Tag Archives: Medieval

The Fairytale Keeper Cover

An Excerpt from Chapter Three of The Fairytale Keeper

This excerpt comes from the first novel in The Fairytale Keeper series. The night before, Adelaide’s father Ansel was forced to bury his wife after her funeral had gone terribly wrong. He hasn’t returned. Though Adelaide’s determined to find him, she’ll need a little help. If you’d like to read more, The Fairytale Keeper, and its sequel, The Countess’ Captive are available on Amazon.

12 March 1247

With Galadriel gone, and no other significant distractions available, my mind wanders back to worry.

I wonder how long Father has been gone. The bells had struck Compline as our carriage stopped at the house last night. For the funeral, we had left after midday—sometime between None and Vespers. The Vesper bells chimed as we made our way back to the city, and the sun set just as we reached the safety of its walls.

I have never dug a grave before and haven’t the slightest idea how long it takes. The ground is still hard from winter, so it was certainly no light task. The funeral itself took half the daylight hours, so a burial should not have taken all night. Should it?

The sun is up, so it is far past Prime. I don’t know when Father should have come home exactly—sometime between Nocturn and Matins perhaps. Either way, he should have returned by now. Fear quickens my heart.

He could be at the market, I try to convince myself, though I envision packs of wolves and bands of thieves again, stalking Father through the mist. I see him shivering with blue lips in his drenched clothing, freezing and alone in the cold of night. I curse myself for letting him go. I should have followed him. Why didn’t I follow him?

Surely time enough has passed since we returned to our beds, and Galadriel is either asleep or close to it.

I dip the ends of a rag into the water basin and quickly scrub my face. I sloppily braid my tangled hair, toss my surcote on over my chainse, grab my cloak and… DONG! I jump. The bells toll. I hang my head out of the window and count each ring. They are the Sext bells. My heart sinks. Father has been gone for three-quarters of a day.

On tip toe, I skirt into the solar and over to the ladder that leads to my bedchamber. Surely Galadriel sleeps, for not a sound comes from above. I sneak down to Father’s shop. I should at least leave a note, so in case she does wake, she doesn’t come looking for me. I whirl about, looking for the wax tablet Mama used to track orders. I find it, shake my head at the long list of orders we’ve yet to complete, and scrawl a quick note to Galadriel in the wax below the list of orders. I hope she can read.

Perhaps, Erik, Ivo’s Father, knows where my father is. If not, two sets of eyes are better than one, so I decide to ask Ivo and perhaps his younger brother Levi to aid me in my search. But would they be home or outside the gates in the fields?

I whip my cloak over my shoulders, draw up the hood, and slip out the door. I hasten down Filzengraben, hoping to go unrecognized. It is less crowded than I expect. I suppose most of the city’s people are laboring in the fields, selling their wares at the market, or making purchases there.

Foller Strasse leads me past a number of row houses. It’s empty as usual for this time of day, and I fear Ivo’s house will be empty, too. Biting my lip, I knock on his door. No one answers.

I hasten past the houses to the stone wall surrounding the DeBelle Manor and climb its thick vines. With the exception of a few villeins, the DeBelle Manor field is vacant. I drop from the wall and utter a curse. Erik is less likely to let me borrow Ivo if heavy work must be done.

The villeins spread manure and plough the fields this time each year, so it is most likely they’re far outside the city wall. I take a small alley toward Severin’s Strasse. Its narrowness makes the row house seem so much taller than they are. Being so closed in makes me uneasy, but the road is short, and I am onto the wide road of Severin’s Strasse soon enough.

I pass St. Catherine’s church and then St. Severin’s. The gate splays open, and the daytime guard—who flirts with a pretty young maid who looks quite bored with him—doesn’t give me  a second look. Once beyond the gate, I lift my cloak and skirts and run between the fields in search of Ivo or anyone who might know where he is.

Not a half-furlong into my journey, my toe catches, and I surge forward, falling. The ground comes up to meet me. My left arm breaks the fall, catching on a sharp rock. The pain is searing as it tears through linen and into flesh.

