Robert II Coins – Digital Exhibit

Recently, the International Council of Museums published a museums survey, taken in over 107 countries about the effects of the pandemic, which found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed expected to reduce what they can offer, and most disappointingly 10 percent might remain permanently closed. FODC are determined that we will open again as soon as it is safe to do so. We cannot wait to be able to welcome back our community, to the visitor centre, which provides a unique resource that forms the first port of call for visitors to the castle – and helped to attract a staggering 25k visitors in 2019!

Throughout the last year of turbulent times, it seems that smaller regional museums across the world have discovered that they have emerged as symbols of good, collaborative creativity in their communities. Many museums have upped their digital presence with online exhibits, curator video chats, and virtual children’s activities. FODC have been no exception to embracing the digital scene, and the Covid-19 pandemic has spurred us to deliver a wide range of digital content across our social media, YouTube channel, increased web content, as well as hosting online talks. We are keen to ensure however, that our museum continues to be the vital additional resource that it is, and are also aware that over the years, our first class information boards and reconstruction models of all the buildings which stood on the hill, have helped visitors to find out how our ancestors utilised this natural volcanic plug some 60m above sea level, to help them thrive, as they progressed over the period since 500AD until its present form as Dundonald Castle.

In this post, we’ll be taking a look behind the scenes of the museum to showcase some of the items we have here which form part of the fascinating story of this part of Ayrshire. Our museum forms an integral part of the whole experience of a visit to Dundonald Castle – setting the scene so to speak – being armed with knowledge about who lived inside the castle before a climb up the hill to go in and see if for themselves – some even dressed in the medieval adult and children’s clothing we provide from the museum! Others come just to look round the fully accessible museum, and like to while away an hour or so reading the information boards, or looking though the archive photographs of Dundonald village and view the collection of finds that were found in local gardens, as part of the Dig Dundonald, community excavation, that took place in 2019, in partnership with HES and CFA. The recent purchase of a museum quality display case (purchased for FODC via Ayrshire Leader European Funding) had been the impetus for a revamp of the museum area before we were forced to close last year, meaning we also had to cancel our school education programme, for which the museum is an central part of their immersive learning experience.

By bringing our much loved wee museum online, the most popular items such as our two silent workmates – the Stewart Knight and the Black Knight – will still be able to help share the learning by time travelling from the 14th century to the 21st through our online content! This is especially important this year, being the 650th anniversary of Royal Dundonald Castle, as many of our museum displays carefully lead us through the genealogy of Robert Stewart (Robert II), who built this castle at the time of his unexpected ascension to the throne of Scotland on 22nd February 1371 and whose castle still stands out proudly here above the west Ayrshire skyline. We had planned to have rotating exhibitions to explore his long and colourful life and to help celebrate this unique and fascinating story and so we are now working hard to be able to bring these exhibits to you digitally, starting with a showcase of coins from Robert II’s reign.

Our collection consists of 11 Groat coins from the reigns of Robert the II and III. They were welcomed to FODC’s collections back in 1998, with monetary support from Hillhouse Trust, at the opening of our Visitor Centre and Museum.
Groats were made from silver, were equivalent to four pence and were brought to Scotland in 1357. These are a very popular item in our museum, especially with coin collectors who often come just to look at them.

One of the best things about working in a museum is being able to find out new information about our exhibits from members of the public who often share their own expertise. On one such visit, we learned that some of the coins we have in our museum collection are actually ‘clipped’ which means that some of the silver has been clipped off around the edges with metal sheers which would have been carried around in the pocket of the clipper. A clipper would take the opportunity to do this whenever they got the chance- with a view to eventually gathering enough stolen silver to melt down and create a whole new coin. Various measures were introduced to stop clipping such as the introduction of milling (ridges) around the edge of the coin, and the development of engraving right up to its edge (both can be seen on today’s coins). Notably, the addition of the phrase ‘Decus et Tutamen’, ‘an ornament and a safeguard‘, appeared on the edge of the crown coin of Charles II as an attempt to reduce this problem, but eventually the problem was solved by using non-valuable metal which was not worthwhile clipping. This was a highly illegal practice punishable by death, and we can’t help but wonder what the story was behind the clipped coins from our collection. Perhaps it’s better not to know!

The mints of Robert II were in Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee and as you can see this example was minted in Edinburgh. Robert II groats differ very little to the coinage of  his predecessor and uncle, King David II, where his coins similarly consists of 6 arcs with trefoils in the angles with a curved line extending below the bust, a star placed on the sceptre handle with the words divided by crosses sometimes disposed saltire-wise. 

Robert also had a certain portion of gold coinage made during his reign consisting of 2 denominations: the larger ones called ‘St Andrews’ and smaller ones, ’Lions’. It was the Romans who first brought coins to Britain and David I (1124-1153) was the first of Scotland’s kings to use coins after he captured Carlisle, and with it the nearby English mint and silver mines from King Stephen of England. David, like Robert, used a side profile to distinguish Scottish coins from English ones. It wasn’t until his son Robert III came to the throne in April 1390, that Scotland’s coins changed to have the front facing bust on the obverse side.

These are also a really good resource too for finding out what Robert II might have looked like, as any artwork of the time has long since been lost. Other than a line engraving on paper measuring 9.53 x 7.32cm, created by James Roberts from c. late 18th century, which is displayed in the print room at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, we have only these coins as a contemporary likeness as well as a sculptured head to be found in the lower hall of Dundonald Castle believed to be an effigy of Robert placed opposite his wife Euphemia, on both sides of a large arch window.

Museums have moved away from hushed rooms filled with glass cases over the years, into interactive places where idea sharing and a diversity of events take place. We too have exhibits which we are happy to allow people to handle and even wear! In our series of online museum posts we’ll be exploring items in our museum – many of which you can come along and try on or hold – as soon as we are allowed to be open again!

We’re also very happy to answer any questions you have mean time or to supply any information which you may need in any research you are undertaking including information on the Stewart, Wallace, Cochrane and Montgomerie families who lived here at the Castle.

Further Resources:

FODC YouTube Channel: