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I have just been informed that on Britain's new currency King Charles III will be depicted facing the opposite direction from Queen Elizabeth II. There are plenty of articles on google claiming to have the answer to the question of why, but they actually do not answer the question beyond stating that it is to continue a 17th century tradition.

Yahoo news

Where the Queen’s image faces to the right on each one of the 29 billion coins in circulation, coins featuring the new King are likely to show him facing to the left. This is due to a tradition, dating back to the 17th century, to alternate the way successive monarchs are facing.

Question

I find the answer given by news outlets to be insufficient, as it still does not answer what the symbolic meaning or reason behind this tradition that began with Charles II is.

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    "Why will", "I just"…: sure this is HistorySE and not PoliticsSE material? If you think it fits better here, please rephrase to make that clearer. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 19:36
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    Why do you think that there's a symbolic meaning to it? It might just have started as an obvious way of making the coinage different to that of the preceeding monarch (one guy in a wig looks much like another, especially when they're related). Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 19:54
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    @KillingTime. This theory can possibly be debunked by the fact that Edward VIII chose to face the left despite the fact he should have been facing the right. Obviously Edward was not worried about not being recognised. royal.uk/coinage-and-bank-notes Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 20:06
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    @JohnStrachan Edward VIII's reign was considerably (200 years or so) after the tradition started. at which point it was simply tradition. By that point, coin manufacturing had improved and the original driver for the tradition may no longer have applied. It seems you're looking for a deeper meaning...but not everything has one. Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 20:41
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    @wizzwizz4 - The joke I heard from my own personal Conspiracy Brother is that since he freed the slaves, none of the other presidents will face him.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 16:02

1 Answer 1

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I find the answer given by news outlets to be insufficient, as it still does not answer what the symbolic meaning or reason behind this tradition that began with Charles II is.

And correctly so, since it is simply not true.

As you can see even The Royal Mint is very carefull with the wording when repeating the claim that this tradition started (and the possible reason for it) with Charles II.

Historic Portraiture | The Royal Mint
Left, Right, Left
From around the time of the restoration, it became customary for the monarch to face in the opposite direction to their predecessor on coins. This may have started because Charles II wanted to be seen turning his back on Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth. This is not certain but we can see a new stylistic flourish in the way the restored king was portrayed.

This was certainly not true for the first issued coins in 1660, where all denominations faced in the same direction as Cromwell and Charles I:

Coins from Charles I to Charles III (1625-2022):

  • coins from Henry VII to James I are shown after Charles III
Charles I
1625-1649
Commonwealth
1649-1660
Charles II
1660-1685

Hammered Shilling

Throughout the reign of Charles II, at least for small denominations, coins were still being issued with the portrait facing different directions:

Charles II
Milled Shilling, 1663
Charles II
Halfpenny, 1673
Charles II
Farthing, 1684

One plausible reason could be that since all previous coins were hammered, the new milled (silver) coins (starting late 1662) faced the opposite direction to distinguish between the two types of coins.

Even under James II (1685-1688) not all coins faced in the same direction:

James II
Halfpenny, unknown
James II
Half Crown, 1686
James II
Threepenny, 1687

This 'tradition' seemed to have started with William III and Mary II in 1689, some 30 years after the restoration (but within the late 17th century timeframe).

All issued coins/denominations were faced to the right.

William III and Mary II
1689-1694
William III
1694-1702
Anne
1702-1707

Shilling 1693

Shilling 1696

Shilling 1702

After the death (in 1694) of Mary II, her portray was removed showing only William III (still facing to the right).

George I
1714-1727
George II
1727-1760
George III
1760-1820

Penny (Moundy), 1716
(12 mm)

Penny (Moundy), 1754
(since 1822: 11 mm)

Penny (pattern), 1797
(35.56 mm)

Penny - Royal Mint Museum
The ‘cartwheel’ penny and the twopence of 1797
The coins were not struck by the Royal Mint but by Matthew Boulton at his private Soho Mint in Birmingham, and the name of the mint can, in fact, be seen on the coins just below Britannia’s shield. They were made legal tender for amounts of up to one shilling by a proclamation of 26 July 1797, which also specified that the penny should weigh one ounce and the twopence two ounces. The object of making them so heavy was that their intrinsic value should correspond as nearly as possible to their face value: in other words, their cost of production (copper plus workmanship) was to be a penny in one case and twopence in the other. The diameter of the penny measures 1.4 inches [35.56 mm] and that of the twopence 1.6 inches [40.64 mm].

