Datini-statie
I was beginning to worry about our little contract labourer, the one not important enough to have his own name so they called him Montepulciano, because that's where he came from. Margherita was suggesting, on March 22, that he should be let go, because he ate too much and never finished his work on time. Florence and Pisa were rattling sabres and declaring that war was all but unavoidable. This had brought the mercenary soldiers out, so the "roads were teeming with brigands." The Datini took all steps to survive the crisis. The animals were in the stables, out of the fields. All the hay was harvested from the farms, and oil, grapes, flour and wheat stored. Francesco even ordered that the bridge over the stream at the villa Palcho be taken up and stored in Prato.

He had also ordered Margherita to save money, because there was a big war tax being demanded by the Podestà. So, she was firing the staff. She had already saved the jobs of those closest to her, and the slaves only cost their board, and in fact couldn't be let go. Free-lancers always go first. The abiding impression I have of Francesco from reading Iris Origo is of a shrewd, domineering and miserly rich man. I didn't hold out much hope for Montepulciano.

So, I was pleased to read the following, from March 23:

Montepulcano ought to have been there until Easter [April 22 in 1397, or more than a month away]; I want him to have what I promised him; do what you can, and do this for everybody.

Also, in the matter of Benedetto who had no bread or flour, being caught without resource in the preparations for war, Francesco said to Margherita:

Take care of him as you see fit: I will be happy with whatever you do. These are the times to earn our place in paradise, and I'm happy with any expense raised to meet this necessity. We must all account for our souls; we must do for everyone what we can…Go and learn where there is need, and do what you believe will be best; and if you learn that the monks or anyone is in need, do good for all: just see that the money is well spent.

The cynical view is that fear made him very generous, but there are many letters in which he orders the distribution of food and money to dependents and the needy. Granted, there was a quid pro quo, since he believed that the prayers of poor people were many times more valuable in the ears of God, than the prayers of the rich.

The cynical view does not take into account the sense of community and family that would make it second nature for the rich merchant, a father figure to them all, to look after his own.

The other abiding message of Iris Origo's is that of the determined but browbeaten wife, who had no respect from her husband. What can be farther from the truth in this instance? Trapped in Florence by fear- fear of the roads and fear of what would be taken from him by the "sweepers" of taxes if he were not there in person – Francesco has left everything in Margherita's hands to ensure the securing of his properties and the care of his dependents. And he will be happy with whatever she chooses to do.

But those who need the hard headed Francesco can take solace in the closing comments of his letter. He expects his lawyers, ser Naldo and Michele di Falchuco to come "at the trot", and tell him how much money they can collect. "I don't want it from those who cannot pay, but from the rich I want my money. Tell everyone this. May God pull me out of this tangle caused by the ingratitude of others."

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