

              The Dutch fought for their freedom and right to trade. Their commerce was so great that their coinage was seen from New England to Japan in the period of the Thirty Years War. Their trade was to rival that of both France and England.

            The whole unholy mess came to an end in 1648, when all of the exhausted parties agreed to the Peace of Westphalia. To honor this monumental event, the bishopric of Munster in Westphalia (today mostly noted for its fine quality hams) minted a huge silver one-and-a-half thaler size coin featuring Apollo being pulled in a chariot by two lions, representing the Protestant and Catholic Leagues in tandem. The engraver was Ketteler, who designed many of the great medalic pieces struck in this era.

            So in 1648, an era of horror ended. But wars of religion continued, showing that George Santayana knew what he was talking about when he said, “ Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.”

            My Calendar

         If you want to catch up with me in late December and January, I will be at the following shows: On Dec. 28, I will be at Ernie Botte’s show at the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center on Route 110 in Westford, MA.  On Sunday, Jan. 4, 2004, I will be at Dick Murphy’s N.E.S.S. Coin and Stamp Show at the Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn is located on Route 1 near 128 in Dedham, MA. Show hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Jan. 25, I will be back in Westford at the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center.

            I have enjoyed meeting so many of you in Boston and at the other shows. Thank you for reading The Journal.

You may email Jim Johnston at johnstonjim8@aol.com  You may also wish to check Jim's website for further updates.   www.johnstonantiques.com 

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