Category Archives: Middle Ages

Behind the Name: Why Otto the Great Was so Great

Andrea CefaloAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The next three books in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive, The Baseborn Lady, and The Traitor’s Target—will debut later this year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.

Otto the Great

King Otto I the Great of Germany

Otto I was the son of Henry the Fowler and his second wife Matilda. On August 7, 936, a month after the death of his father, Otto was elected king and later crowned by the archbishops of Cologne and Mainz.

Otto I successfully consolidated power by confronting—and defeating—his disobedient vassals and siblings in war. Otto’s half-brother Thankmar joined the dukes of Bavaria and Franconia in rebellion in 938. Otto was victorious, and in the end, the duke of Franconia surrendered, the duke of Bavaria was banished, and Thankmar was defeated and killed. A year later, Otto’s younger brother Henry revolted, supported by the King Louis IV of France, Giselbert of Lotharingia, and the duke of Franconia—who had only just been forgiven for his previous rebellion against the king. Both Gilselbert and the duke of Franconia were killed in battle. Though Henry begged his brother’s forgiveness—which was and granted—he took part in a conspiracy to kill the king in 941. Otto forgave him again, and Henry remained faithful thenceforth.

Otto the Great Adelaide of Italy

German King Otto the Great and his wife, Adelaide of Italy

Despite internal conflicts, Otto was able to spread and strengthen his the kingdom. He kept out Slavic and Magyar invaders, resisted France’s claim to Lotharingia, founded three bishoprics in Denmark, and secured his interests in Italy and Burgundy via his marriage to Adelaide of Italy. In 962, he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope John XII, whom he would depose two years later, placing Leo VIII in his place. Antipopes rarely kept their seat, but Leo VIII, with the help of Otto, remained pope until his death. By suppressing revolts, ousting invaders, and using the Church to spread his kingdom, Otto was arguably one of the most successful German kings of the Middle Ages. He died on May 7, 973 in Memleben, Thuringia and was buried next to his first wife, Edith, daughter of the English king Edward the Elder.

Sources:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/434895/Otto-I#toc5413
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_I,_Holy_Roman_Emperor#Rebellion_of_the_dukes

A Week With Emperor Frederick II

Andrea CefaloAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The next three books in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive, The Baseborn Lady, and The Traitor’s Target—will debut later this year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.

 

My mother Nancy researching our ancestry.

My mother Nancy researching our ancestry.

In last week’s article, Frederick II’s 21st Great Granddaughter, I announced a serendipitous discovery made by my genealogist mother, Nancy Cefalo.  To make a long story short, even though it seemed that I had no German ancestry–which was quite disappointing since I write Medieval fiction set in Germany– it turns out that I do.

I am a descendent of the man who was emperor at the time of The Great Interregnum.  Frederick II–the man who reigned over the place I have researched for the last five years–is my 21st great grandfather.

In honor of this discovery, I am dedicating a week of posts to Emperor Frederick II.

Today I am posting a short documentary, Frederick II a bridge between East and West, which focuses on Frederick’s desire to reach beyond cultural barriers to broker peace and increase learning during a time when religious and cultural tolerance was discouraged.

Frederick II’s 21st Great-Granddaughter

meAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. Her second book in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive—debuted earlier this year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.

20140520_205112After retiring in 2009, my mom became an ancestry.com-aholic. Her hobby/compulsive disorder has taught me four things.

  1. The Irish didn’t keep good records.
  2. Welsh people have funny names.
  3. My great, great, great grandfather was hanged for trying to murder his wife.
  4. I have absolutely no German in me.

That last one was a bit of a disappointment. I’ve spent the last five years researching the Holy Roman Empire, especially the region that would later become Germany. Our lineage is a sprawling list of Western European nationalities, most of them ending in –sh. Not one of them German. Not one.

We writer people are a strange bunch.  Many of us believe in muses. We sit around at Starbucks sipping our lattes hoping our characters talk to us so the writing will be a little faster and more poignant today than it was yesterday. I guess a part of me thought I was a distant relation to some semi-important person who lived during The Great Interregnum, and, in some way, that person was bringing me this story. Well, ancestry.com poo-pooed all over that. Or so I thought.

Three days ago when my video, The Great Interregnum: A Thirteenth Century Game of Thrones, went live, I pulled it up for mom. We’re both dorks for European history, so I knew she’d appreciate it. After spending forty hours working on a five-minute video, I was in desperate need of mom-praise, which she gladly gave.

Tangelshe name Hohenstaufen sounded familiar to her. Later that day, she told me she found a Hohenstaufen in our line: Margaret Hohenstaufen. Born in 1241. Daughter of Emperor Frederick II.

The sky opened and angels sang.

No, not really, but I did get a case of goose bumps.

So not only am I part German, I am a descendent of the man who was emperor at the time of The Great Interregnum, the setting of my medieval fiction series. The man who ran the place that I have researched for the last five years is my 21st great grandfather.

