Margherita in the city

On April 4 Francesco wrote from Florence:

 

The purpose of this letter is that Lodovicho Marini has had a boy child and… a wet nurse cannot be found here; and therefore Manno has prayed me to write to you to see if there is any way there that you might be able to find a nurse, and that you let me know. And so see if you cannnot find one, and learn what she would like per month, and let me know at the first opportunity.

Margherita replied on April 5:

 

 

 

 

I sent to the wife of Cechatello our workman, who two months ago had a boy; I was there with Schiavo who ought to be here today with me and I will make myself understood to him, and I will have him understand clearly everything and, if he will decide to do what I ask, I think that Lodovicho will be well served, nevertheless I will have a search carried out here in Prato and the environs and see if I find anything better and I will let you know after of everything.

 

Nevertheless, to give you some advice in the meantime, the practice here is to give the wet nurse between four and four and a half lire per month salary, and also here it is customary to give other things appropriate to the women, and Nicholò can tell you what to give.

Wealthy women did not nurse their own babies. The babies were sent to the families of wet nurses, often for two or three years. Margherita, childless herself, (although she sought many remedies for this), often took commisssions to find wet nurses for Francesco's associates. Women were the important practitioners in gynecological matters even if men were leaders in medical treatments otherwise. There is even a famous writer, Trotula of Salerno who wrote on the diseases of women.

Her views on selecting a wet nurse recognise the need for the nurse to be relaxed and healthy for the benefit of the child:

The nurse ought to be young and have a pink and white complexion…Let her not be dirty. She should have neither weak nor heavy teats, butu breasts full and generous, and she should be moderately fat [no post natal miracle diets here, then]. …Especially have her avoid garlic. Let her avoid anxiety and guard herself during menstruation….

Chapter XVIII of The diseases of women, cited in Amt, Emilie, Women's Lives in Medieval Europe

 

 

The pay was good. If 6 florins a month could be enough for Margherita's household expenses, then 4 to 4 and a half is quite generous to a servant's family.

But there is poignancy in a later letter when Margherita notes that because no one could organise the nursing soon enough, "three of the best children were lost", that is the child to be nursed and the two of the potential wet nurse's. The potential for pain in both the separation from the birth mother and of the possible deprivation of the nurse's children is hard to understand. It is a place of great difference between our time and Margherita's, although the underlying psychological consequences would be familiar.

 

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