In one breath Margherita dictated a recipe for green peas, and sent regards to everyone down in Florence. In the next, she confessed the need for some security. Freebooting mercenaries would soon be loose and they were always hungry and rarely paid. Francesco was still in Florence, and had no qualms about leaving her to get the crops in and hidden and the animals out of sight ,out of mind.

At Palcho, the farm in the countryside outside Prato, she had instructed Nanni to stay, and only abandon the villa when he saw crossbows in the distance. She suggested he hide in the hills. Francesco had wanted everyone to lock and go, but Margherita didn't like the idea, and Nanni's father was with him and would not go to any other village. (I know the story of a West Country farmer who, on returning from a trip to Ireland organised, paid for and chaperoned by his children, returned home and said placidly, "A day away from my own roof is hardly worth living"). So, after raising the bridge, they were staying put.

But, at least in the cool vaults under the Palazzo Datini she had flour, wine and oil. The mules and horses had straw. What, on the other hand, of Benedetto, her neighbour who came to say because his wife was giving birth to a child, they had found themselves with no bread or flour. He sent his regards to Francesco. Instead of her normal generous gesture of giving him food, Margherita sent to ask Francesco for his permission. "They always wish you well and it will be one of those things remembered for a long time." But in times like this the generosity was rationed, food might have to outlast a famine caused by famine or a siege. The food disappeared instantaneously, out of the markets and those not rich enough to have their own stores were starving soon enough.

And there is the poor workman called Montepulciano, presumably because he came from there. Expenses were high, he was eating food that they had enough trouble getting and he never finished his work on time. Margherita agreed with Francesco. Save money. Send Montepulciano away.

What chance for the slow workman on the road, with little money and nowhere to call home…

Fear agents