It is believed that approximately 720,000 twopences and nearly 44,000,000 pennies were issued, all bearing the date 1797. Consequently the penny is a very common piece and the twopence not particularly hard to come by.

1797 to the modern day
The cartwheel pennies of 1797 proved popular and continued to circulate, along with later and slightly lighter copper pennies, until 1860.
In that year copper pennies were replaced by smaller, thinner and more durable coins in bronze. Originally known as bun pennies from Queen Victoria’s portrait on the obverse, these and later issues of the bronze penny remained in circulation until the time of decimalisation in 1971.

George IV
1820-1830
William IV
1830-1837
Victoria
1837-1901

Penny, 1825

Penny, 1834

Penny (beaded borders), 1860
(30.86 mm)
Edward VII
1901-1910
George V
1910-1936
Edward VIII
1936

Penny (low tide), 1902

Penny (KN mint mark), 1919

Penny (Official Pattern), 1937

The Coinage That Never Was | The Royal Mint
Breaking Tradition
Edward’s coinage portrait broke with a long-standing tradition dating back to the reign of Charles II in the seventeenth century. Each new monarch’s effigy faced in the opposite direction to that of their predecessor. George V faced left, meaning Edward’s effigy should have faced right if the established protocol had been observed. Edward, however, had other ideas, insisting his portrait show his favoured left side. He felt that the inclusion of his parting would break up an otherwise solid fringe of hair. An unusual feature, that along with their scarcity, only adds to the sense of fascination that surrounds these coins.

George VI
1936-1952
Elizabeth II
1952-2022
Charles III
2022

Penny (proof), 1952

Penny (proof), 1970

50 Pence, 2022

Coins Henry VII to James I (1457-1625):

Henry VII
1457-1509
40 Grains
(2 Scruples)
(2.59196 grams)

Groat, 4d
(Facing Bust)
1489-93

Groat, 4d
(Tentative Issue)
1504-05

Groat, 4d
(Regular Profile Issue)
1505-09
Henry VIII
1509-1547
32 Grains
(1.6 Scruples)
(2.07357 grams)
Testoon
(Shilling)

Groat, 4d
(2nd Coinage)
1529-32

Groat, 4d
(Third Coinage)
1544-47

Testoon, 12d
(Third Coinage)
1544-47
Edward VI
1547-1553
Half-Sovereign
(10 Shillings)
Sovereign
(20 Shillings)

Sixpence, 6d
(Fine Silver Issue)
1551

Half-Sovereign, 10/-
(Second Period)
1549-50

Sovereign, 20/-
(Third Period)
1550-53
Mary I
1553-1558
Sole rule
1553-1554
Philip and Mary
1554-1558

Groat, 4d
(32 Grains)
1554-1558

Fine Sovereign, 30/-
1553

Shilling, 12d
(undated)
1554
Elizabeth I
1558-1603
Pound
(20 Shillings)
Fine Sovereign
(30 Shillings)

Sixpence, 6d
(Milled Issue)
1562

Pound, 20/-
(Fifth Issue)
1591-95

Fine Sovereign, 30/-
(Fifth Issue)
1591-95
James I
1603-1625
Sovereign
(20 Shillings)
Laurel
(20 Shillings)

Sixpence, 6d
(First coinage)
1603

Sovereign, 20/-
(First coinage)
1603-04

Laurel, 20/-
(Third Issue)
1623-24

Sources:

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    Very interesting to find out that there is in fact likely symbolic meaning behind this tradition afterall. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 12:08
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    @JohnStrachan I know of no symbolic meaning behind this. For James I the switch from left (Edward VI, Mary and Elisabeth) to right was probably because as James VI of Scotland his coins also faced right. His last issue faced left as did Charles I throughout. Henry VII and VIII had both front and right. So I see no logic in this that would imply any symbolic meaning. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 12:26
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    Your own link states "This may have started because Charles II wanted to be seen turning his back on Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth.". That is symbolic meaning. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 12:38
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    @JohnStrachan Yes, that link says that but it also says: This is not certain. The fact that all of the first Charles II first issues did not face the other way speaks againt that theory. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 12:53
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    @JohnStrachan Restoration Medallion, not coin. If you look at the list provided, the first coin facing right was issued in 1663, 4 years after the Restoration and that all farthings issued after 1665 until 1684 faced left. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 13:16

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