Thursday, May 13, 2010

Empress Maria Theresa

The last ruler of the House of Hapsburg was born this day (May 13) in 1717.  Maria Theresa was also the only female Hapsburg ruler.  Her realm was the Holy Roman Empire.  Her visage appears on the Maria Theresa thaler, which contains the inscription "Maria Theresa, by the Grace of God, Empress of the Romans, Queen of Hungary and Bohemia."

But it is another coin that links Maria Theresa to Sir Walter Scott; the Lee penny.  The Lee penny was named after the seat of power of Count Simon Lockhart.  It is said to possess curative powers, and became famous with the publication of Walter Scott's "The Talisman".  The coin is currently housed in a gold and enamel snuffbox presented to Count Lockhart by the Empress Maria Theresa in 1789 (wikipedia).

The story as to how Lockhart came into possession of this magical coin is told by Scott in the introduction to "The Talisman":

"...He made prisoner in battle an Emir of considerable wealth and consequence. The aged mother of the captive came to the Christian camp, to redeem her son from his state of captivity. Lockhart is said to have fixed the price at which his prisoner should ransom himself; and the lady, pulling out a large embroidered purse, proceeded to tell down the ransom, like a mother who pays little respect to gold in comparison of her son's liberty. In this operation, a pebble inserted in a coin, some say of the Lower Empire, fell out of the purse, and the Saracen matron testified so much haste to recover it as gave the Scottish knight a high idea of its value, when compared with gold or silver. ' I will not consent,' he said, ' to grant your son's liberty, unless that amulet be added to his ransom.' The lady not only consented to this, but explained to Sir Simon Lockhart the mode in which the Talisman was to be used, and the uses to which it might be put. The water in which it was dipped operated as a styptic, as a febrifuge, and possessed several other properties as a medical talisman.

Sir Simon Lockhart, after much experience of the wonders which it wrought, brought it to his own country, and left it to his heirs, by whom, and by Clydesdale in general, it was, and is still, distinguished by the name of the Lee-penny, from the name of his native seat of Lee..."

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