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Deception and Marriage Strategy in Renaissance Florence: The Case of Women's Ages

  • Anthony Molho (a1)

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Sostrata. Io ho sempre mai sentito dire che egli é uffizio d'un prudente pigliare de' cattivi partiti el migliore.

— Niccoló Machiavelli

In their magisterial work, Les Toscans et leurs families, David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber examined in considerable detail a problem faced by many historians studying late medieval tax censuses such as the Florentine catasto: how much credence to give to the ages of individuals whose names are included in these documents? Following a lengthy investigation of the catasto of 1427-1429, they reached the wistful conclusion that “Tuscans in 1427 had only a vague knowledge of their own ages or were loath to report them accurately.“ In the course of their inquiry, Herlihy and Klapisch compared the ages of some individuals recorded in the catasto with the ages of the same individuals found in other documents.

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1 La Mandragola, III. 1, from Il teatro egliscritti letterari, ed. by Franco Gaeta (Milan, 1965) 79.

2 Herlihy, David and Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, Tuscans and Their Families (New Haven, 1985) 161 . Originally published in Paris, 1978. Unless otherwise indicated, all documents cited below are located in the Archivio di Stato in Florence.

3 Ibid. 179.

4 Ibid. 168.

5 Brucker, Gene, The Civic World of Early Renaissance Florence (Princeton, 1977), chapters 7 and 8; Anthony Molho, Florentine Public Finances in the Early Renaissance (Cambridge, Mass., 1971).

6 All dates are offered in both the Florentine style (i.e. with the new year beginning on 25 March) and common (our) style. Thus, February 1424/25 refers to 1425 our style.

7 The massive documentation generated by the scribes of the Monte delle doti is the basis of a study which Julius Kirshner and the present author have been carrying out: Kirshner, Julius, “Pursuing Honor While Avoiding Sin: The Monte delle doti of Florence,” Studi senesi, 87 (1977): 175256 ; Morrison, Alan, Kirshner, Julius and Molho, Anthony, “Life Cycle Events in 15th Century Florence: Records of the Monte delle doti,” American journal of Epidemiology, 106 (1977): 487-92; Kirshner, and Molho, , “The Dowry Fund and the Marriage Market in Early Quattrocento Florence,“ Journal of Modem History, 50 (1978): 404-38; Kirshner, and Molho, , “II Monte delle doti a Firenze dalla sua fondazionenel 1425 alia meti del sedicesimo secolo,” Ricerche storiche, 10 (1980): 2148 ; Morrison, Kirshner and Molho, , “Epidemics in Renaissance Florence,’ American journal of Public Health, 75 (1985): 528-35; Molho, , “Investimenti nel Monte delle doti di Firenze. Un'analisi sociale e geografica,” Quademi storici, 61 (1986): 147-60; Molho, , “L'amministrazione del debito pubblico a Firenze nel quindicesimo secolo,” in Iceti dirigenti nella Toscana del Quattrocento (Florence, 1987) 191207.

8 Because of the loss of the two registers of deposits, a number of girls registered in the extant volumes also lack dates of birth. This is so because of the following reason: fathers often made a series of deposits for their daughters, sometimes over the course of several years. The scribe registered the full information regarding a girl only the first time, and, at the time of later deposits, he simply referred to the first account opened for the benefit of that particular girl. Thus, we lack birthdays for all girls registered for the first time in one of the two missing registers for whom a later deposit was made in one of the extant volumes. Furthermore, because of the extremely poor state of conservation of a number of the extant registers, we have been unable to decipher at least 1, 100 accounts, while specific pieces of information in individual accounts are also missing from them.

9 These fedi are found in Monte commune antico 1344.

10 Provvisioni Registri 137, fols. 270r-v, February 7, 1446/47.

11 For two, entirely characteristic examples, see: Acquisti e Doni, Il (Ricordanze di Antonio di ser Battista di Antonio Bartolomei), fol. 4 (dowry accounts opened for his servant girl and for a contadina), fols. 5, 6r-v, 7, 9v, 12, (dowry accounts for all four of his daughters); Carte Strozziane ser. I2, vol. 17bis (Ricordanze di Marco Parenti e di Piero di Marco Parenti), fols. 40V, 42V, 46V, 53V, 82V (for all five of Marco's daughters who survived beyond their first few years of life).

