Ruling Jülich meant ruling the Rhine: When General von Reuschhausen decided to defend Castle Jülich with 800 men against 30.000 Protestants (1610 B.C.)
What do you need for waging a war. Very simple. Money, money and more money. But what’s to do if you run out of it? Very simple. You can batter your silverware to pieces as it was done to pay the soldiers in Jülich in 1610.
Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in Jülich. We are in the year 1610.
Admittedly, the form of this coin looks really peculiar. It is not surprising, though, as the piece of silver which was used to make this coin originally had an entirely different function. If you look closely you can make out the handle of a silver vessel. This vessel was turned into coins in the summer of the year 1610. Who did it and why is what I am going to tell you today.
But let’s go back to the beginning of the 17th century. At that time, everybody with a basic political education knew that in 1621 a disastrous war would break out. Because in that year, the peace treaty between the Protestant States General and the Catholic House of Habsburg would expire. Both parties wanted to establish control over the Netherlands. The party in control over the Rhine had a significant advantage and better chances of victory. It was the best way for the Spanish to send more troops to the front, which the Dutch planned to prevent.
That’s why the issue turned into a matter of political importance when the last Duke of the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg died on March 25, 1609. Whoever ruled the duchies was in control over the crucial part of the Rhine. Who would become the successor? A Catholic who would support the Spanish? Or a Protestant who favoured the Dutch? According to the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, only one person could make that decision:
the Emperor, Rudolf II. Who was a Catholic from the House of Habsburg as you know. No wonder the Protestants among the heirs were afraid that the Emperor would, out of loyalty for his Spanish relatives, decide in favour of their Catholic competitors.
So, two Protestants – Wolfgang William, Count Palatine of Neuburg, and John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg – decided to jointly conquer the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg for a start. They could always fight over the division of the area later. This was a definite breach of law, but one which the enemies of the House of Habsburg welcomed.
Therefore, not only the Protestant Union, but also James I of England and Maurice of Orange sent soldiers for support.
An army of 30,000 men set out to invade the strategically important Jülich, which was one of Europe’s most modern fortresses. Commander in chief was Johann von Reuschenberg, a man of little importance in the duchies’ military’s administrative body. However, this man refused to accept the breach of law. As prescribed in the constitution, he wanted to wait for the Emperor’s decision and therefore he and his maybe 800 men were beleaguered in the fortress of Jülich.
He was relatively safe there, at least as long as there was enough food and munitions and – of course – as long as he could count on his soldiers’ loyalty. And to secure their loyalty, paying them in time was essential. When he was about to run out of money, Johann von Reuschenberg sacrificed his silverware.
Our peculiar coin dates back to that time. The commander had his silver smashed into pieces in order to pay his men. The pieces were then engraved with an inscription and their value by the silversmith so they could be used as a means of payment.
The central die depicts the year 1610 and the inscription I V R. What the latter means is open to dispute. The three letters could stand for the commander’s name - Johann von Reuschenberg - but also for the Latin Vivat Imperator Rudolphus - Long live Emperor Rudolf.
Whatever the letters may mean, the coin’s nominal value is punched to their left and right: a V and a III. This handle was worth 8 thalers.
Of course there were other nominals too. For instance this 4 thalers piece that presumably once was part of a silver plate.
Or this one thaler piece which may have served as thumb rest of a beer stein lid or perhaps as part of a spoon.
By the way, it was actually not that unusual to use silverware as a means of paying off financial debts. Silverware was regarded as a kind of asset that could be melted and minted if necessary. The expense of the silversmith’s time-consuming work was little compared to the metal’s worth. The goblet you can see here was made in 1579 by the guild “zun Rebleuten” in Schaffhausen. What to us looks like skilful artwork was of much more practical value back then: it served as a kind of savings book which could be turned into cash in the case of emergency.
Anyway, on the 1st of September 1610, Johann von Reuschenberg had to hand over the city of Jülich. But the fight over the duchies’ succession wasn’t over yet.
It wasn’t even over when the war broke out with the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, which no one had really expected at that point in time.
Only in 1666 did the conflict surrounding the succession in the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg end, when the grandchildren of the counts which had originally claimed the duchies in 1609 were already ruling them.
Thank you for listening. And you can find more podcasts about coins and money on the Sunflower Foundation Web page.