A child’s laughter echoes from nearby. His mother slaps the back of his head, and the boy is back to work, but not before a dozen serfs and villeins turn their attention to me. My cheeks flush hotly in embarrassment, but their pause gives me time to ask of Ivo’s whereabouts. They point south.

I watch the blood drip down my hand, surprised that the wound neither throbs nor stings. Can I thank worry or the numbness of grief for this reprieve? I wonder. Then I shake the useless thought from my head and keep running.

I’ve passed another furlong when I catch sight of Erik’s red hair, blazing like a coppery beacon in the sun. Panting, I jog the next half to reach them.

Greta steers a plough as Levi whips the oxen. Erik steers a second plow and Ivo whips. I catch myself chewing my lip, afraid to request Ivo for the afternoon. Plowing is grueling, and his absence shall make the day even more difficult.

I fold my cloak over my dripping wound, and hike through the lumps of dirt. My legs tremble as they adjust to the slower pace. Levi turns. He drops the whip and runs for me, crashing into me so hard I nearly topple into the mire. He squeezes me around the waist and squints up into my face. I wrap my uninjured hand around him and force a smile.

“I’m sorry about your Mama, Addie,” he says.

I brush the flaxen hair from his dark brown eyes. “Thank you,” I say, and he hugs me tighter. “You’ll squeeze the life out of me, Levi. How did you get so strong?”

“From my Papa…and from working the fields. Papa says it puts hair on a man’s chest.” His brow furrows for a moment. “Papa must work harder than most men, for he has hair on his arms and back, too. Mama says she could shear him and make mantles.” I give a sniff of laughter at that. He smiles brightly and gestures to the whip he left in the mud. “Look, Father is letting me whip the oxen this year!”

“Really? I can hardly believe how grown you are,” I say, and he grins again before racing back to his whip.

Erik drops his plow and heads toward me. Sweat beads across his pink forehead, and the large muscles in his arms bulge under his sodden ivory tunic. Empathy has softened the normal severity of his face.

Greta follows, her face also sweaty and softened. Dark blonde hairs stick to her forehead. The muck comes halfway up to her knees. Some might pity her for being so short or mistakenly judge her sweet by the looks of her, but they’d be wrong. Greta is every bit as tough as Erik.

Ivo strides between his parents. His lips twist and blue eyes brim with pity. At the sight of him my numbness flees, tears form, and my arm throbs.  I swallow the desire to race into his arms, to be vulnerable, to cry. With everyone else I try to be strong. With Ivo, I don’t have to be anything.

Levi hastens between them all, whip in hand. Their eyes are downcast, with the exception of Levi, and no one speaks. The silence makes me uncomfortable, and I wonder if I should say something.

“Your mother was a good woman,” Greta says. They nod collectively. “I shall pray for her soul, but I do not doubt the Lord has called her home.”

“Thank you,” I reply.

“How fares your Father?” asks Erik.

“I don’t know,” I choke. “I haven’t seen him since the funeral. I thought, perhaps…that perhaps… Have you seen him?”

Erik looks at me, his eyebrows raise. He shoots Greta a stern look. With a gruff jut of his chin, she and Levi return to her plough without another word. Erik pulls Ivo aside, and they share heated whispers. Ivo steps back angrily as his father speaks. He shakes his head, and his hands ball into fists. His father grabs him by the shoulders, and Ivo softens, casting his eyes downward again and nodding his head. They turn to look at me, neither of them smiling.

Erik returns to his plough, and Levi stands between his parents, whipping his father’s ox and then his mother’s. Ivo takes a step toward me, and I surge into him. He sweeps the hair from my face as I cry into his shoulder. He rubs my back as it rolls with sobs, but he does not tell me all will be well or that my mother was such an angel that it was just for God to take her. He says nothing at all.

“Something horrible… has happened,” I utter between sobs.

Ivo tenses. “Soren’s a half-pig, son of hog-shivving bastard.”