12

13 As contrasted to those whose official residence was either the countryside or one of Florence's subject cities or towns.

14 For an analysis of the social and geographical origin of these women and of their families, seeMolho, “Investimenti,” Quademi Storici, 1986.

15 The enactment of the catasto is found in Balie 30, fols. 94v-95. The explanation of the manner in which the individual declarations (scritte) were to be submitted is in Catasto 2, fol. 130V, where one reads that:”… et delle fanciulle che avessino dota in sul monte facci nella scritta mentione dicendo quanta dota avessi tale fanciulla. Et questo si faccia per ciascuno sotto la pena…”

16 In reality, we started with 1,245 cases, but 147 were dropped because of uncertainty regarding their names.

17 Herlihy and Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans 215.

18 Among others, see Vittore Branca's annotations in his edition of Boccaccio's Decameron (Florence, i960), 1:27 n.7.

19 Alberti, Leon Battista, I libri dellafamiglia, ed. by Grayson, Cecil (Bari, 1960) III .

20 Morelli, Giovanni di Pagolo, Ricordi, ed. by Branca, Vittore (Florence, 1956) 210 ; “Appresso togli fanciulla che tu ti contend, ch'ella sia sana e'ntera e ch'ella sia grande, Per rispetto della famiglia n'aspetti; ch'ell'abbia poco tempo, cioe non sia punto transandata, ché diventono viziose quando non hanno quello che la natura richiede.”

21 Certaldo, Paolo da, Libro di buoni costumi, ed. by Schiaffini, Alfredo (Florence, 1945), no. 91 , pp. 83-84.

22 Provvisioni- Registri 143, fols. 72-73V, April 26,1453: “jam ad etatem nubilem appropinquat.“

23 Ibid 139, fols. 77-78, June 10, 1448.

24 Ibid 144, fols. 34-35, August 17, 1453: “est etatis annorum decern et novem vel circa … nubilem iam sunt plures anni.“

25 Ibid 161, fols. 20V-21, March 10,1470: “est etatis 21 annorum… et cum excederet etatem nubilem …“

26 Alessandra Macinghi negli Strozzi, Lettere, ed. by Cesare Guasri (Florence, 1877) 5-6.

27 Two anthologies offer very useful compilations of medieval views on women and of modern historical commentaries on them: Prediche alle donne del secolo XIII, ed. by Carla Casagrande (Milan, 1978); Idee sulla donna del Medioevo, ed. by Maria Consiglia de Matteis (Bologna, 1981).

28 Libro, no. 126, pp. 105-106: “La femina é cosa molto vana e leggiere [sic] a muovere, e peró quand’ ella sta sanza il marito sta a grande pericolo. E peró se ái femine in casa, tielle appresso il più che tu puoi, e toma spesso a casa, e provedi i fatti tuoi, e tielle in tremoree in paura tuttavia. E fa sempre ch'abbiano che fare in casa, e mai si stieno mai: che stare la feminae l'uomo ozioso è di grande pericolo, ma più è di pericolo a la femina.“

29 Ibid., no. 331, p. 198: “Ancora ti ricordo e dico che, se tu ài fanciulle o donne giovani, che tu loro gastighi e tenghi a freno. Eben che, come volte avviene, ch'elle o alcuna di loro sieno guadate da giovani, non ti muovere a furore né a ira contro a tali giovani, anzi gastiga e ammunisci le dettefanciulle …“

30 Ibid., no. 135.

31 Ibid., no. 83.

32 Ibid., no. 59.

33 S. Bernardino da Siena, Leprediche volgari inedite—Firenze 1424, 1425—Siena 1425, ed. by P. Dionisio Pacetti O.F.M. (Siena, 1935) 80: “Apre bene gli occhi della tua figliuola tu, madre. S'ella no’ istà ferma al filare e a cucire, ma, per ogni cosa sente, corre alle finestre, e quando la volontà la tira alio stare all'uscio a giucare; se no’ la gastighi, che la tenga a freno, troverai ch'ella ti fará vergogna e danno. Abbile cura alle mani, ti dico; ma se vuoi onestamente gastigálla, tóccale il polso in sanità, e dílle:—O, che viso é quello che tu hai! O, tu hai la febbre!—E manda pel barbiere, e falle trarre tre libbre di sangue, e attuterai un poco la sua caldezza.“

34 The expression “pudic-o, -a” can mean bashful, reserved, or chaste. In this context, clearly it had all these three meanings.

