Monday, May 30, 2011

The Birth of Money

During the 12th century in England money gradually came into use. It replaced the system of barter or payment in kind which had been prevalent up to that point. The only currency in circulation at the time was the silver penny.

These days everyone takes the presence of money for granted and whilst a small number of people will sometimes wonder what is was like before money arrived, even fewer will start to think about the birth of money and what it meant.

We know that the Romans used coins as a central part of their economy but once they left Britain around 400 AD the use of coins declined and barter once again came to the fore.

It was back in 1168 when silver ore was discovered at Christiansdorf (modern day Freiburg) and this sparked the silver equivalent of a gold rush. The silver coins started to spread across Europe and these are some of the changes it brought with it:

1. Wealthy families could now move into the cities as they could collect rent as coins whilst previously this would have been "paid" as goods or services.

2. Armies could be funded with money. Previously they were motivated by feudal obligations.

3. Poor serfs could, in theory, buy their way out of bondage for the first time.

4. Those who relied upon generosity and charity such as monks, wandering scholars and troubadours suddenly found themselves in competition with people who could pay for their lodgings for the first time. Offering service in return for a bed was no longer good enough!

5. Cities and towns started to develop their independence. Witness the old German proverb "Stadt luft macht frei" or "town air makes free".The Hanseatic League was founded in 1159.

6. The ability to live in growing cities and to pay for your upkeep helped lay the foundation for the first Universities in Paris, Oxford and Bologna.

7. Holidays were introduced. Under the feudal system there was no spare time. You owed work hours to your liege lord. With money this changed.

8. The great medieval cathedrals and bridges were paid for in currency.

9. Without coins how could the crusaders have paid their way across Europe en route to the Holy land.

10. All this helped to fuel the golden age of the 12th century.

Lets also look at some of the economic issues here ...

1. An early tradition was to replace the coins every 3 or 4 years. Typically the number you handed in was always more than you got back. So this encouraged people to spend and not hoard their money.

2.Imagine the world of the 12th century renaissance, with its wealth and growing prosperity.
Into this world came Richard 1st. A lot of what he achieved or was involved in was impossible without coins. Coins paid for the 3rd crusade and when he was captured the ransom was paid with coins. It has also been postulated that the collection of the ransom money effectively took money away from Britain and prevented the rapid inflation which should have accompanied the economic growth of those years.

In conclusion let us quote T S Elliot ...

"Between the idea and the action falls the shadow"

Here the shadow is the birth of money taking us from the old world into the full glory of 14th century renaissance.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Medieval Architecture - Medieval Castles

Medieval castles seem to fascinate people regardless of their age, from children to adults. If you visit a medieval castle this is plain to see when you look at other visitors around you. So what is it that makes medieval castles so appealing?

There is more than one answer of course because it depends upon the castle in question. For example:
  • it might be a castle reputed to be haunted;
  • it might be a castle where some famous siege or battle took place;
  • it might be a castle where someone particularly famous lived or died;
  • it might be a castle renowned for its architecture;
One thing we enjoy when we visit a medieval castle - whether it is still intact or just ruins - is that it is tangible history. You can walk up to the castle walls, touch them and think of the many centuries that have passed since the day the mortar was set between the stones.

View a short video clip we made of medieval castle stonework close up and just feel the history!

Read more about medieval castle architecture

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

King Richard I - A Medieval King's Gamble

We are always interested to read good books on medieval history with medieval castles and medieval kings and queens being our preferred subjects.

David Boyle's book, Blondel's Song tells the story of King Richard 1st, his part in the 3rd Crusade and his subsequent capture and ransom. There are many interesting angles to this story but throughout the telling one thing stands out. Richard led from the front and took risks beyond those expected of a king. Whether it was storming ashore at Cyprus or desperately seeking a way home during the winter of 1192 there were many points where the history of this extraordinary man and to some extent the future of England could have taken a completely different turn.

A gambling man might well have advised Richard that taking risk after risk was no way to run a kingdom. He only had to lose once and the results would be dire. This happened with his capture and ransom and then, as if he had not learned anything, again at Chalus-Chabrol where he was wounded and subsequently died whilst attacking a relatively insignificant medieval castle.


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