Featured The Counts of Sancerre: knights, crusaders, administrators.

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by seth77, Sep 4, 2017.

  1. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    At the death of Thibaut IV de Blois, Count of Blois, Champagne and Brie in 1152, Sancerre became the inheritance for Thibaut's third son Etienne, who in turn became count of a rather small territory carved from the de Blois lands in the province of Berry. As brother of two of the most powerful barons of the realm -- Thibaut V de Blois and Henri II de Champagne -- Etienne became a key figure in the politics of both feudal France and the Holy Land.

    In the Histoire de Berry, Gaspard Thaumas de La Thaumassière calls Thibaut IV de Blois: "le Grand, le Liberal, le Pere du Conseil, le Tuteur des Pauvres & des Orfelines, grand Justicier, Comte Palatin de Champagne & de Brie..."

    Etienne's rule as count was in the same vein as his father's, and was marked by social and economic development, a stable and strong monetary system -- visible from the quality of the billon and craftsmanship of the coins and by the standard kept in both flan size and weight -- the construction of a grand chateau to defend the capital city of Sancerre and many acts of charity and piety towards the local churches and abbeys, the craftsmen, the peasants, the traders (the 1155 privilege charter) and the people in need, many of them mentioned in the Histoire de Berry (pp. 417-419).

    The territories in yellow show the fiefs of the sons of Thibaut IV de Blois: Blois to Thibaut V, Champagne to Henri II and Sancerre to Etienne I.

    In 1169-1170, Etienne was invited to Jerusalem by a party of Holy Land prelates and knights in the name of King Amalric of Jerusalem, in a tentative by the Holy Land interests to have him marry Sibylla, the king's daughter, and become the heir to the throne of Jerusalem by jus uxoris. The tentative failed, but Etienne would remain a close ally to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When the call of Philip II and Richard Plantagenet for the Third Crusade under both Angevin and Capetian patronage arrived, Etienne froze his old conflict with the King of France and joined the crusader army.

    Before leaving for the Holy Land again at the beginning of 1190, Etienne I abolished serfdom throughout his whole county and offered generous donations to the Church and the families of his retinue of old Brabancons -- his soldiers -- and knights. He then joined his brothers Henri and Thibaut to the siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre in the summer of the same year, where he found his death that autumn either in battle or by the plague that had started in the Christian camp and would end up killing so many knights and Queen Sybilla. His brother Thibaut would soon follow him, dying from the plague in early 1191. They were buried as knights.

    The coinage of Sancerre between cca. 1150s and the 1250s is rather stable and steady, and is characterized by an interesting iconography: the obverse shows a head wearing a mithra or sometimes a crown and a dedication to Julius Caesar. The anonymous issues minted starting from the 1170s under the rule of Etienne and his heirs have dedications to Caesar on both obverse and reverse.
    The reason for this interesting and unique reference is probably due to the fact that the hill where Etienne had his chateau built was known in the area as the place of an ancient temple dedicated to the cult of Caesar.

    The coinage minted under the name of Etienne is exemplified here:


    and was probably minted before 1170 and or after 1180. These were around 19-20mm in diameter and around 1g in weight.

    Legends are:

    OBV: + IVLIVS CESAR; head wearing mithra to right, star behind it;
    REV: + STEPHANVS COME (in different type of ligatures, this one here has TE of STEPHANVS and ME of COME in ligature); Cross cantonnee with pellets in two of its quarters.

    Duplessy has these coins at #640 and Poey d'Avant notes something similar at #2001.

    The coin minted under the rule of Etienne but anonymously is exemplified here:

    and was probably minted around 1170 while and or after his first trip to the Holy Land. They are similar in billon, size and style to the previous issues and their legends are:

    OBV: + IVLIVS CESAR; head facing wearing mithra between 2 stars;
    REV: + SACRVM CESARI; Cross cantonnee, with S in first quadrant and C in forth quadrant (standing for Sancerre? or Stephanus Comes?)

    They are in Duplessy at #644 and in Poey d'Avant at #2009.

    At the news of the death of Etienne, the county was inherited by his son Guillaume as Guillaume I de Blois, Count of Sancerre, Seigneur de Saint-Brisson et La Ferté-Loupière. He followed the de Blois tradition for social and economic progress and liberal rule, which helped the city of Sancerre expand and diversify. By early 1200s Ville de Sancerre was an important civic and ecclesiastic center, guarded by the stronghold of the chateau which towered the surrounding area. After the death of his cousin Louis I de Blois at Adrianople in 1205, Guillaume became more inclined to support the effort to sustain the Holy Land and the newly acquired Latin Empire of Constantinople. Having close family connections to the House of Courtenai, Guillaume added his retinue and himself to the knights that journeyed alongside Pierre de Courtenai to Constantinople after his election as Latin Emperor in 1216. The journey was ill fated and in 1217 the party was captured by the Epirotes and sent as prisoners to Nicaea. By 1219 both Guillaume and Pierre were probably already dead.

