Friday, October 4, 2013
Silver and gold in the Middle Ages
By guest blogger Joyce DiPastena
When I wrote my first published novel, Loyalty’s Web, I had few resources to help me understand the monetary system of Western Europe in the 12th Century. The internet wasn’t widely available when I wrote my first draft. I thought it made perfect sense that the upper classes, like royalty, would have coffers and coffers filled with gold coins, so I put gold coins into my draft and didn’t look back. Loyalty’s Web was first published in 2007 (years after that draft was actually written) and no one ever called me on the gold coins in the story.
This year, I have been focused on a rewrite of an even older story of mine called The Lady and the Minstrel. In a new scene that I wrote for the book, I wanted to contrast an English gold coin with a French gold coin in the early 13th Century. This time I had easy access to internet research, so onto the internet I hopped. And what, to my dismay, did I discover? Gold production took a nose dive along with the fall of the Roman Empire! While gold continued to be used in small amounts like jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, and even embroidery thread for the rich, when it came to money, silver ruled the day during the Early and High Middle Ages. (Roughly the 8th-13th Centuries.)
To the right is a gold coin I thought they would have used. Oops! No! Very, very rare! And a later century.
The first significant gold mine in medieval Western Europe wasn’t established until around 1320 in Slovakia. And it took the discovery of additional gold deposits to begin mining enough gold to mint coins in any kind of sizeable numbers.
The first thing I did upon learning this was to go through The Lady and the Minstrel and change all my gold coins to silver ones. I also received the publishing rights back to Loyalty’s Web this summer and am planning to republish it soon. But not before I do a find/replace search to change all the gold coins in that story to silver ones, too!
So when you write your medieval novel, don’t make my mistake. Give your characters silver coins from the beginning and keep the gold for fripperies like jewelry and embroidery threads!
Joyce DiPastena is a multi-published, multi-award winning author who specializes in sweet medieval romances spiced with mystery and adventure. Her most recent medieval novella, A Candlelight Courting: A Short Christmas Romance, won a first honorable mention RONE Award by InD’Tale Magazine. Visit her website at www.joyce-dipastena.com and follow more of her medieval research on Medieval Research with Joyce at http://medievalresearch.blogspot.com.