The British Empire played an integral role in setting the stage for the modern world in which we now live.
From its small origins in the late 16th century, the British Empire expanded to become the largest empire in history and the most powerful global economic and military power for more than a century.
By the early 20th century, Britain had jurisdiction over 35.5 million square kilometres – nearly a quarter of the Earth’s total land area – and 412 million people, which accounted for more than 20 per cent of the world’s population at that time. It’s famously been referred to as “the empire on which the sun never sets” owing to its globe-spanning expanse.
‘MONEY OF EMPIRE’
To celebrate the empire’s widespread political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacies, the Edward C. Rochette Money Museum unveiled its latest exhibit, “Money of Empire: Elizabeth to Elizabeth,” on March 7.
“The Money of Empire exhibit will take visitors on a numismatic tour of the British Empire and explore the history of the kings and queens of the U.K. from the time of Elizabeth I to Elizabeth II through their money and medals,” said Douglas Mudd, curator of the museum operated by the American Numismatic Association.
The new exhibit will be on display through April 2020.
Sixty-two modern nations were once part of the British Empire, and many of them now belong to the Commonwealth of Nations, which includes 53 member states united by language, history, culture and shared values. Sixteen of the countries, including Canada, recognize the British monarch as their head of state and continue to display Elizabeth II on their coinage, making her image the most common numismatic portrait worldwide.
Notable artifacts on display include:
- the silver Armada medal issued in 1588 to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English Navy;
- a circa 1560-61 Elizabeth I half-pound gold coin described as “a rare and beautiful example of Elizabethan coinage”;
- a complete denomination set of circa 1600 Elizabeth I silver eight-real Portcullis money, which were the first English trade coins struck specifically for use in Asia; and
- a circa 1642 Charles I gold triple “Unite,” which features Charles’ wartime proclamation, “Religio Protestantium, Leges Angliae, Libertas Parliamenti” (or “Protestant Religion, English Laws, Liberty of Parliament”).