Tag Archives: 13th century Europe

Maciejowski Bible

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century Warhorse

What is Ivo Bauer up to today?

It is the 22nd of April in the year of our Lord 1248. Ivo Bauer’s heart thumps heavy in his chest as the archbishop’s men-at-arms saunter into the armory. The myriad mail rings shiver at the clapping of their boots on the hard dirt floors. At the metallic chime, the two men stop. Silence hangs as they feast their eyes on a sea of steel. 

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. Today Ivo takes us to his apprenticeship in an armorer’s shop where a wealthy noble has commissioned some armor for his horse. Needless to say, this patron can afford to trample his enemies in style.  As a historical fiction novelist, it’s my job to figure out what that would look like—so I scoured primary sources and essays to discover the facts. For you, I’ve summed up hours of research into this bite-sized blog post. Enjoy!

The Wardrobe of a 13th-Century War Horse

Geoffrey Luttrell

This image from the Luttrell Psalter (1325) shows the caparison, trappers, and shaffron donned by medieval knights.

“Excuse me, Sir. Your horse is showing.”

I can imagine a mounted earl teasing his less-wealthy counterpart—let’s say a mercenary knight—with these very words.

During the 13th and 14th centuries, dressing a horse from head to hoof was not only fashionable, it protected the knight by protecting the horse.  Sadly, not every knight could afford to armor his noble steed. It was expensive just to armor himself.

Let’s say the petulant knight mentioned above was the Duke of Gloucester. In Hodge’s List of Prices, this wealthy English noble had an inventory of armor valued at over 103 pounds in 1397. Look behind him and you’ll find the basic knight’s armor—valued at 16 pounds—far less impressive. I think it’s safe to assume the duke had horse armor while the average knight did not. Primary sources from the time show horses both with and without armor. So in my work in progress—The Armorer’s Apprentice—the noble patron has a budget similar to the duke’s. Let’s see what Ivo and Michael might have created for his warhorse.

Medieval Horse Armor

This image from The Manuscript of the Apocalypse (1330) shows what mail trappers or bards looked like during the 13th and 14th centuries.

Layer 1: The Quilted Trapper

Comprised of one or more garments, the first layer of defense for the armored horse was a  quilted trapper.  These layers of fabric kept the mail rings from irritating the horse’s skin and protected it from hard impacts. Quilted trappers likely appeared in Western Europe during the twelfth century near the same time as mail trappers. Though we don’t see quilted trappers represented in illustrated manuscripts of the time—probably because they weren’t visible beneath the mail trapper and caparison—they are listed in inventories, such as the will of Raoul de Nesle  who died in 1302. He owned three of them.

Layer 2: The Mail Trapper

Made of chain mail, this was worn over the quilted trapper and protected the horse from slashing and piercing wounds. In his essay on the subject, Dirk H. Breiding informs us that a  “carved capital…dating to the late twelfth or very early thirteenth century, shows two warriors mounted on horses in mail trappers that protect their bodies, necks, and presumably their head, while a tympanum relief of 1203…depicts a trapper that appears to extend further, enclosing each leg individually down to the knees and hocks, respectively.”  Just like the Maciejowski Bible shows us the numerous combinations in thirteenth-century knights’ armor, Breiding’s statement, along with primary sources, help us imagine the variety worn by horses, as well.

Maciejowski Bible

Images from the Maciejowski Bible (1240s) show brightly colored caparisons on medieval warhorses.

Layer 3: The Caparison

Early on, the caparison was a thickly padded defense. But by the thirteenth century, the horse’s caparison was more like a knight’s surcote.  Since it was decorated in his colors or heraldry, a knight draped the colorful fabric over the mail trapper.  In illuminations from the Maciejowski  Bible and Luttrell Psalter, caparisons cover most of the horse and obscure the view of what lies beneath.

Layer 4: The Shaffron

Worn either above or beneath the caparison, the shaffron protected the horses face. It’s hard to discern whether it was made of hardened leather or metal at first.  A document from 1278 states that Edward I of England ordered 38 hardened leather shaffrons  reinforced with strips of metal. Knights often had the shaffrons decorated to match the crest on their own helmets.

So when we imagine my fictitious noble patron’s horse, we should think of quilted trappers, mail trappers, caparisons, and shaffrons. It’s worth noting that horse armor progressed magnificently over the next hundred years as armorers perfected the art of forming steel plate. To read more about that I strongly recommend giving the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s site a visit.

