Ten six-foot tall statues, by sculptor James Woodford RA, OBE, formed an honor guard at the entrance to Westminster Abbey for the June 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II. Each full-color figure consisted of a heraldic beast supporting a shield bearing the badge or arms of a family associated with the ancestry of the soon-to-be Queen.
For the first televised coronation in 900 years of British history, the statues that became known as The Queen’s Beasts were a great visual. One can only imagine the effect their fierce countenances had on those in attendance that day, including a nine-year-old Westminster Abbey choirboy (and future Rolling Stones guitarist) named Keith Richards, and a 23-year-old photojournalist from Washington (and future First Lady) named Jacqueline Bouvier.
The ten ancestral figures represent British monarchy from Edward III (1327-1377) to George I (1714-1727) and were inspired by preceding statues — called, none too surprisingly, The King’s Beasts — created 400 years earlier for Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace.
Each of The Queen’s Beasts has since found 21st-century life breathed into them by Royal Mint designer, Jody Clark, for a coveted series of contemporary coins recast by The Royal Mint.
“I’ve always been interested in fantastic beasts; you can ask my mum! I think most children love fairy tales and stories about lions, dragons and unicorns. They’ve got a timeless appeal,” Clark, the youngest designer to create a definitive coinage portrait of the late Queen, shared in Behind the Design on RoyalMint.com.
His magnum opus is a ‘completer coin’ capturing all ten royal guardians side-by-side in a single design.
In this first of a two-part series, meet some of The Queen’s Beasts and Clark’s final compilation coin. Each beast was recast in collectible and economically attainable UK £5 coins as well as roaring into limited edition Gold and Silver Proof, Bullion, and Brilliant Uncirculated editions.
Since the passing of Elizabeth II, The Queen’s Beasts have increased in desirability and for now, the availability of some coins may prove elusive. But like the mythical unicorn that is among the ten beasts, the discovery and capture of these coins will only grow more satisfying with time.
Lions & Griffins & Hounds, Oh My!
The Lion of England
One of the first animals to appear on English royal emblems, this crowned Lion of England is in the rampant or rearing pose, symbolizing strength, majesty and military might, and holds a shield with the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom.
The Queen’s Beasts Collection started with the release of The Lion of England coin in 2016, the year The Queen became the world’s longest-reigning monarch. At this time no new, uncirculated Lions of England are available.
The White Lion of Mortimer
The Lion of Mortimer came to Elizabeth II through Edward IV, the first of three kings from the House of York (a branch of the English royal House of Plantagenet, recognized by its own coin and beast, the Falcon of the Plantagenets). Its ‘white rose en soleil’ combines badges of Edward IV and Richard III. Of note: This king of beasts, unlike the Lion of England, is without a crown.
The Royal Mint offered 2020 UK Five-Ounce Gold Proof, 2020 UK One-Ounce Gold Proof, 2020 UK One-Ounce Silver Proof (limited edition 4,200), and 2020 UK Ten-Ounce Silver Proof (limited edition 125) coins. This coin is no longer available.
The White Greyhound of Richmond
A common symbol of heraldry (think Unicorn Tapestries), the hound is associated with the first Tudor king, Henry VII.
The 2021 White Greyhound of Richmond is no longer available in Silver Proof coins, but remains available in limited supply (over 95% sold as of Fall 2022) for a 1,000-piece limited edition 2021 UK Quarter-Ounce Gold Proof coins (£670 or $741), and is also in stock as platinum bullion coins.
The White Horse of Hanover
Unique to Elizabeth II’s heritage, the White Horse comes from George I, whose German lineage is traced to Hanover. In heraldry, horses are depicted as rampant or salient (fighting position), courant (running), passant (walking) or trotting. Its shield represents England, Scotland, Ireland, France and the House of Hanover. Of note: The White Horse faces right – the opposite direction of another Queen’s Beast, The Unicorn of Scotland.
White Horse of Hanover (no longer available) coins started at UK £13 (US $14) for a 2020 UK £5 Brilliant Uncirculated, and were offered as a 2020 UK One Ounce Silver Proof (limited edition 4,200), 2020 UK-Five Ounce Silver Proof (limited edition 205), UK Ten-Ounce Silver Proof (limited edition 180), 2020 UK Silver Proof Kilo (limited edition 85) and 2020 UK Quarter-Ounce, One-Ounce, and Five-Ounce Gold Proof (limited edition of £10,525 or US $11,600) coin.
The Griffin of Edward III
Part eagle, part lion, a griffin embodies the mastery of the skies and the majesty of the king of beasts. A part of English heraldry since the 12th century, the griffin was lifted to royal status by Edward III, founder of the Order of the Garter at Windsor Castle, and the epitome of medieval English kingship.
Recast on a coin, the Griffin of Edward III completes the 1953 coronation line-up (“a formidable phalanx” as The Royal Mint describes). Collectors can find in stock The Griffin of Edward III 2021 UK £5 Brilliant Uncirculated coin (UK £14.50, US $16) and are urged to inquire as to a very limited edition Griffin of Edward III 2021 UK Gold Proof Kilo coin, the largest (1005g) and most exclusive coin in the range.
The Completer Coin
“As we reflect on the sad passing of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, we cherish the memories of Her Majesty’s extraordinary and historic reign,” The Royal Mint stated in an autumn press release. Coins become keepsakes that commemorate a significant moment in history, including “a new era for the UK and its coinage.”
Clark, creator of the last coinage portrait of The Queen, eloquently honored that reign when designing the ‘completer coin,’ the only coin in the collection uniting all ten of The Queen’s Beasts in one image. The Queen’s Beasts 2022 1 oz. Platinum Bullion coin (UK £876, US $972) is in stock as a historic investment option.
“I researched the origins of heraldry and coats of arms and wanted to replicate the sense of strength and courage they were designed to convey,” says Clark. “I created a sense of movement, to make the beasts bold and dynamic.
“I took inspiration from the original Queen’s Beasts. They are very stylized and imposing as statues but the challenge was to capture this on the surface of a coin.”
Clark’s boyhood fascination with fantastic beasts has turned into an unforgettable opportunity for his career and for coin collectors.
And while history marches to a slower cadence, real-time changes to the modern monarchy have evolved into an exciting new coin collection from The Royal Mint, The Royal Tudor Beasts, commemorating ten beasts representing Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, in Brilliant Uncirculated, Gold Proof and Silver Proof.
This article about the Queen’s Beasts coins previously appeared in COINage magazine. To subscribe click here. Article by LA Sokolowski. All photos courtesy the Royal Mint.