An Unusual Jeton

By Stanley Clute


A jeton to celebrate the proposed marriage of Elizabeth I of England? Very possibly. That is what at least one expert thought about it. The piece is not listed in Feuardent, the long-out-of-print but still standard catalogue of French jetons.

I came across the jeton in a dealer's junk box some twenty years ago. In overall appearance it had, at first, little to recommend it. It was somewhat worn, with irregular edges, and - being made of pewter or some similar material - was a rather ugly shade of grey. Upon closer examination, however, it could be seen quite clearly to have on one side an attempt at representing the arms of King Charles IX of France and, on the other side, the badge of England's virgin queen.

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The French side shows a crowned shield of three fleurs-de-lis between two pillars, with the legend PIETA ET IVISTIA, the date 1574 appearing in the exergue. It should be noted that the legend is a corrupted or abbreviated form of Charles IX's proper motto, PIETATE ET IVISTITIA. On the English side is a lion rampant left within a garter which carries the motto HONI SOIT Q MAL Y PENCE (i.e., "Evil be to him who evil thinks"), at the top, a crown is superimposed over the garter.

It was suggested by the late R.C. Willey that the jeton may be related to attempts to marry the French king's younger brother Francois, Duc d'Alencon to Elizabeth of England - attempts which were not successful. The date of this jeton coincides with this proposed marriage alliance of two nations. La Rochelle, the Huguenot stronghold, was besieged in 1573. Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother, sent a delegation to the court of Elizabeth to advise her that the Duc d'Alencon would soon be coming to woo her. The Queen, whose political sympathies were with the French Huguenots, replied that the French would have to raise the siege of La Rochelle before there could be any official alliance between England and France.

It should also be noted that 1574 was the year in which Charles IX died. He was succeeded by his elder brother, who reigned as Henri III. He was the last of the Valois dynasty to reign. When he died in 1589 at the hands of an assassin (his brother the Duc d'Alencon having predeceased him), the throne passed to a cousin, Henri, King of Navarre who, as Henri IV, founded a new French royal line - the Bourbons.