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The first British Sovereign was minted under Tudor King Henry VII in 1489 (not shown). It gets its name from that first mintage which depicts the monarch seated majestically on the throne facing outward. The current design type with St. George slaying a dragon on the reverse and the monarch on the front was introduced nearly 200 years ago in 1816 under George III.
The Sovereign was minted almost continuously from that date until 1932, when Britain went off the gold standard. Minting was resumed in 1957, as a bullion coin, with Queen Elizabeth on the obverse. As such, it holds the distinction of being the only pre-1933 coin to carry over to the modern era.
British Sovereign 'kings' minted during the reigns of Edward VII (left image)and George V (middle image) are probably the most widely owned and recognized gold coins in the world -- so much so that the U.S. Army included them as part of its special forces survival pack for a number of years. Over 600 million of the St. George design Sovereigns were minted from 1816 to 1932, and other types come in a high state of preservation. Still today, an original bag of one thousand occasionally shows up in the marketplace.
The Edwardian era, named for Edward VII (left), differed sharply from the rigid and puritanical Victorian age which preceded it. Edward VII was the eldest son of Queen Victoria, and ruled Britain from 1901-1910. Queen Victoria insisted on an incredibly strict regimen for Edward, while never allowing his involvement in political affairs. As a result, Edward led a rebellious, indulgent lifestyle that many felt would compromise his ability to be an effective monarch. To the chagrin of his critics, Edward ruled peacefully and effectively during his reign, saving Britain from a budgetary crisis and strengthening relationships with European powers. Edward's reign was a brief and happy time of peace and prosperity for Britain before the shadow of World War I descended upon Europe. He died in 1910 of a heart attack.
His second son, George V (right with wife, Queen Mary) succeeded his rule in 1910. George led Britain through World War I and the negative effects brought on by the US Depression of 1929-1931. English Historian Robert Lacey describes George: ". . . as his official biographer felt compelled to admit, King George V was distinguished 'by no exercise of social gifts, by no personal magnetism, by no intellectual powers. He was neither a wit nor a brilliant raconteur, neither well-read nor well-educated, and he made no great contribution to enlightened social converse. He lacked intellectual curiosity and only late in life acquired some measure of artistic taste.' He was, in other words, exactly like most of his subjects. He discovered a new job for modern kings and queens to do -- representation." George V and his wife, Queen Mary, made the monarchy a symbol of conservative, middle-class virtue. George relinquished his German titles and adopted the name of Windsor for the British royal house.