I break his grip on me, taken aback. His vulgarity is so…fluent. It shocks me despite my own loathing for the priest.

“He defiled your mother,” Ivo defends, “and left you outside the gates at night! A girl was slit from ear-to-ear outside of the Weier Gate only weeks ago.”

Behind a blink, I see Father face up in the brook, his throat slashed. It wrings my stomach. But something else Ivo said jars me from worry. How does he know what happened at the funeral?

“How do you know all this?” I ask.

“One of the dyers. She found the girl floating in the stream.”

“No. Not that.” I shake my head. “How do you know what happened at the funeral?”

“Father just told me.”

“How does he know?” I grip Ivo’s arms.

He knits his blond eyebrows, confused. “Your father told him last night.”

“When? Do you know where he is?”

“I don’t know where he is now, but I know he was at the Gilded Gopher last night.”

“When? What time? Was the hour nearer Compline or Nocturn or Matins?”

“I don’t know.”

I tremble with anger. Father let me worry all night and day for him while he was drinking himself into a stupor at the Gilded Gopher.

The Gilded Gopher, I think angrily. Its very name is a jape. From what I overheard Mama say of it, it is far from being gilded. It is a filthy pit that serves cheap ale and the company of fallen women. And, though it is a vile place, its members are all carefully selected. All members must agree before inviting a new man in, and only the most trustworthy are allowed. Membership is seen as a privilege.

“We have to ask your father where the Gilded Gopher is,” I say. “Father might still be there, or perhaps someone there knows where he is now.”

Ivo stares at the ground and scrunches his lips to the side.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I know where the Gilded Gopher is—”

“You do? Let’s go.” I yank him by the arm, but he pulls back.

“I can’t take you there.”

“Ivo, I know the rules, but this is different. I am not an angry wife going to drag her drunkard husband out by his ear. My father is missing! I have to find him.”

Ivo huffs. “My Father’ll have my hide for this.”

“Then take me as far as you can, and you can fetch him or find out where he is,” I say. He nods, and we step out of the mired fields and onto the road that leads back to the city. “Since when do you know where the Gilded Gopher is?”

“They voted me in a month ago,” he says.

It angers me to think of my Ivo inside the walls of the Gilded Gopher, his eyes lax from drink, harlots wrapping their arms about his shoulders, urging him to abandon his coin and morals for a few moments pleasure. I shake the thought from my head.

As Severin’s Gate approaches, I lift my hood, an effort to hide my face, for I do not want anyone to recognize me and offer their pity. The cloth from my cloak has stuck to the gash, and as I lift my arms it pulls at the wound. I wince, and Ivo’s eye catch on my blood-stained fingers.

He grabs my hand and shoves the sleeve of my cloak up to my shoulder, revealing the gash.

“What is this? What happened to your arm?”

I rip my hand from his and push the sleeve back down.

“It looks worse than it is. I fell on my way through the fields.”

“It needs to be bandaged.”

“After we go to the Gilded Gopher. We can stop at my house, and I shall bandage it there.”

He reaches for my arm again, and I pull away. He huffs and shakes his head at my stubbornness.

He doesn’t understand. If he’d lost his mother and his father was missing, he’d see that mending a cut is the least of my concerns. Still, we walk the rest of the way in strained silence.

The road is quiet. I had assumed the Gilded Gopher would be closer to Hay Market or on Harlot’s Alley, but we venture to the outskirts of the city near Pantaleon’s Parish. The walk gives me pause to think of what I shall say to Father when I finally find him.

I should like to scream at him for letting me worry. Then, I think, what if Father is not there? The guilt and worry converge at my throat. If I am not grateful for the parent I have left, God may take him from me. I say a quick prayer of contrition and tell the Lord I shall be forever grateful if He returns Father to me.

My legs start to quiver beneath me, and I grab Ivo’s shoulder to keep from falling. I should have eaten more than a few bites of bread.

“I stumbled,” I lie. I am weary from hunger, I convince myself, and we keep walking.

