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Oissel’s treasure

The treasure was discovered in November 2012 by an individual on private land, in the area around the train station in Oissel, to the south of Rouen. Consisting of 2 gold coins, 941 silver coins and 4 rings, the treasure was amassed in the early fifteenth century, in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War.

The person who discovered it declared the treasure to the Upper Normandy Regional Archaeology Department. It was then thoroughly cleaned before being subjected to a comprehensive numismatic study by Jens Christian Moesgard from the National Museum of Denmark, with the support of the Grosserer Emil Schous Fond.

Providing important evidence of the circulation of money in Normandy during the Hundred Years’ War, the Oissel treasure is one of the most significant local treasures for the end of the Middle Ages. Like the contemporary treasures of Ivry-la-Bataille (Museum of Normandy, Caen) and of Saint-Martin-le-Gaillard (Louis-Philippe Museum, Eu), it showcases jewellery exceptionally. Preventing the treasure from being broken up, the Museum of Antiquities promoted the study of this collection, insofar as research can be resumed on a collection kept as a whole, with the evolution of analysis techniques. The museum’s collection has a wealth of Merovingian, Carolingian and ducal currencies, in addition to coins issued by the Valois kings.

The date when the treasure was abandoned can be worked out as falling between the date on which the most recent coins were minted (10 May 1417) and the following issuance date (21 October 1417), the representative elements of which are missing from the treasure. Coins minted more than five years prior to the date of abandonment represent more than half of the coins that make up the treasure, indicating that it was the result of a long period of hoarding. The large number of coins and presence of four pieces of jewellery seem to support the hypothesis of a voluntary burial.

The treasure reflects a multi-metallic monetary system, as the coins were minted using different metals, within which silver is markedly more predominant, as can be seen in other collections of treasures from the early fifteenth century. In addition to the 2 gold coins, (or “agnels” in French) there are also 941 silver coins (916 “guénars”, 1 “gros tournois” and 2 “florettes”).

All of the coins, bearing the name of Charles VI, come from workshops under French royal control, with the exception of 21 coins minted in Auxonne for the Dukes of Burgundy and a coin issued by the Dukes of Brittany. The geographical locations of these workshops are very diverse, although most of the coins were minted in Tournai, Paris and Rouen. The quantitative scale of the Tournai workshops can be explained by their proximity to Flanders, which was then an important centre for the trading of precious metals. Such diversity is not surprising, however, and cannot be put down to conflicts because, in the words of the historian Jacqueline Pilet-Lemière, before the war began the currency that circulated within the kingdom of France was not only Royal and French currency, but also seigneurial and foreign currencies.

The motto CESTTOUT runs around the outside of one of the treasure’s rings, clearly giving this piece of jewellery a courtly aspect. Written in Gothic letters, the motto offers interesting information for dating the objects, as it was in the 1350s that the round capitals, known as Lombardic letters, were abandoned in favour of Gothic letters. This ring was therefore created in the second half of the fourteenth century or in the early fifteenth century.

As disseminated in French literature, knights and ladies offer each other tokens of their love, such as rings, as part of courtly love, which constituted a code of conduct that combined the lover’s humility, courtliness and devotion to his lady, according to the model of vassalic obedience. These relationships took place most often within the court, hence the term “courtly love”. It inspired not only literature, but also a whole area of artistic production related to the intimate sphere of life, for example ivory writing tablets, a good example of which is held by the museum.