obverse and reverse of a copper alloy jetton
Obverse and reverse of the pierced Belgic Lion jetton

This jetton depicts a momentous event that occurred not long before the founding of James Fort, and was part of larger international conflicts which involved and may have influenced some of the men who later came to Virginia.

On the obverse side, Pope Gregory XIII stands to the left and Philip II, King of Spain, ruler of the Seventeen Provinces, and a devout Catholic, stands to the right. In front of them is the Leo Belgicus, or Belgic Lion, a symbol of the Low Countries (modern day Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and a small part of France). Philip II offers the lion an olive branch as a token of peace in his right hand, while in his left hand behind his back he holds the collar of the Inquisition inscribed INOVI. The surrounding letters read: LIBER REVINCIRI LEO PERNEGAT (“the free lion refuses over and over to be conquered”). This inscription indicates that the jetton was made to commemorate Dutch Protestant opposition to Catholic rule backed by the Spanish and the Vatican.

The reverse side of the jetton depicts a column topped by a statue representing the Inquisition. The Belgic Lion is tied to the column and now wears the collar inscribed INQVI around his neck. Although this imagery appears to reflect the success of Spain and the Vatican in establishing Catholic rule, a small mouse is gnawing at the bonds to free the lion. The mouse represents William the Silent of Orange who opposed Catholicism in the Netherlands, and became an early leader of Protestant revolt throughout Holland and Zeeland. The surrounding letters ROSIS LEONINEM LORIS MVS LIBERAT (“the mouse frees the lion by gnawing at its collar”) describe the scene.

In 1579, peace negotiations were begun in Cologne to reconcile the demands of Philip II and the States-General, the body of delegates that represented the United Provinces. However, an agreement could not be made and the negotiations failed. Only a few months afterwards, Philip II declared William the Silent of Orange an outlaw, placing a price on his head. This jetton represents the resulting conflict and William the Silent’s extortions to beware of Spanish peace proposals. The Dutch Revolt and Eighty Years War continued on through the mid-17th century and Maurice of Orange, the son of William the Silent, also fought in rebellion against Spain.

In 1585, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I signed the Treaty of Nonesuch, promising military support to the Dutch and initiating the Anglo-Spanish War. More than one of the Jamestown colonists were veterans of this conflict. These international conflicts influenced the colonists’ wariness of Spanish invasion at Jamestown and could explain how this jetton came to Virginia and why it was pierced, a feature which allowed it to be worn or displayed. While it is possible that this jetton was intended for trade with Virginia Indians, it more likely served as a commemorative item. Similar to the Groningen tokens, this jetton was most likely brought to Virginia by a gentleman soldier who had previously fought in the Netherlands. The piercing was made so that the reverse side with the representative mouse faced outwards, perhaps as a reminder of Dutch allies and the importance of resisting Spanish Catholics. This is one of only two jettons of this style in the Jamestown collection. The original jettons with this symbolism were made in Dordrecht, but the two Jamestown examples are copies produced in Nuremberg.