Thanks again for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.


  • Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Knights. Birmingham, Alabama: Sweet Water, 2009. Print.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “The Armored Horse in Europe: 1480-1620.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2015. <file:///C:/Users/Ken/Downloads/The_Armored_Horse_in_Europe_1480_1620%20(1).pdf>
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Horse Armor in Europe. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
  • Breiding, Dirk H. “Horse Armor in Medieval and Renaissance Europe: An Overview – Medievalists.net.” Medievalists.net. Medievalists.net, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 09 Nov. 2015.
St. Kunibert

Medieval Cologne and St. Kunibert Through The Eyes of a Main Character

St. Kunibert

Built in the mid-thirteenth century, St. Kunibert is Cologne’s youngest Gothic Cathedral. (Photo Credit: The Great Jesus Experiment)

Where in the world is Ivo Bauer?

It is the 24th of April in the year of our Lord 1248 and Ivo Bauer sits perched in an oak that’s just beginning to leaf outside St. Kunibert’s Gate in Cologne. If he cranes his neck, he can see beyond the Gothic towers of Cologne’s newest cathedral to the dozens of trading vessel flocking to Rheine Gate.

Writing takes me—and my characters—to wonderful places. If you couldn’t tell already, today we are in thirteenth-century Cologne just outside one of its many famous gates. If you keep up with my blog, you’ll know that Cologne has a rich and fascinating history. The parish of St. Kunibert is no exception.

St. Kunibert

The historical map (bottom left) shows the city of Cologne. The map (at right) shows the city’s divided into parishes. St. Kunibert is located in the lower left. The map on the upper right is a close-up of this section of the city.

A Brief History of St. Kunibert

St. Kunibert’s Cathedral still stands today in the southeast of Cologne. The youngest Gothic cathedral in the city, it was consecrated in 1247, despite not being finished. To celebrate, Cologne’s infamous archbishop—Konrad von Hochstaden—threw a feast for Cologne’s elite. A year later this same archbishop laid the cornerstone of the city’s famous cathedral after the previous cathedral burned to the ground.
The area of Kunibert has a long history. Prior to the cathedral, a seventh-century basilica dedicated to St. Clement sat on the grounds, but when Cologne’s beloved bishop Kunibert died and his remains were interned at the church in 663, the basilica soon became synonymous with him.
Two fairly famous legends surround the area. In May of 1030, when a fire in St. Mary of the Steps threatened to burn the city cathedral, canons from St. Kunibert lugged the sainted bishop’s shrine to the cathedral steps and it’s said that the fire extinguished instantly. Perhaps even stranger, the cathedral houses a room beneath the altar with an ancient well. Women once believed drinking its waters increased their chances of fertility. I’m not quite sure why they have blocked it off. It makes me wonder if people, believing the legend, still attempt to drink from it.

Thanks for reading. Want to explore the fascinating world of Medieval Cologne with my characters? Get a FREE sample of The Fairytale Keeper sent to your Kindle from Amazon.com. To see more posts like this one, click the follow button in the sidebar or sign up for my monthly newsletter.



Stretching a Medieval Penny: The Somewhat Empty Purse of a Medieval Shoemaker


Medieval re-enactor acting as a cobbler.

All novelist struggle with crafting believable characters. For historical fiction writers, I think the challenge is even greater. We walk a tight rope with believability on one side and intrigue and relatability on the other. Needless to say, it was after a great deal of research that I created Ansel Schumacher. The breadwinner in my novel, The Fairytale Keeper, Ansel is a shoemaker living in 13th century Cologne. To develop a better understanding of what his family’s economic situation would have been like, I created the chart below.

There are a few things worth noting before reading the table. First, if our shoemaker didn’t sell shoes, he didn’t make money. Luckily, Cologne was a city 40,000 strong and its relic of The Three Magi drew thousands of pilgrims each year. During tough economic times, a cobbler could spend less on food and drink—foregoing expenses like spices and proteins.  But there were a few expenses he couldn’t escape: rent, taxes, and tithes. Based on my research, the average shoemaker[1] living in the middle 13th century made 44 pennies each month. Here’s what his monthly budget might have looked like.