35 Vespasiano da Bisticci, Vite di uomini illustri del secolo XV, ed. by Paolo D'Ancona and Erhard Aeschlimann (Milan, 1951) 549, 552-53, 556-57.

36 Mediceo avanti il principato 6, no. 268, Bartolomeo d’ Agnolo Ciai in Florence to Giovanni di Cosimo de’ Medici in the Mugello, June 28,1457: “intendensti che nelle mie figluole non era manchamento di verghogna, di che elle no-avessino meritato e'portamenti che-lla sua signoria à in loro conferito.”

37 Machiavelli, Bernardo, Libro di ricordi, ed. by Olschki, Cesare (Florence, 1954) 1522.

38 “Delay [i.e. in marrying young women] could cost the family dearly, since it increased the possibility that a young woman's reputation for virtue would be sullied through stolen freedom and gossip, making marriage difficult without an enlarged dowry. “Julius Kirshner, Pursuing Honor While Avoiding Sin, 9.

39 Herlihy, and Klapisch-Zuber, , Tuscans, 226-28.

40 Guictiardini, Francesco, Ricordi ,ed. by Spongano, Raffaele (Florence, 1951) 117 . Ricordo C 106, whose wording one should also compare with B 166.

41 Carte Strozziane, ser. 3, vol. 249, no. 300, Marco Parenti in Colle Pisano to Filippo Strozzi in Florence, August 9, 1470: “Et che io fussi in passione non bisogna dubitarne, che te lo scrissi di mia mano, et sono, perché il tempo mi caccia… Conosco che l'essenza e’ 1 temporale mi nuoce…” The first mention of Gostanza's marriage in the correspondence between Marco and Filippo is in ibid, no. 319, June 13, 1470. The data on Gostanza's birth and her Monte delle doti deposits are drawn from her father's ricordi: ibid ser. 2, vol. 17bis, fols. 2v (birth), 40V (Monte deposits) and 68v (marriage; the engagement dates from March 15, 1471/72, while the couple consummated their marriage on June 1, 1472.)

42 Mazzei, Ser Lapo, Lettere di un notaro a un mercante del secob XIV, ed. by Guasti, Cesare (Firenze, 1880) 1:332-33.

43 Ibid. 1:337.

44 Ibid. 1:339-40: “A dí xiii di marzo al mattino arà la mia anni xvi. Ancora può stare due, a dirò ch'abbia allora xv e mezzo.“

45 Ibid. 1: 352-53; 164-65.

46 The case can be followed in Acquisti t doni 11, fols. 7, 12, 19, 21, 23, 24. It is true that Maddalena's younger sister, Dianora, born in 1466, also became a nun when she had reached her fifteenth birthday. But compare the difference in the tone of the two entries. Dianora … volendo essere monacha . .. con anima di essere monaca … Maddalena simply entrò net munistero. On the more than casual connection between decisions to have young women embark upon a religious life and their perceived unfitness for marriage because of physical or mental illness, see Anthony Molho, “ Tamquam Vere Mortua: Female Religious Professions in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Florence,” in press.

47 The information comes from Carte Strozziane ser. II, vol. 16, fols. 3v, 5, 13, 20v; vol. 16bis, fols. 4, 5, 16, 20, 26; and Monte 3737, fols. 71, 83V.

48 The existence of this cultural consensus would be extremely difficult to document, precisely because of the reasons mentioned above. Yet, here again, there are bits of evidence which hint at its ubiquity and at the naturalness with which this consensus was entirely accepted by large numbers of Florentines. In September, 1465, Marco Parenti, while engaged in protracted negotiations to find a wife for his brother-in-law, wrote to the latter that the father of a prospective candidate seemed to have lost interest (”… credo volgessi il pensiero altrove… huomo abandonatosi da questa impresa…“) because “il tempo lo strigne.” And this was so because the father was trying to pass off his eighteen-year old daughter as a sixteen-year old (“Perché', benché dica di 16, à compiuti 18…“) Carte Strozziane, ser. 3, vol. 131, no. 166, Marco Parenti in Florence to Filippo Strozzi in Naples, September 13, 1465.

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Deception and Marriage Strategy in Renaissance Florence: The Case of Women's Ages

  • Anthony Molho (a1)

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