Once a group of medieval Frank states, at the time these coins were minted, France as we know it was being formed and solidified under a united kingdom, and the Gold Royal Ecu d’or and Silver Guenar were becoming the accepted standard in the united France. From the earliest days of a united France, to the birth of the Renaissance, these coins were minted at a place and time which would play a large part in creating the world we live in today.
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!
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 Guenar. In the quadrants of the cross are the fleur de lis and the royal crown. While we are used to associating the fleur de lis with France, this expression of the famous symbol is meant to remind viewers of the Godhead. The words around the cross are in Latin, and say SIT NOME DNI BENEDICTV: the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed.
The Coat of Arms of France with the legend KAROLVS FRANCORV REX: Charles, by the Grace of God, King of the Francs.
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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