Medals of Riposte and Repartee

Mark Jones looks at the cultural power of messages on medals.

Medals are normally regarded as among the most official of objects, serving to represent, record and reward the people and events of which the ruling establishment is particularly proud. But this article is concerned with a brief period during which they were used to poke fun at Louis XIV, and at the whole apparatus of magnificence which he had erected in France.

The use of the medal to promote the official view of events is as old as the medal itself, indeed the origin of the modern medal can be traced to the desire of Renaissance princes to compare themselves to the Emperors of Rome. It was not, however, until the sixteenth century, with the upheavals brought by the Reformation, that this weapon was turned against authority, with the production of the Pope/Devil, Cardinal/Fool medals and not until the end of that century that we find the first medallic duel, between Henri IV of France and Charles-Emmanual of Savoy.

This tradition was to stand them in good stead during the titanic struggles between France and the Allies, known as the Nine Years War and the War of the Spanish Succession.

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