My head swims, and I stagger toward the city wall in case I need to grasp it for support. A small red stream winds its way down my middle finger, trickling slowly to the ground. My wound has reopened. Heat drains from my face as everything spirals. My legs shake violently, and I reach for the wall, sliding down it to the ground.

I hear my name, and I see a face. Ivo. My cheek stings as he slaps me.

“Addie! Wake up, Addie!” he shouts and then huffs. “You are worse than the oxen. You know that?”

“Stop hitting me,” I mumble. My eyelids bounce heavily, and I fight the urge to close them. Ivo rips the strings that tie my cloak and throws it aside. He tears off his mantle and lifts his tunic. “What are you doing?” I groan.

He pulls a knife from his belt and slices a strip from the linen undershirt beneath. It is slightly translucent with the sun behind him and riddled with holes. I notice a large golden bruise through a tear at the waist.

“I’m binding the wound.” He shoves my blood-soaked sleeve past my shoulder and ties the fabric painfully tight around my gash. I cry out as the knot pinches my skin. “It will stop the bleeding, but it has to be tight.”

He sighs and checks the wound. The blood, thick and warm, seeps through. “Not tight enough,” he says, rebinding the linen. He yanks it with all his strength, and the world goes black.

U

People are yelling, one belligerently.

“What is wrong with you boy?” gripes an unfamiliar voice. Erik’ll hear of this! His no-good son bringing a respectable girl here…”

“Ay! I’ma respectable woman, you stupid ’oreson!” a rough-voiced woman roars as she slaps the complainant with a loud thwap.

“What are you doing? Oh, no. Get her off the bar!”

“She’s Ansel’s daughter,” Ivo protests. “Would you have me leave her in the street?”

“Let ’er stay, Paul,” the woman orders, gruffly.

“Egh!” the man huffs, forfeiting the argument.

“God’s teeth, Ivo? What happened?” I recognize Father’s voice immediately. The relief of knowing he is here and safe makes it easy to breathe again.

“She fell, looking for you,” Ivo barks.

“Mind your tone, boy,” Father warns.

“He will,” Sal says, “or he can get the ‘ell outta my tavern.”

A sigh sounds. “Ansel had a rough night, Ivo.”

“I can tell by the smell of him,” Ivo snaps.

SWOOSH! A cold rush hits my face. I gasp and awake, soaked from head to toe with icy water. I look around, dazed, and nearly fall off the bar.

“See, she’s all right. Now ya can stop yer fightin’ and get the out. If ya don’, I got plenty a’ more cold water fer ya’s. Ansel, ya look like ya could use some.” I look to my left, and Paul’s wife, Sal, limps back to the kitchen with the empty bucket in hand.

Father holds his hands up in surrender, stumbling backward. “Alright, alright, Sal.”

Paul stands between Father and Ivo as though the two are going to fight. Though I doubt my Father can stand, much less land a punch.

“It’s just a cut,” Sal says. The wound is suddenly ice cold and then it sears. Sal dribbles a red liquid over the bandage. I grit my teeth and the sting quickly fades, but the stench burns in my eyes and nose. “A bit ‘a vinegar will keep it clean,” Sal says as she marches back to the kitchen. “She’s probly jus’ ’ungry. ’Ere, eat some meat on yer way ’ome.” She returns with a chicken leg, slamming it onto the bar in front of me. She grins, her crooked teeth hanging out of her face like thatch from a rooftop. I thank her and eat, feeling my strength return. Ivo reaches for my good arm, but I pass him and jump into Father’s arms, gripping him tightly.

“‘Ay, Ansel! Can yer girl keep a secret or do I need t’ knock ‘er out? I don’ wan’ the ’ole city knowin’ ’bout this place.” Sal peaks around the corner of the kitchen. Father looks down, wraps his arm around me, and I nod my head. “Good,” Sal says.

“You scared me,” I say.

Father gives an off-handed shrug. “It is late, I suppose.”

“Late?! It’s well past Sext!” I cry, but Father says nothing. He’s not the type of man to give apologies. He changes the topic instead.