    There are not many notes about the exploits of his son and heir Louis I de Sancerre, who ruled for 50 years as Count of Sancerre between 1217 and 1267.

    The coinage of the heirs of Etienne is anonymous and shows strong similarities to the coinage of the first count. These anonymous coins were probably minted between the 1190s and the 1230s in the same tradition and similar billon and craftsmanship as those of Etienne.

    They are exemplified here:

    and are rather scarce. The legends read:

    OBV: + IVLIVS CESAR (or similar); head wearing mithra to left, between a crescent in front and a star behind;
    REV: + SACRVM CESARIS; Cross cantonnée with stars in second and third quadrant.

    Duplessy has them at #647 and Boudeau at #305. They are not described by Poey d'Avant.

    Some more reading about the period and in general about the history of Berry one might find in de La Thaumassière's Histoire de Berry. About the circumstances and the context of the death of Etienne I, further reading with a bibliography can be found in my article about Guy de Lusignan and the siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre, here. About the outcome for Constantinople of the capture of Pierre de Courtenai and his entourage (of which Guillaume de Sancerre was part) in 1217 from a numismatic point of view, I wrote and provided a bibliography here.

    Hope you enjoyed this little popularisation post, if the format is successful I'll try to expand on it to add some more insights into European middle ages.

    FUN FACT: The chateau built by Etienne had a beacon placed on top of its Saint Georges Tower, which in times of turmoil, war or plague would burn each night, and which could be seen for a distance of around 40 kilometers. It's probably one of the influences for Tolkien's Beacons of Gondor.

    PS: Coins are from different auctions held by iNummis.
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2017
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Fantastic post. It was a very enjoyable read. thanks for posting this. I am getting more and more interested in coins of this period.
    seth77 likes this.
  4. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Thank you for your read!
  5. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Nice writeup and coins, Seth.
  6. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    I like it too. I'm getting deeper into the period so the post was relevant.
  7. Multatuli

    Multatuli Homo numismaticus

    Excellent post, @seth77! Very interesting, as well as the coins!
  8. mrbreeze

    mrbreeze Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the history.
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Very nice! And you beat me to it - I was planning on grabbing one of these coins in the near future...
  10. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    These particular examples were sold in 2010-2014 by iNumis and none of them to me. I know the coins of Sancerre can be scarce mostly the ones minted under Guillaume and Louis de Blois/Sancerre.
    I decided to write this post about the Counts of Sancerre because I have noticed that Etienne I was held to high esteem by his peers, in Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi and 500 years later by Gaspard Thaumas de La Thaumassière in his Histoire de Berry.

    Interestingly enough, de La Thaumassière was himself a numismatist and a historian of the medieval coutumes and laws, especially regarding land ownership and the rights and privileges of craftsmen and merchants.
    Jwt708, Curtisimo and FitzNigel like this.
  11. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for the really enjoyable read @seth77 With a dedication to Julius Caesar and connection to the 3rd crusade I am going to have to add a coin of Etienne to my medieval want list.

    RAGNAROK Naebody chaws me wi impunity

    Very nice writeup and very cool coins! Thanks!!
  13. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    If this doesn't bring a few ancients people into medieval, I don't know what will!
    RAGNAROK likes this.
  14. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    For who might be interested, the first two coins presented here are now available again on Auction 38 of iNumis.
    RAGNAROK likes this.
  15. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Thanks for the heads up @seth77 I will take a look.
  16. TheRed

    TheRed Supporter! Supporter

    There is also a coin of Etienne, the first variety @seth77 posted, available at CGB Numismatique (cgb.fr). Thanks to the original post these coins are really high on my want list now.
    Orfew likes this.
  17. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Thanks @TheRed I will look it up.
  18. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    CGB has had 34 Sancerre-minted deniers available over time and now has 2: one for Etienne I and another for Guillaume and Louis.

    Also, they had a very rare obole of Jean I et Etienne II as Counts of Sancerre, the heirs of Louis (cca. 1280-1300). I have only seen one other similar coin but rather a denier not an obole. They are very rare.

    Johndakerftw, Bing and Alegandron like this.
  19. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    That Etienne I is a lovely coin...great condition. I noticed you said "had" for the obole, I guess it sold.
  20. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

  21. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    I'm adding to this post a new an interesting denier of Sancerre, minted for Etienne I the first count of the independent County of Sancerre, but probably at the end of his reign around 1190, while he was crusading at Acre.

    It is not a unique or inedit piece, both Poey d'Avant and Boudeau note this variation (#2007, #303), but it is rather scarce, even though not as scarce as the 1170 variation shown above.

    It is probably an experimental issue, at least considering the left bust and the head gear. The bust left with mithra (Guillaume and Louis up to cca. 1230) and jeweled crown (Jean and Etienne II cca. 1280-1300) will become the norm after the death of Etienne I.

    Etienne I, bust left with jeweled crown, 1190(?)

    Guillaume I and Louis I, bust left with mithra, 1191-1230 cca.

    Jean I and Etienne II, bust left with jeweled crown, 1280-1300 cca.
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018
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