The function of her letters in the trading network of Francesco Datini
Francesco and Margherita Datini Margherita Datini was born in 1360 in the noble Bandini family who originally came from the city of Florence. Florence was one of the larger Italian cities during the Middle Ages in the Mediterranean area. It was also a very powerful city-state which had become wealthy through the very lucrative trade and banking business. In the year 1370, the Bandini family was exiled from Florence and moved to Avignon. Exile was, at that time, a very normal and popular punishment by the rulers of Florence to get rid of their political enemies and families which had gained too much power. At the age of sixteen, Margherita married with the forty year old Francesco Datini (1335-1410) in the year 1376. Datini was an Italian merchant who was born in Prato. He became an orphan at a very young age and at the age of fifteen he worked as an apprentice of a merchant in Florence. He moved with a group of merchants to the city of Avignon, where the seats of the popes were located at that time. Avignon became one of Europe’s commercial centers during this century and it was a very good location for a starting businessman. Datini started with selling luxury goods and art to cardinals and other church people who were residing in Avignon. He was one of the first merchants who bought and sold art with a non-religious character. In the year 1383, the married couple moved back to Prato. Datini was a very successful tradesman and the Datini’s soon became a wealthy couple. Back in Toscany Datini traded in clothes, weapons, iron and salt. He also extended his business to Florence, Pisa and other Italian cities. Datini even opened offices of his company in cities in Spain and traded with Bruges and London. Later he interfered in the banking and insurance business as well. Datini became very important for the research of historians. All the correspondence of Datini and his company have all most completely been preserved and offers a lot of information for researchers of how trade was organized in Medieval Tuscany. The collection was found behind a staircase in 1870 during a renovation of the house of the Datini’s in Prato. The correspondence consists of over 150,000 letters and 500 account books. The original correspondence can be found at the Archivo di Stato di Prato Fondo Datini in Prato, Italy.
The letters of Margherita Datini A special element of the collection are the letters from Margherita Datini written to her husband. There are only a very few sources preserved from women who wrote letters in the Middle Ages and especially in Italy. In the collection are 251 letters preserved from Margherita. Because of his trading business, Datini travelled a lot and was very often away from his home. During their marriage, the couple wrote almost every two to three days towards each other from the year 1384 till the death of Francesco in 1410. From the content of the letters it becomes clear that Margherita was closely involved in the business of her husband. They communicated extensively about their trade contacts, but also about their staff and household affairs. The letters of Margherita have not been extensively examined yet. As a consequence, there aren't a lot of publications about Margherita Datini. Only Ann Crabb with her book The Merchant of Prato’s Wife, wrote a biography about Margherita. The main focus of this book is on the position of Margherita as a woman. The letters of Margherita have also been published and translated by Carolyn James and Antonio Pagliaro. Because of the minimal research that has been done on the letters of Margherita, I found it interesting to look at the influence of Margherita within the trade network of her husband. In my own research I shall take a more accurate look at the letters combined with a research towards literacy among women in Medieval Tuscany. In the beginning of the marriage of Margherita and Francesco, Margherita didn’t write the letters to her husband by herself. She wasn’t able to read or write at that time and dictated her letters to a scribe. In her late thirties she successfully took the initiative to learn to read and write by her own. I want to investigate if there is any difference visible in the letters and how normal it was in those years and under what circumstances women were able to read and write.
The trade network of Francesco Datini In my research I will also take a more closer look towards the trading network of Francesco Datini. I want to investigate what the influence and the position of the letters of Margherita were in that network. To reconstruct that network, the Theory of Social Network Analysis will therefore be used as developed by John Scott and Peter Carrington in their handbook The SAGE handbook of Social Network Analysis. This theory offers new insights and perspectives to historical events. The goal of this theory is to recreate and analyse networks. The theory is about relations. Connections between people are all about relations and patterns. Analysing those relations can provide new insights about a network and what the most influential connections are. Concerning the network of Francesco Datini, it can be said that he had a very extensive network with connections through whole Europe. Before something relevant can be said about the importance and the function of the letters of Margherita Datini, further research is required.
Conclusion: The research to the letters of Margherita Datini and the function or importance of the letters has not been completed yet. Therefore I can’t make any definitive conclusions yet. The expected conclusion of this research will be that the case of Margherita as a writing woman is quite unique in the late fourteenth century. The influence of her letters are not very small, but should not be exaggerated. As wife of Datini, she had some influence on the decisions of her husband, but Datini was the man in charge.
M.W. Further reading and bibliography: Apellániz, F. “Florentine Networks in the Middle East in the Early Renaissance.” Mediterranean Historical Review 30, no. 2 (2015), 125–145. Cox, Virginia. Women's Writing in Italy, 1400-1650. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. Crabb, Ann. The Merchant of Prato's Wife: Margherita Datini and Her World, 1360-1423. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2015. Datini, Margherita, Carolyn James, and Antonio Pagliaro. Letters to Francesco Datini. Toronto: Iter Inc, 2012. Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane. Women, Family, and Ritual in Renaissance Italy. 1985. Origo, Iris. The Merchant of Prato, Francesco Di Marco Datini. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1963.
Images: Background: http://datini.archiviodistato.prato.it/en/ (visited on May 26, 2017) Portrait of Datini: https://alchetron.com/Francesco-Datini-1054202-W (visited on May 26, 2017) Portrait of Margherita: http://datini.archiviodistato.prato.it/en/ (visited on May 26, 2017)