“I think the pup wants a piece of the wolf!” Father laughs, wrapping an arm around Ivo and slapping his chest. Ivo grimaces. “See, she’s all right, boy. She worries too much, like her…” Mother is what he doesn’t say.

“You could have told her where you’d be,” Ivo says.

He kisses the top of my head. Father is always his most affectionate and jovial self after a few drinks. “Is it a surprise to either of you that you found me here?”

Before we leave, I look around and realize I am probably the only virtuous woman besides Sal to see the inside of the Gilded Gopher. There truly is nothing gilded about it. The stench of sweaty men and stale ale fills the windowless pub. Stained wooden tables and benches are packed into tight rows. Candles provide the only light.

We climb the stairs, and a woman passes us holding her tattered dress to her bosom. Dark circles encompass her unseeing eyes. My eyes avert to the wood of the stairs.

I knew such business took place here. She has sold herself, and I wonder what happened to make her so desperate. Daylight blinds me for a moment at the top of the stairs. A child lies on a pile of straw by the fire in the corner of the room. Perhaps this woman’s husband died of fever, and she has a child to feed. Perhaps she was the concubine of a burgher who promised he’d marry her, but never intended to do so. I promise myself I shall never turn to such an abase business, but surely this woman had promised herself the same at some point in her life.

I bet this girl’s parents had hopes for her once, however meager. I wonder if her parents deny her now, shamed by her trade. Better that they died before she made the bed she now lies in. I shall never put myself in such a position. I shall never give myself to a man before wedlock.

We walk silently. Ivo’s narrowed eyes stare forward. He has become hard to read. He used to be so much like little Levi, so jovial and always wearing his heart like it was a coat of arms. Some count a man by his years or trade, but it’s not age that makes us grown, it’s surviving the tragedies. The fever has worn on those of us old enough to understand it and especially those of us who have lost a family member or friend.

Perhaps he is angry with me for being stubborn or with Father for letting me worry so. We make it to my house, and Father lumbers into his workshop.

Ivo turns to head back to the fields. I reach for his arm.

“Wait,” I plead.

“I need to get back to the fields.” His reply is curt.

“I hate it when you’re angry.” I reach clumsily for his hand.

“He should have come back to tell you where he was.” He reaches out for my other hand. I wrap my fingers around it and smile.

His lips curve into a half-smile. “Did you get the fireflies?”

“I did, and the bread. Thank you, Ivo.”

He nods. “I saw it outside my window, and in the middle of March, no less.”

I shake my head and smile.

His grip on my fingers tightens. “Do you think we’ll catch more of them this summer?”

“Are you sure you’d not rather spend your nights at the Gilded Gopher?”

He laughs. “Of that…I am sure.”

“Then we can catch fireflies all night long. I owe Father a good scare.”

I’m glad to know that he’s not fond of the Gilded Gopher and the base entertainment it holds. He turns and heads back to the fields. I want to inquire about his bruises, but there seems no good way to ask. I return home to an angry Galadriel and a Father who is passed out at his workbench.

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

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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

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)

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.

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Further Reading and Sources:

Star Crossed Lovers Week: Listen to the Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Listen to the Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard

Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise and Abelard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must admit that I’ve become swept up into the great romance between Heloise and Abelard. And so, for day three of Star-Crossed Lovers Week, I am happy to link to the reading of their letters. So if you are as enamored by these love letters as I am, click the links below.  The first is a link to a theatrical reading of the letters.  The second is a clip from the movie Stealing Heaven, about the famous love affair.

 

 

All This Month: Love in the Middle Ages

Eloisa e abelardo framed

Eloisa e abelardo framed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rolling with the romance that February brings, this month’s posts will fall under the theme of “Love in the Middle Ages”.  Each week, I’ll take on a different topic.  Not only will I be writing about love, I’ll be spreading some, too.  Each week, every person who goes to and likes my official Facebook fan page will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of The Fairytale Keeper.

So what is the topic for week one you ask??  Drum roll, please…Star-Crossed Lover’s Week!