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The Vierlander, a precursor of the Euro. A first step towards monetary unification

Since the invention of money, a lot of regions, cities, countries and people use their own means of payment. Consquently, the variety of currencies has always been enormous Today the euro, the currency of an evergrowing number of European countries, is the result of a long process of monetary unification. The vierlander (= four lands), the 15th century silver coin we are focussing on this month, is one of the early forerunners of monetary union.

Philip the Good (1396 - 1467)

Philip the Good (1396 – 1467)

The first attempts of monetary unification in the Low Countries, date back to the reign of the Dukes of Burgundy. Philip the Bold (1342-1404) tried, in vain, to establish a monetary union between Flanders and Brabant in 1384. Afther this failed attempt Philip the Good (1396-1467) realized that a process of monetary unification could only be succesful when it is accompanied by a similar political process. In 1419, after the death of his father John the Fearless, he succeeds to the throne in the duchy of Burgundy and the county of Flanders. During his reign he tries to achieve a geographical unit and acquires several territories : the county of Namur in 1429, the duchy of Brabant and Limburg in 1430, the counties of Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland in 1436 and finally the duchy of Luxemburg in 1451. By his death in 1467 it can be rightly said that he succeeded in unifying the Burgundian Netherlands, almost all regions that are nowadays part of Belgium were submitted to his authority.

To promote commerce, the economic development of his territories and the establishment of a centrally governed state Philip the Good soon felt the need of a unique, strong and stable currency. In 1434 the unifying ordinance provided specifically for a new uniform currency to be issued in the so called vier landen : Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut and Holland. It consists of two gold coins (Philippus or cavalier d’or and 1/2 cavalier d’or), four silver coins (vierlander or double groat or patard and its subdivisions: 1/2 vierlander or groat, 1/4 vierlander or 1/2 groat and 1/8 vierlander or 1/4 groat) and two billion coins (double mite, mite). These coins respected the same rules regarding type, weight and alloy .. The groat of Flanders served as the basis of the new system. Philip the Good however was not completely succesful in harmonizing the coinage: the small billion money was not readily accepted everywhere and differences persisted.

The vierlander of Flanders: recto - versoAs already mentioned earlier, four new silver coins were struck. The largest one is known as vierlander and refers to the four parts of the realm where these coins were struck and issued. If this coin would also have been struck in the Mint of the Namur County, as was initially meant, this coin would have been called Vijffander (= five lands).

The vierlander of Brabant: recto - verso

The vierlander of Brabant: recto – verso

Let us look at the coin in more detail now. It has a diameter of 29 mm, weighs 3,4 g and has a fineness of 479/1000 silver. On the obverse the coat of arms of the Dukes of Burgundy is represented. The right part of the legend +PHS:DEI:GRA:DVX:BVRG : Philip, by the grace of God, duke of Burgundy, indicates the name of the duke and is the same on all coins. The left part of the legend differs according to the territory where the coin was struck and refers to the title of Philip the Good in those territories: :BRAB:Z:LIMB (duke of Brabant and Limburg), :COMES:FLA(ND) (count of Flanders), :COM:HANONIE (count of Hainaut), :COM:HOLD:Z: (count of Holland).

The reverse differs according to the issuing duchy or county. In the centre is the cross pattée cutting the legend, in the four quarters two lions rampants and two fleurs-de-lys can be seen. The symbol in the lozenge in the middle of the coin refers to the territory where the coin has been struck: a lion for Brabant, a fleur-de-lys for Flanders, a rose for Holland and the monogram H for Hainaut. The right part of the legend indicates this coin is a new one : +MONET-A: NOVA. The left part refers to the territory that issued the coin: DVC:BR-ABANT (Duchy of Brabant), C-OMITIS:-FLAND (county of Flanders), V-ALENCE-NENSIS (Valenciennes in the county of Hainaut), COM:HO-LD:Z:ZE (county of Holland and Zeeland).

Territorial symbolsThese territorial symbols, as well as the different legends, are the only elements which enable the identification of the issuing territory. A reference to a specific mint or mintmaster is not available. It’s only during the reign of Philip the Good’s successor, Charles the Bold (1433-1477), that mintmarks appear on coins.

Apart from the introduction of some new coins and the devaluation of silver coins, the system of uniform coinage put in place in 1434 was hardly changed during the further reign of Philip the Good. Due to the continuous rise of the goldprice new gold coins were put into circulation: the gold lion in 1454 and the florin of Burgundy in 1466. In the same year the weight of the vierlander was reduced to 2,97 g.

The vierlander is the result of one of the first attempts to establish a monetary union between different European territories. Today, a few centuries later, the Euro, is the pinnacle of a long process of collaboration within Europe. Hence, it is quite easy to understand why the vierlander is sometimes called Euro’s ancestor.

(1) These new coins have never been struck or issued in Burgundy and Franche Comté.

Laurence Herman
Museum guide