I’m no mathematician. Maybe this isn’t so odd. I’m certainly only one of thousands of people who are Hohenstaufen descendants—but a part of me hopes that wherever and whatever Frederick II is now, he’s proud of his 21st great granddaughter who strives to tell the story of his reign. In honor of this discovery, I’d like to dedicate a week of posts to a man few know now, but who was a Renaissance man to the Middle Ages: Frederick II.

Using History to Guess Who Will Win The Game of Thrones

meAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The next three books in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive, The Baseborn Lady, and The Traitor’s Target—will debut later this year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

George R. R. Martin says A Song of Fire and Ice is loosely based on The War of the Roses.  I believe the series more closely resembles The Great Interregnum: a twenty year Game of Thrones taking place in the 13th century Holy Roman Empire.  My five minute documentary, which compares The Great Interregnum to the Game of Thrones, posits who will end up on the iron throne.  (Take a guess who it is before you watch it.)

 

The Six-Month Siege of Aachen

meAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and Medieval history blogger. Her debut novel, The Fairytale Keeper,  was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The next three books in The Fairytale Keeper series –The Countess’s Captive, The Baseborn Lady, and The Traitor’s Target—will debut later this year.
Follow her on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

Frederick II Excommunicated by Innocent IV

Emperor Frederick II Excommunicated by Pope Innocent IV

Medieval history is rife with clashes between popes and kings—and the thirteenth century was no exception.  Disagreements between Emperor Frederick II and Pope Innocent IV—over Frederick’s attempts to extend his power in Italy and his reluctance to go on crusade—led to the excommunication and attempted ousting of the Hohenstaufen emperor. With the help of his allies, Pope Innocent selected men to take Frederick’s place. The first of these antikings, Henry Raspe, died only two years after his selection. William of Holland was elected king ten months later.

Since the time of Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperors and kings were traditionally crowned in Aachen. In Spring of 1248, William’s men rode ahead of their new king to the Medieval city for the coronation, but the gates were barred. The people of Aachen remained loyal to the emperor and refused William’s entry. A skirmish ensued, and sixteen of William’s men were killed.

Because there was an emperor and king already on the thrown, William needed an official coronation so Europe would see him as more than a Church-sponsored pretender. William arrived with his armies approximately a week later, and the siege began.

Siege of Mortagne near Bordeaux in 1377.

Painting of 14th cent. Siege of Mortagne

According to the book The Medieval City Under Siege, siege warfare, though common, was ineffective during the thirteenth century for two reasons. First, a lack of gains in military technology meant that city walls and defenses were often stronger than the weapons used to destroy them. Second, most nobles had difficulty rallying an army large enough to  surround a city’s walls. Even if they could, they usually couldn’t feed and supply a large army for months at a time. Luckily for William, he had a strong ally in the pope who had strong allies of his own.

By summer, troops from Picardy, Flanders, and Brabant came to William’s aid. They damned the river flowing through Aachen, causing a third of the city to flood. After the addition of Frisia’s troops in the fall, William’s army finally had enough men to surround the city. Though the people of Aachen lay starving in a flooded city under constant bombardment, they remained loyal to the emperor. It wasn’t until a rumor of Frederick’s death circulated the city that Aachen waved the white flag.

Cologne’s Archbishop, Konrad von Hochstaden, aided in arbitration. The city nobles and the imperial bailiff pledged fealty to the Church and to William of Holland, gaining their freedom and the end of the siege in exchange. William entered the city on October 19th, nearly six months after the battle began. He was crowned on November first.

 

Sources:

Corfis, Ivy A.., and Michael Wolfe. The Medieval City under Siege. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995. Print.

Rogers, Clifford J., William Caferro, and Shelley Reid. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

Telling Time in the Middle Ages: 5 Things You Didn’t Know.

As I am typing these words, my clock reads 9:34 p.m.  Like most modern humans, when I want to know the time, I can check my laptop, cell phone, or (God forbid) one of those archaic orbs on the wall with an hour and a minute hand.  It wasn’t until I began penning medieval fiction that I realized how little I knew about the history of time measurement and what inventions have made it so precise today.  Days of research followed. But for my readers, I narrowed down my fascination with the evolution of time to five facts.   I hope you find them as fascinating as I do.

 

  1. The minute, as a measurement of time, didn’t exist. 

Portrait of Jost Burgi, inventor of the minute handDuring the Middle Ages, people used a combination of water clocks, sun dials, and candle clocks to tell time though none of those could tell time to the minute.  While the best water clocks told time to the quarter hour, it wasn’t until the wide use and improvement of mechanical clocks that people could tell time to the minute.

Even though the minute hand may have existed as early as the late 15th century, Jost Burgieven (pictured left)  is credited with inventing it in 1577.  Still, it took over a century for the technology to spread as the minute hand wasn’t widely added to clocks until the 1680s.

