Tag Archives: Medieval Germany

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.

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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/

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.

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.)