A coin recently acquired by the Charlemagne Center in Aachen. bears the name of Charlemagne and his third wife Fastrad. Not only is this the first known example of her name on a coin, it is the first known example of any queen (or woman, for that matter, other than the Virgin Mary) named on a Carolingian coin.
Fastrada was born around 765 to the powerful East Frankish Count Rudolf. Charlemagne married her in 783, just five months after the death of his second wife Himiltrud, to secure an alliance with her father in his war against the Saxons. They had two daughters in the 11 years of marriage before Fastrada’s death in 794. Her portraits have not been preserved.
Minted between 793 and 794, probably in Aachen, the obverse of the coin bears the inscription +CARoLVSREXFR(ancorum), (“Charles, King of the Franks”), and on the reverse +FASTRADA REGIN(a), (“Queen of Fastrada’), around the royal cypher of Charlemagne (KAROLVS). This is silver denier, known as monogrammed denier after the KAROLVS monogram.
Chroniclers did not write very much about the Carolingian queens, and what they wrote about Fastrad was less than flattering. Writers have blamed her cruelty (without details on her character) for the rebellion of Charlemagne’s son Pippin the Hunchback in 792. However, the Royal Frankish Annals of 792 describe Charlemagne’s reunion with Fastrada at Worms after his long absence to fight the Avars. How warm and happy. A letter from Charlemagne to her survives, in which he refers to her as “our dear and very sweet wife, the Queen”.
These are extraordinarily enthusiastic terms for a Frankish royal marriage, and may explain why Charlemagne took the extraordinary step of combining their names on a coin. The presence of Fastrada’s name is all the more remarkable because Charlemagne tried to eliminate all personal names from the coinage, except his, after accession to the throne. This suggests a willingness to share power with his third wife in a very public and visible way.
Charlemagne must have been inspired by King Offa of Mercia, who minted a coin in 792 bearing the name of his wife, Queen Sinetritus. They had extensive trade contacts and at one point actively planned a marriage between Charles’s son and Offa’s daughter. It cannot be a coincidence that silver denier duplicates the Cynethryth penny syntax with the Latin name “REGIN(a)” for Fastrada.
Despite the parallels between these Mercian and Carolingian coins, three significant differences are also apparent from the above discussion. The first is the scale: as noted earlier, there are more than fifty recorded examples of the Sinetrit coinage from many different dies, but this is the first and to date the only sample of the Fastrada coin. The second is the design: Sinetrit had a mostly portrait type, Fastrada had a regular monogrammed issue. Thirdly, this is the time of their appearance: the minting of Sinetrit coins ceased almost at the same time as Fastrada. What is the significance of these differences, if any?
As for the scale, it may well reflect nothing more than the duration of minting. It is believed that pennies were minted in the name of Sinetritus from Offa’s introduction of light coinage in the mid-780s until his reform of 792/3. As we have seen, Fastrada died only a few months after Charlemagne’s introduction of the new heavier denier, and it is possible that coinage ceased at this point. As a result, only a small number of coins were minted, of which only this specimen has survived. The reason it did not have a portrait, unlike most Kinetrite coins, is that Charlemagne did not introduce the portrait type until 813, while Offa minted pennies with his own bust at the same time that these coins of his queen were minted. in the 780s Indeed, it has been observed that on some Kinetrit coins the portrait is almost identical to that of Offa himself, although others are more distinctly feminine. In other words, both issues followed their husband’s coinage design at the time.