Monthly Bill Amount Description
Rent[2] 9 pennies A typical craftsman house would have had a workshop, solar, and two bedchambers.
Food[3] 15 pennies
  • 4 1/2 pennies on grains to make pottage, oatcakes, and ale
  • 4 pennies on bread.
  • 4 pennies on small amounts of either salted herring, eggs, offal, other cheap meat, cheese, milk, or almond milk
  • 1 penny on spice blends
  • 2 pennies on produce, pickled produce, dried nuts, fresh fruit, or fresh herbs
Ale[4] 3 ½  pennies 4 cups a day per person in 4 person family.
Tithes 4 ½  pennies Ten percent of a person’s income went to tithes.
Taxes[5] 4 ½ pennies Tax rates fluctuated, but on average ten percent of a person’s wages went to taxes.
Household Expenses[6] Varied based on need.
Savings 7 ½ pennies  (unless there are household expenses)

A 13th century shoemaker would have bought food for his faimly at a market, like the one in this artist rendering.

[1] Hodges’ List of Prices does not list the wages of a shoemaker. I make the assumption that a shoemaker probably made the same amount as a weaver, which Hodges does list. In the year 1407, a weaver made 5 pennies per day. According to another part of Hodges’ list a thatcher living in the middle 13th century made 44% of what a thatcher living in 1407 would have made. Assuming that this rate of inflation applied to everyone’s pay, I have adjusted my imaginary shoemaker’s income and the prices of the items he buys accordingly.

[2] Hodges’ List of Prices lists the rent of a craftsman’s home in the 14th  century to be 20 schillings per year in London. I’ve adjusted this according to the wages of the middle thirteenth century in which a craftsman made 44% the wages.

[3] This is a ball park figure in the most extreme sense of the phrase. First of all, this budget assumes our shoemaker lived in a city and was not able to grow a small garden of his own. Therefore, he had to buy everything at the market. Someone living on this kind of income would have relied on pottages and breads most likely. He might have had money for a little meat now and then, when meat was allowed. Nearly half the year–when one accounts for Lent, Advent, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays—people living in the Middle Ages were not allowed to eat meat. Only fish was permitted during these times. Ian Mortimer says the price of fish was high, but Hodges’ list states the purchase price for 5-10 salt herrings at 1 penny. Salted herring was probably the cheapest form of fish and people grew quite sick of it, especially by the end of Lent. Also worth noting, many foods were available seasonably.

[4] In The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, Ian Mortimer states that four gallons of ale fetched a penny in the 14th century. I think it’s safe to assume that someone living in the thirteenth century could purchase it or brew it (as women were expected to do) for about half of that. Assuming that each person in a four person household drank an average of 4 cups of ale each day, the family would go through roughly a gallon a day. Surely when times were bad, cobblers drank less, relied on their wives home-brewed ale, or in dire times collected water in cisterns. They may have also spent more money on better ale or wine during times of celebration and wealth.

[5] Like today, taxes could be levied on income, goods, or property.

[6] Household expenses could be anything from household goods, clothing, grooming, and healthcare. I imagine most woman came with the goods needed to keep a peasant household. Even peasant women came with a dowry of some sort by the thirteenth century. Hodges’ List shows peasant dowries of between 15 and 57 schillings in the 14th century. Adjusted for the 13th century, this would have been 6 and 25 schillings, roughly 2 to 7 months of a cobbler’s pay. Little wonder women were praised for birthing sons. I think this also is evidence that people living in the High Middle Ages were savers and not spenders. That being said, children would come with expenses of their own. A cobbler might have to pay for them a fee for them to be able to start an apprenticeship or their clothing and shoes would get worn. Certainly during hard times, people in the Middle Ages would have kept raged shoes a little longer in order to make sure they had enough money for food.

Hodges, Kenneth. “List of Prices of Medieval Items.” Hodges. List of Prices of Items in Medieval England. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England a Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. New York: Touchstone, 2014. Print.
Pirenne, Henri. Medieval Cities: Their Origins and the Revival of Trade. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969. Print.
Powicke, F. M. The Thirteenth Century: 1216-1307. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.
Photo of Medieval Shoemaker: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/archeon/3448099214/

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like:

Penny, Pfennig, and Denier: Comparing the Coins of Medieval Europe

Halfpennies, Farthings, and Nobles: A Guide to England’s Medieval Coins

Inventing the Penny: Charlemagne’s Lost Effort at a Standard Currency

Venetian Ducat

Penny, Pfennig, and Denier: Comparing the Coins of Medieval Europe

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.

Medieval coins

By the High Middle Ages political and economic systems in Europe became more complex, so too did the coins. For example, in part twelve of Ken Elks’ book, Coinage of Great Britain: Celtic to Decimalization, his charts show eighteen changes in Scottish coinage alone in a one hundred year period.

Historical fiction writers like myself try to paint the most accurate portrait of history that we can. I wanted to better understand the money of Medieval Germany so that I could better understand what my characters could earn and spend. The chart below serves to simplify a very complex system.  I created it for myself, but I thought it might be of interest to others, so I am publishing it. Below the chart, I’ve listed a few facts worth considering before examining the table.

Coin Name Value First Use Description
English Medieval PennyEnglish: Penny

french denierFrench: Denier

pfennigGerman: Pfennig

Italian DenariItalian: Denari

1/240th pound of silver Late 700s
  • In 790, Charlemagne declared that 240 pennies should be minted from a pound of silver.
  • Smaller denominations of pennies were minted during the High Middle Ages like the English farthing and halfpenny.
groatEnglish: Groat

grostournaisFrench: Gross Tournois

groschenGerman: Groschen

Italian GrossoItalian: Grosso

  • 4 English pennies or…
  • 6 German pfennigs
  • A variety of coins fall into the groat category.
  • The word gross means big in German.
  • The term indicates that it was a big penny.
  • Counterfeit and devalued pennies made the groat a more popular coin among merchants.
English: Schilling

French: Sous

German:  Skilling

Italian: Soldi

  • 12 pennies or…
  • 3 groats or…
  • 1/10th mark or…
  • 1/20th pound
  • During most of the Middle Ages, the schilling was a unit of account. People didn’t carry schillings in their purses.
  • The Florentines were the first to mint testones, a coin valued at a shilling, in the late 1400s.
  • The French and English were quick to follow suit, minting their own testoons.
  • The testoon became the shilling after Henry VIII’s reign.
Edward_III_nobleEnglish: Noble

Ecu d'or CoinFrench:  Ecu d’or

German GuldenGerman: Guilder/Gulden

FlorinFlorentine: Florin

Venetian DucatVenetian: Ducat

  • 80 pennies or…
  • 6 schillings and 8 pennies or…
  • 1/3 of a pound
  • Late 1200s in Italy
  • More widely used across Europe in 1300s
  • Many areas minted quarter and half denominations of these coins. Some of the smaller denominations were minted in silver.
  • The English minted half nobles and quarter nobles.
English: Mark

French: ?

German: Mark

Italy: ?

  • 120 pennies or…
  • 1/2 of a pound
  • During most of the Middle Ages, the mark was a unit of account and most nations didn’t mint them.
English: Pound

French: Livre

German: Pfund?

Italian: Lira

  • 240 pennies or…
  • 60 groats or…
  • 20 schillings or…
  • 6 Half Nobles or…
  • 3 Nobles or…
  • 2 Marks
  • During most of the Middle Ages, the pound was a unit of account and most nations didn’t mint them.
  • By the end of the Middle Ages the French were minting Francs.

Medieval minting shopThings to Consider:

  1. Coin values varied between nations. It’s similar to comparing an American dollar with the English pound or Euro. Each has a different value. The value of money in the Middle Ages was directly correlated with the coin’s size and silver or gold content, not the nation’s economic power.
    1. In general, German coins were of lower quality and value than English coins. The German lands consisted of duchies, counties, imperial cities, archbishoprics, and bishoprics. The Hohenstaufens doled out minting rights and didn’t regulate them. Therefore, many areas minted coins of varying quality. By the thirteenth century, six German pfennigs equaled four English pennies.
    2. During much of the early Middle Ages, the French kings were weak, and the kingdom itself was fairly small. While they minted purer coins than the Germans, the appearance varied widely. The mints of Tours in Touraine were considered the most stable.

By the end of the Middle Ages—much like the Scots—the French kings were constantly changing the coins and their value. Therefore, it is easier to classify the French coins into categories like types of pennies, types of big pennies (groats), and types of gold coins.

  1. As time passed and trade expanded into all classes, there was need for coins of larger and smaller denominations. The average pay for a day’s wages during the High Middle Ages was a penny. Let’s compare that to today where the average pay is about 100 dollars.

Imagine having to pay for everything with 100 dollar bills, except imagine that the 100 dollar bill was a coin. What if something costs 25 dollars? Then you have to chop the coin into fourths. It’s not very convenient. Here’s where it gets more complex: not every area minted the same denominations.  However, most of them had a silver penny, a groat, and by the fourteenth century, a gold coin.

  1. Minters and noblemen got greedy or they went through difficult economic times and would devalue their own currency to keep the excess silver and gold. I discuss this more in a previous article: Inventing the Penny: Charlemagne’s Lost Effort at a Standard Currency.

Whether you’re a historical fiction writer or budding medievalist, I hope you found this chart of value. If you find any errors in my research, please comment.

“Banks and Money.” Currency and Banking in the Late Middle Ages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.http://europeanhistory.boisestate.edu/latemiddleages/econ/banking.shtml
Brooke, Christopher Nugent Lawrence. Europe in the Central Middle Ages: 962-1154. Harlow: Longman, 2000. Print.
“Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe.” Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.http://www.medievalcoinage.com/denominations/
“Medieval Sourcebook: William of Malmesbury: Counterfeit Money in the Time of King Stephen, 1140.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
“The Fitzwilliam Museum : Coins and Medals Home.” The Fitzwilliam Museum News. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/coins/
“Testoon.” ø. Coin and Bullion Pages, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

Inventing the Penny: Charlemagne’s Lost Effort at a Standard Currency

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 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.

Charlemagne and the Silver Penny


Charlemagne simplified the currency of Medieval Europe in the ninth century.

For certain, easing the trade of goods and services is the truest purpose of standard currency. When Charlemagne declared that 240 pennies should be minted from a pound of silver, he eased the trade of goods and services throughout the Holy Roman Empire. For the next 400 years, the penny was made from real silver just as Charlemagne had ordered. Therefore, it had a standard value. The penny might have been called different things in different areas—the  French denier, the German pfennig, the Spanish dinero, the Italian denari—but each coin had  the same silver content, and the same value.

Because of Charlemagne’s efforts, an English wool merchant could sell his wool to a weaver in Flanders who could sell his woven wool to a dyer in Cologne who could sell his died fabric to a merchant in Venice who could sell his wares to a fashionable noblewomen with ease. None of them would have to worry about the value of the coins they traded. It’s similar to what the Euro does for Europe today.

Diluting the Penny

English Penny from the twelfth century featuring King John.

This English penny from the twelfth century features King John.

Throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries kings, noblemen, minters, and counterfeiters diluted the penny with some dire consequences and disastrous results.

During the reign of English King Henry I, the percentage of silver in coins plummeted. As punishment for minting low-quality coins, each mint master had his right hand cut off on Christmas day in 1124 at the Assize of Winchester. The threat of mutilation wasn’t enough to keep moneyers’ honest, and the improvement in coin purity was only temporary.

Reducing the silver content in coins was not a practice exclusive to England. In fact, records suggest it was worse in other parts of the Holy Roman Empire, especially the German lands.  According to Medieval Denominations, by 1100 the standard German pfennig had twenty-five percent less silver than it did in the days of Charlemagne—dropping its value to three-quarters of an English penny.

Medieval Pfennig

This thirteenth-century German pfennig minted in Cologne bears the likeness of the archbishop, not the king.

By 1299, the problems presented by diluted coins were so prevalent that England forbid their import. Maurice Powicke states in his book, The Thirteenth Century, that King Henry III  tried to rid England  of “the false and debase…coins which had been brought into England and Ireland from German and Rheinish ports.”

As I survey the twelfth and thirteenth-century German coins at Fitz Museum, I can see that the minting of Rheinish coins was not nearly as regulated as it was in England. In the German lands, many dukes, lords, counts, bishops, archbishops, as well as the emperor, had minting rights.  Germans—whether counterfeiters, dishonest minters, or greedy noblemen, I can’t be sure—blended baser metals, such as copper, into the coins.  People called the debased currency black money.  In some cases, coins had less than one percent of the silver than they should have.  Not surprising, merchants from across Europe preferred coins with a high silver content, such as the groschen.

Clipping and Shrinking the Penny

Edward I

Edward I blamed Jews for clipping coins.

Besides decreasing the silver content of coins, minters devalued their coins through the process of clipping. Despite the threat of mutilation and execution, clippers trimmed the edges of the coins, collected the fragments, and made a profit, all while passing off the coins as having the same value as unclipped coins.  In 1277, Edward I hanged Jewish merchants for clipping coins.

As well as clipping and reducing the silver content in coins, minters also reduced the mass. When King Stephen I depleted the treasury in 1140, he ordered the penny’s weight to be reduced so he could pay his military expenses in wars against his niece, Matilda.  English barons also began issuing their own coins. Large amounts of counterfeit and low-quality coins drastically reduced the value of the penny. During the time of Charlemagne, a shilling was worth twenty pennies. During Stephen’s reign, the shilling’s value dropped to twelve pennies, nearly decreasing the currency value by half.

Just as a bad king can debase a currency, a good king can improve it.  In 1182,  Henry II, demanded silver content in pennies be high and consistent. One hundred thirty years later, during the reign of Henry III, the first recorded public assessment of a coin’s purity was performed. It was called Trial of the Pyx and is still performed in Great Britain to this day.

Diversity in Coins


Gold coins, like the noble, made an appearance in the 13th and 14th centuries and quickly spread through Europe.

As political and economic systems became more complex, so did the coinage. During the high middle ages, the diversity in coins skyrocketed. Because the coins varied in silver content and size, they aren’t as easily comparable as the penny, pfennig, and denier of the ninth century. Trying to compare the values is a daunting task that I tried, but probably won’t continue. I can imagine what a burden this must have been for merchants and those in charge of accounts.


“Banks and Money.” Currency and Banking in the Late Middle Ages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. http://europeanhistory.boisestate.edu/latemiddleages/econ/banking.shtml

Brooke, Christopher Nugent Lawrence. Europe in the Central Middle Ages: 962-1154. Harlow: Longman, 2000. Print.

“Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe.” Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. http://www.medievalcoinage.com/denominations/

“Medieval Sourcebook: William of Malmesbury: Counterfeit Money in the Time of King Stephen, 1140.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

“The Fitzwilliam Museum : Coins and Medals Home.” The Fitzwilliam Museum News. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/coins/

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.

The Influences on 13th Century Renaissance Man, Frederick II

Frederick II’s Intellectual Roots

Similar to his grandfather, King Roger II of Sicily, Frederick was interested in intellectual pursuits and legislative matters.  Roger consulted travelers and commissioned them to help him create a better world map, only recording what was agreed upon.  His pursuits resulted in a great silver map in the year 1154. The emperors following Roger, William I and William II, didn’t share Roger’s vigor for scientific pursuits, but like Frederick, did study and have Greek texts translated.

Frederick II Looks Back to Greek and Egyptian Thinkers

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Bust of Aristotle by Lysippos from 330 BC

Frederick made a conscientious effort to surround himself with the best and brightest minds of his time, reaching out to anyone who could answer his questions: Moslems, Jews, and Christians alike.  One such man, referred to as Michael Scot, born in Scotland (hence the surname) but educated in Spain, composed works on astrology, meteorology, astronomy, and pysiognomy and dedicated them to Frederick.   These works illustrate Scot’s familiarity with the works of Ptolemy.

Frederick himself was a known admirer of Aristotle.  Though Frederick didn’t always agree with Aristotle, he certainly shared his interests and methods.  Like Aristotle, Frederick studied physics, poetry, logic, linguistics, government, biology, and zoology. Also like Aristotle, Frederick often studied the scientific world through detailed observation, especially in the areas of zoology and biology. He collected animals from across the known world, including panthers, a giraffe, elephants, camels, and a menagerie of birds.  In his studies, Frederick went beyond Aristotle’s scientific method, conducting experiments, though not like what we know today as the scientific method.  Frederick certainly made hypotheses and predictions.  He also tried to set up controls.  However, many of his experiments couldn’t be replicated because they were highly unethical and often resulted in the death of the subject matter.

Frederick II Looks East to Moslem Leaders

Al-Kamil (right) and Frederick II signed a tre...

Al-Kamil (right) and Frederick II signing a treaty restoring Jerusalem to the Crusaders for ten years.

As said earlier, Frederick reached out across the known world for answers to his many questions.  In scientific matters, he often reached out toward Arab leaders. It was rumored that Frederick preferred the company of Moslems, especially when it came to learning.  While this cannot be confirmed, we do know that Frederick often looked eastward when trying to quench his thirst for knowledge.

Frederick was well-known for his acceptance of other beliefs and cultures.  So it’s of no surprise that he  was reluctant to go on crusade against the Islamic east, but after much pressure Frederick did go.  He brought a Sicilian Moslem to tutor him in logic while on crusade. Unlike most crusades, Frederick’s led to a positive relationship with Moslem leaders both commercially and politically. By 1236, the sultan of Egypt sent the emperor a scholar named Theodore, who was, for his time, an expert in math, astrology, and medicine. This however, did not quench Frederick’s thirst for knowledge.  Much like his grandfather Roger, Frederick wasn’t satisfied with a theory unless it was widely agreed upon.  Frederick composed questionnaires, in which he puzzled through scientific, mathematical, and theological mysteries.   Frederick sent his questionnaires to Moslem leaders in the hopes that they could tap their intellectual resources and find answers.

While on another trip to the east, Frederick asked if he could interview an expert on astronomy.  Rather than allow the interview, the sultan Malik al-Kamil sent Frederick an astronomer/mathematician by the name of al-Hanafi.  The sultan of Damascus, al-Ashraf, who was also aware of Frederick’s interest in astronomy, sent him a planetarium with figures of the sun and moon which marked the hours as they made their rounds, a gift valued at 20,000 marks.

Related Articles:


“Frederick II (Holy Roman Emperor and German King).” Www.encyclopia.com. N.p., 2013. Web.

Haskins, Charles H. “Science at the Court of the Emperor Frederick II.” The American Historical Review 27.4 (1922): 669. Print.

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Few men are memorialized in such a contradictory manner as Konrad von Hochstaden. Surely a man who laid the cornerstone of one of Europe’s greatest churches—The Cologne Cathedral—should be remembered fondly. And he is…sometimes. (See the mosaic below.) But Hochstaden gave the people of Cologne and the Holy Roman Emperor of the time several reasons to hate him. Perhaps that’s why a vulgar statue of Hochstaden sits on the side of Cologne’s City Hall. (Scroll to the bottom to see it. Warning: it’s rather vulgar.)

Mosaic Konrad von Hochstaden Cologne Cathedral

This mosaic from Cologne’s Cathedral shows a saint-like Konrad von Hochstaden holding the plans for the church’s construction.

The Complexity of Rule in Thirteenth-Century Europe

To better understand Konrad von Hochstaden’s power and influence, a very brief examination of Medieval Europe’s political structure is in order. At the time, Europe was a hodgepodge of kingdoms, principalities, duchies (areas ruled by dukes), counties (areas ruled by  counts), ecclesiastical sees (areas owned by the church), and free imperial cities.  Trying to decipher the boundaries between these areas when looking at the map below is a tad tricky.

Thirteenth-Century map of Europe

This map of Europe shows the political boundaries under Hohenstaufen rule.

Beginning in the tenth century, the king of the Holy Roman Empire was called King of the Romans and, later, King of the Germans. These were the titles used during Hochstaden’s lifetime. In a nutshell, prince electorates selected a nobleman to fill the position of king. Typically when a Holy Roman Emperor died, the pope promoted the King of Romans to take the emperor’s place, which essentially made the newly crowned Holy Roman Emperor the official ruler of Central Europe. Although, the amount of power each emperor actually wielded varied throughout medieval history and depended on several factors.

While inheritance often played a role in electing the King of the Romans and the Holy Roman Emperor, these were not strictly inherited positions.  As I mentioned above, by the thirteenth century seven prince electorates—made up of four secular nobles and three church officials—ultimately decided who took the title of King of the Romans. The archbishop of Cologne was one of these prince electorates.  One might argue that these kingmakers were even more powerful than the king himself.  We certainly see this when examining the life of Konrad von Hochstaden, who was archbishop of Cologne from 1238 to 1261.

Prince Electorates Holy Roman Empire

This miniature from the Chronicle of Henry VII (1341) shows the seven prince electorates. The archbishop of Cologne sits below the shield with the black cross.

Konrad Von Hochstaden’s Rise to Prince

Konrad von Hochstaden came from noble blood, his father being Count Lothar of Hochstadt.  We know little of his childhood, but by 1216 he was the beneficiary of the parish of Wevelinghoven, and in 1226, he was promoted to canon.  He eventually ended up in Cologne as the provost of the cathedral. When Archbishop Henry of Molenark died in March of 1238, the chapter named Konrad as his replacement, an appointment that Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II approved in August.Surprisingly, Hochstaden wasn’t even a priest at the time. That was a title he’d earned the following year.

Konrad Von Hochstaden

Konrad Von Hochstaden was laid to rest in the Johannes Chapel of the Cologne Cathedral.

Konrad von Hochstaden Turns Against Frederick II

For the first year of his term as archbishop, Konrad supported the emperor in his disagreements with the pope, but when Pope Gregory IX issued Emperor Frederick’s (second) excommunication after he invaded a papal fief, Konrad’s loyalties shifted and he sided against the emperor with the pope and Archbishop of Mainz.  It was a decision Hochstaden must have regretted in 1242 when he was badly wounded in battle against the emperor and captured by the Count of Julich, though he was eventually freed. By 1245, Konrad’s star was on the rise again.

excommunication of emperor frederick ii

This fourteenth-century illumination portrays Pope Innocent IV excommunicating Emperor Frederick II.

Trouble in Cologne

By supporting the pope, Konrad von Hochstaden’s power grew.  He now had two duchies and the ecclesiastical see of Cologne, making him the most powerful man in Northwest Germany.  Not everyone was pleased with Konrad’s quick rise, and this resulted in struggles for power with his noble neighbors (Remeber the Count of Julich?) and the people of Cologne, who often refused to accept his authority.  His ruthless methods in dealing with the people of Cologne left him with a malicious reputation.

English: Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Trevis...

Albertus Magnus (fresco, 1352, Treviso, Italy)

Hostilities grew, so a theologian and scholar by the name of Albertus Magnus was brought in to help bring the people of Cologne and the archbishop to peace.  This event is referred to as the Great Arbitration.  Konrad lost some power in the bargain.  After which, he tried unsuccessfully to pit the craftsman against the patricians in order to gain favor.  He died two years later, and when his successor, Engelbert II, tried to fortify one of the city’s towers, he was arrested and imprisoned by the Count of Julich for little over a year for violating the terms of the Great Arbitration.  Meanwhile, Cologne gave way to violent battles between the wealthy families of Cologne.  Unfortunately for Engelbert, he supported the losing side, and rather than continue his fight for Cologne, he abandoned it for his palaces in Bruhl and Bonn.

A league of German nobles defeated Engelbert’s successor, Siegfried of Westerburg, at the Battle of Worringen in 1288.  After this, the archbishops of Cologne would no longer reside within the city walls.  But Cologne would not officially have its freedom from the Church until 1475 when it was declared a Free Imperial City.

Battles for the Crown

Let’s go back to the battles between the Church and the emperor. In 1242, Frederick II selected Henry Raspe, Landgrave of Thuringia, and King Wencelaus of Bohemia  as protectors of Germany until his young son Conrad was ready for the task.

A papal ban against Emperor Frederick was issued three years later.  Raspe betrayed the emperor, siding with the pope, and was elected king in opposition to the boy he had earlier sworn to protect, Conrad.  Henry experienced success on the battlefield, beating Conrad in the Battle of Nidda.  Unfortunately for Henry, his reign was short.  He died of illness only seventeen months after being named king.

King William II of Holland Granting Privileges by Everdingen and Post 1654

King William II of Holland Granting Privileges (Caeser Van Everdingen & Pieter Post, 1654)

Supposedly many noblemen were considered to fill Raspe’s shoes, but the anti-king crown fell to the young Count William of Holland.  In April of 1248, Holland sieged Aachen, the place where German kings were traditionally crowned.  It took six months for Aachen to fall, but when it did, it was the Archbishop of Cologne, not the Pope, who placed the crown on William’s head.

Konrad von Hochstaden’s faithful service to Pope Innocent was reward with the position of Apostolic legate in Germany, but Hochstaden reached higher.  He secretly encouraged the people of Mainz to ask the pope to make him their new archbishop.  This would make Konrad a double-prince elector since the Archbishop of Mainz also gets to vote on who becomes king.  The pope gently denied Konrad the position, which caused Konrad to turn against the pope.  The apostolic legation was taken from Konrad.  Konrad turned from King William of Holland, as well and used every means necessary to dethrone him.  He probably would have succeeded if William hadn’t died first.

After the death of King William, it was time for Konrad to find another king.  His vote fell to Richard of Cornwall, brother to King Henry III of England.  In trade for his support, Konrad was gifted full imperial authority over his principalities and the right to name bishops in Richard’s stead.  Konrad von Hochstaden died four years later.  Ironically, his remains lie in the Cathedral of the city where he was most hated: Cologne.

I hope you enjoyed this article on Konrad von Hochstaden.  Hochstaden plays a key role in my medieval fiction series, The Fairytale Keeper.  This article is a part of a series on real historical figures from the time period who appear in The Fairytale Keeper series.  As promised, here is that vile statue of Konrad von Hochstaden.



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.

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