 

2.       For most of the Middle Ages, clocks rang seven or eight times in a day, not twenty-four.

Since most Christian monks adhered to a tight schedule of work and prayer, they were some of the first timekeepers in Medieval Europe.  For most of the Medieval period, a 24 hour day was divided into eight liturgical designations: Vigils (currently called Matins and was also referred to as Nocturns), Matins (currently called Lauds), Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.*

Strangely, the only mention of the bells ringing for Vigils that I have found comes from David Ewing Duncan. In his book, Calendar: Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year, Duncan suggests that medieval cities weren’t always consistent in recognizing the first hour of the day and a medieval traveler “might end up at his destination at midnight to hear the…first hour rung.” Considering most historians accept the theory that medieval people participated in segmented sleep, this seems odd.** How did people wake up without the sound of a bell? Did people rise naturally on their own? Or, since the term Matins replaced the term Nocturns, is there some confusion about when the bells actually rang? I’d love to know.

58434887_jan_saenredam

Historian Robert Ekirch considers this engraving from 1595 to be evidence of segmented sleep during the Renaissance.

By the end of the Middle Ages, wide use and improvements in mechanical clocks changed the way people kept time. I’ll discuss that in another section.

*It’s worth noting that most cities’ bells rang for other events, announcing the opening of markets, beginning of curfews, and start of special holidays.

**Whether Medieval laymen slept through the entire night is a hot topic. In his book, At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, historian Roger Ekirch references over five hundred documents that suggest laymen went to bed around 9 p.m., slept for 3 to 4 hours, got up for 1 to 2 hours for prayer and possibly sex, and then went back to sleep until Prime. But even Ekirch recognizes that not all people followed the same sleeping pattern as does historian Jean Verdon. Historians refer to this sleep pattern as segmented sleep.

3.       The length of an hour depended on the time of year and where you lived.

chartres-cathedral-1123596_960_720

This sculpture on the side of Chartres Cathedral shows an angel carrying a sundial, a device used to tell time during the Middle Ages.

For most of the Middle Ages, the time between sunrise and sunset was divided into twelve equal portions just like it was in ancient Rome. The time from sunset to sunrise was also divided into twelve equal segments. This worked well on the equinoxes when the length of a daytime hour equaled a nighttime hour, but by the 2nd century b.c.e., people recognized how confusing this could be to travelers during the winter and summer months.

Imagine living in Oslo, Norway during the Middle Ages. With only approximately 6 hours of sunlight on Christmas that would make a daylight hour for them only 30 minutes long.   Now travel to Naples, Italy where they have over nine hours of sunlight. A daylight hour for them on Christmas would last about 50 minutes.

Ian Mortimer sheds light on how the medieval hours related to modern time-telling in his book The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. Mortimer says most people rose for the Prime bells, which rang at dawn. They struck for the 3rd hour of the day at Terce (mid-morning), the 6th hour at Sext (noon), again for the 9th hour at None (mid-afternoon) and once more for the 12th hour at Compline (a little after sunset). The chart below shows how bells of London would ring at different times depending on the season.

Table 1: Canonical bells in  12th Century  London

 Equinox  Midwinter  Midsummer
Matins    5:00 a.m.    6:40 a.m.    2:30 a.m.
Prime    6:00 a.m.    8:00 a.m.    3:40 a.m.
Terce    8:30 a.m.    9:40 a.m.    7:00 a.m.
Sext  12:30 p.m.  12:20 p.m.  12:20 p.m.
None    2:30 p.m.    1:40 p.m.    3:00 p.m.
Vespers    5:00 p.m.    3:00 p.m.    7:00 p.m.
(Sunset)   (6:00 p.m.)   (3:50 p.m.)   (8:20 p.m.)
Compline 7-8:00 p.m. 5-6:00 p.m.    9:30 p.m.

Medieval coins 4.       You Couldn’t Waste Time, and Time Couldn’t Cost You Money.

People living in the Middle Ages believed time belonged to God.  Therefore, it wasn’t theirs to waste. The question arose in the 13th century on whether merchants and craftsman could charge fees for unsettled debts (i.e. late fees). The Franciscans, who were asked to settle one particular case, decided no.  Why?  Because only God owns time and charging for it seemed unethical. Some likened late fees to usury (the sinful charging of interest) which was condemned for much of the Middle Ages.

5.        Dante Alighieri made the first literary reference to clocks that struck the hours.

Dante AlighieriIn 1320, Dante Alighieri (pictured left) referred to a clock that struck the hours in his work, The Divine Comedy.  It is considered the first literary reference to that type of clock. We know that by the 1350s this technology spread to England since King Edward III used them in his palaces. By the end of the 14th century, mechanical clocks could be found in several cathedrals and palaces throughout England. The clocks didn’t show time with an hour hand but struck a bell to signify the time. Since mechanical clocks relied on mechanisms rather than sunlight to tell time, the hours became the same length year round. The reliance on clock time was not immediate and people referred to time in two ways: solar time and time of the clock. The latter of which was later shortened to the phrase o’ clock, which we still use today.

profile picAndrea Cefalo is a Medieval fiction author and history blogger. Her debut novel The Fairytale Keeper, was a quarter-finalist in Amazon’s 2013 Breakthrough Novel Contest. The sequel–The Countess’s Captive—was published earlier this year.  She is currently working on the third book in her series.

Did you enjoy this article? Well, there’s more where that came from! Check out the archives or peruse the sidebar for a list of trending posts.  To make sure you don’t miss out on my latest articles, follow this blog or sign up for the newsletter.

Further Reading and Sources: