Tag Archives: Medieval History

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

3448099214_b213b3c6ff_m

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.

Sources:
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

Advertisements

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

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 early next year.  She regularly posts about Medieval history on Facebook and Twitter.
 
 
 
 
The Coins of Medieval England

Medieval coinsI began researching Medieval coinage of the Holy Roman Empire–especially in the area that would become Germany–for my Medieval fiction series. It was a far more complex topic than I anticipated. The coinage went from simple and organized in the ninth century–with Charlemagne’s  declaration that a penny would be 1/240th of a pound of silver—to complex by the thirteenth century. (I’ve written an article entitled Inventing the Penny: Charlemagne’s Lost Effort at a Standard Currency that delves into this.)

For my purposes, I wanted to know what German coins were worth and what a person living in thirteenth century Cologne could buy with them. I thought developing a better understanding of the English coins might help me since I would be using Hodge’s List of prices—a list of Medieval items and their prices along with dates of purchase—to determine this. Below is table containing England’s Medieval coins, the year they were established, and their value.

Image Coin Name Established Value
farthingEnglish Medieval Farthing

1377-1399

Richard II

Farthing

(1/4d)

1216 1/4 of a silver penny
halfpennyEnglish Medieval Halfpenny

1399-1412

Henry IV

Halfpenny

(1/2d)

1100s 1/2 of a silver penny
English Medieval Penny English Medieval Penny

1199 – 1216

King John

Silver Penny

(d)

800s 1/20 of a schilling or…

1/240th of a pound of silver

groatEnglish Medieval Groat

1327-1377

Edward III

Silver Groat

(4d)

1200s 4 silver pennies or…

1/3 of a schilling

During the Middle Ages, the schilling was a unit of account. People didn’t carry schillings in their purses. Schilling

(s)

N/A 12 silver pennies
quarter nobleEnglish Medieval Quarter Noble

1327-1377

Edward III

Quarter Noble

(1s 8d)

Mid 1300s 20 pennies or…

1 schilling and 8 pennies

half nobleEnglish Medieval Half Noble

1399-1412

Henry IV

Half Noble

(3s 4d)

1351 40 pennies or…

3 schillings and 4 pennies or…

1/6 of a pound

Edward_III_nobleEnglish Medieval Noble

1354-1355

Edward III

Noble (6s 8d) Mid 1300s 80 pennies or…

6 schillings and 8 pennies or…

1/3 of a pound

During the Middle Ages, the mark was a unit of account. The English didn’t carry marks in their purses. Mark N/A 160 pennies or…

1/2 of a pound

During the Middle Ages, the pound was a unit of account. People didn’t carry pounds in their purses. Pound (£) N/A 240 pennies

60 groats

20 schillings

6 Half Nobles

3 Nobles

2 Marks

Sources:
Banks and Money.” Currency and Banking in the Late Middle Ages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.
Brooke, Christopher Nugent Lawrence. Europe in the Central Middle Ages: 962-1154. Harlow: Longman, 2000. Print.
Cavendish, Richard. “The Farthing’s Last Day.” History Today. History Today Volume: 60 Issue: 12, 2010. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
“Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe.” Medieval Coin Denominations of Europe. 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, 2010. Print.
 
Images:
http://finds.org.uk/medievalcoins/types/type/id/2136
http://www.coins-of-the-uk.co.uk/halfp.html
http://www.timelineauctions.com/lot/richard-ii-london-farthing/1977/
http://www.calgarycoin.com/medieval3.htm
https://www.yorkcoins.com/h1350_-_edward_iii_(1327-1377),_gold_quarter_noble.htm
https://www.yorkcoins.com/h1350_-_edward_iii_(1327-1377),_gold_quarter_noble.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_(English_coin)

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

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.

Emperor Frederick II and His Scientific Pursuits

Frederick II’s Scientific Pursuits

Frederick II and his falcon. From his book De ...

Frederick II and his falcon. From his book De arte venandi cum avibus (The art of hunting with birds). From a manuscript in Biblioteca Vaticana, Pal. lat 1071), late 13th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As stated in my previous articles, Frederick studied many of the subjects that interested Aristotle, but it seemed that Frederick was especially interested in astronomy, astrology, geography, zoology, medicine, and human anatomy.   Piero della Vigna, a member of the Sicilian school of poets, remarked that Frederick had friars forming maps into globes, tracking the sun’s course through the zodiac, squaring circles, and converting triangles into quadrilaterals.  As discussed previously, Frederick sent questions of astronomy and astrology to the sultans of the east, gaining two astronomers for his own court and a planetarium for his collection.  Frederick was also interested in medicine and human anatomy.  Of particular interest to Frederick was the hygiene of crusading armies.  The correlation between hygiene and disease prevention was unknown at the time.  In fact, Frederick’s insistence on a Sunday bath was outright scandalous.  Frederick’s first crusade was stalled when Frederick fell sick.  Some hypothesize that the illness was faked because Frederick did not want to go, but his interest in disease prevention leads me to believe that he actually became very ill, so ill that he was inspired to find out how to keep crusading armies safe from disease.    Somehow Frederick made the connection between hygiene and the spread of disease.  In 1227, Adam, chanter of Cremona wrote a treatise on the hygiene of crusading armies and dedicated it to the emperor.  Theodore also examined the subject of hygiene.   Frederick also paid careful attention to his own hygiene in terms of bathing and bloodletting.

It could easily be argued that Frederick’s love of zoology, especially the study of hunting with falcons, surpassed his love of any other subject.  In 1231, Frederick brought a menagerie of animals unknown to most Italians including elephants, dromedaries, camels, panthers, gerfalcons, lions, leopards, white falcons, and bearded owl.  Five years prior, he took a similar collection to Parma. In 1245, during Frederick’s travels, the monks of Santo Zeon not only kept Frederick and his entourage, they also had to accommodate an elephant, five leopards, and the 24 camels that Frederick used when crossing the Swiss Alps.  His menagerie wowed the untraveled population of Germany, of which Frederick was the first person to bring a giraffe.

Frederick particularly enjoyed studying birds and horses, possibly inspired by his love of hunting.  He was well versed in Aristotle’s De Animalibus, which he utilized when composing his treatise on ornathology called De Arte Venandi cum Anivabis, which studies the anatomy and behavior of birds .  Frederick also commissioned a volume on the treatment of ailments afflicting horses.  It was very popular and translated into a variety of languages.

Frederick II’s Strange Experiments

13th century anatomical illustration showing t...

13th century anatomical illustration showing the circulation of blood. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As mentioned earlier, Frederick was interested in the workings of the human body and unafraid to conduct unethical experiments to see if his hypotheses were true.  On one occasion, Frederick invited two men to dinner, feeding them very well.  He took on one the hunt and had the other sent to bed.  Both men were murdered and then disemboweled so Frederick could determine if digestion was better aided by exercise or rest.  His examiner determined that the man who had napped, digested his meal better.

Frederick also took an interest in linguistics.  Frederick sought to discover the natural language that children would speak, and hoped that in doing so he would discover the language Adam and Eve used when talking with God.  In order to discover this, Frederick took a group of infants from nearby orphanages and had them raised by nurses who never held or spoke with the children.  According to Slimbene Di Adam who recorded the experiments in his treatise  entitled  Chronicles, the infants were nursed, kept warm, and bathed, but never spoken to.  The hypotheses ranged from Greek to Hebreow, and Latin to the language of God.  Unfortunately for Frederick and these poor children, None of them ever spoke and not a single child lived past the age of two.