The coins of late medieval France are a stunning combination of classical imagery and art combined with the intricate medieval letter-forms that are at once incredibly complex and easily read… once you train your eye to them!
Small caches of these and other "Frankish" silver coins have been found along the crusader and pilgrims trails to the Holy Land. The coins in our collection were part of a hoard discovered along the Pilgrim Trail many years ago. They had been in a private collection until we acquired them. These coins were used by one of the crusading knights (see: Templar Knights below) or pilgrims, and amazingly, they have survived to tell us their story.
The Frankish states, and united France, were Christian kingdoms. Like their neighbors, the French chose to celebrate and honor their faith on their coins – the designs and words on these coins were meant to serve as daily reminders of the source of true wealth.
A cross with squared terminals is called a Cross Pattee - and that is the cross you see featured on the Gros Tournois. The words around the cross are in Latin, and say: PHILIPPVS REX: King Philippe, and on the outer circle BNDICTV: SIT: NOmE: DNI: nRI: DEI: IhV: XPI: "the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed."
The cathedral at the center is topped by a cross and surrounded by the legend: TVRONVS' CIVIS: City of Tours. The outer circles is comprised of twelve fleur de lis within arches.
We are often asked this question... and it's a good one! This Gros Tournois coin is one of them. The Knights Templar were initially created to protect pilgrims traveling back and forth from Europe to Jerusalem. This type of coin most certainly would have been in their pouches. An amazing survivor of the Pilgrim Trails of the Holy Land.
Each one of these precious survivors is a work of art in its own right. Long lost, each has been rediscovered and has emerged from our Conservation Lab where it has been stabilized and conserved for generations to cherish.
How Your Medieval French Coin Came to Be
To understand where these beautiful French coins came from, you have to go back a few hundred years… to someone you’ve heard of: Charlemagne (768-814)! Also called Charles the Great, and sometimes the “Father of Europe,” Charlemagne was King of the Franks, which region became known as the Carolingian Empire. In just a few short years, he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire, and laid the foundations for modern France and Germany. It was Charlemagne, together with an English counterpart, who created the medieval hand-hammered silver penny. The standard coin of what we call the “Dark Ages” the silver penny became a widespread currency, but it was often “debased” (the practice of making the coins with less silver than usual) and of unreliable value. And then, as centuries passed, the world began to change – by the 1300s the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration were beginning to dawn, trade was expanding, and Europe needed larger coins of reliable purity. New sources of silver and gold were discovered, and the creation of hand-hammered currency blossomed into the large, exquisite coins of late medieval France you see pictured here.
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