The groat is the traditional name of a long-defunct English silver coin worth four English pennies, and also a Scottish coin originally worth fourpence, with later issues being valued at eightpence and one shilling.
The name has also been applied to any thick or large coin, such as the Groschen (grosso), a silver coin issued by Tyrol in 1271 and Venice in the 13th century, which was the first of this general size to circulate in the Holy Roman Empire and other parts of Europe. The immediate ancestor to the groat was the French gros tournois or groat of Tours, which was known as the groot (Dutch for "great" or "large") in the Netherlands.
The name groat also refers to a range of other European coins such as those of the Italian peninsula known as a grosso including the grosso of Venice and the Kraków grosz. Marco Polo referred to the groat in recounts of his travels to East Asia when describing the currencies of the Yuan Empire. His descriptions were based on the conversion of 1 bezant = 20 groats = 133⅓ tornesel.
It was after the French silver coin had circulated in England that an English groat was first minted under King Edward I.
Scots groats were not issued until the reign of David II. Scots groats were originally also worth fourpence, but later issues were valued at eightpence and a shilling.
Irish groats were minted first in 1425 and the last ones were minted under the reign of Elizabeth I of England. There were also two more issues, both emergency coinage.
While strictly speaking, the English groat should have contained four pennyweights or 96 grains (6.2 grams) of sterling silver, the first ones issued weighed 89 grains (5.8 g) and later issues became progressively lighter. The weight was reduced to 72 grains (three pennyweights or 4.7 g) under Edward III, 60 grains (3.9 g) under Henry IV, and 48 grains (3.1 g) under Edward IV. From 1544 to 1560 (the weight being reduced to 32 grains (2.1 g) in 1559) the silver fineness was less than sterling, and after the 1561 issue they were not generally issued for circulation again for about a hundred years.
From the reigns of Charles II to George III, groats (by now often known as fourpences) were issued on an irregular basis for general circulation, the only years of mintage after 1786 being in 1792, 1795, and 1800. After this the only circulating issues were from 1836 to 1855, with proofs known from 1857 and 1862 and a colonial issue of 1888. These last coins had the weight further reduced to about 27 grains (1.9 grams) and were the same diameter as the silver threepenny pieces of the day although thicker. They also had Britannia on the reverse, while all other silver fourpenny pieces since the reign of William and Mary have had a crowned numeral "4" as the reverse, including the silver fourpenny Maundy money coins of the present. Some groats continued to circulate in Scotland until the 20th century.
At times in the past, silver twopenny coins have been called "half-groats."
The groat ceased to be minted in the United Kingdom in 1856, but in 1888 a special request was made for a colonial variety to be minted for use in British Guiana and the British West Indies. The groat remained in circulation in British Guiana right up until that territory adopted the decimal system in 1955.
Royal Navy chaplains
In the 1600s and 1700s, chaplains were employed in English Navy ships of war by the Captain, and paid out of a "groat" per month deducted from the wages of the seamen. The Navy's wages did not rise between 1653 and 1797 (see Spithead and Nore mutinies), during which time the Ordinary Seaman was paid 19 shillings, as was the chaplain.