Let me tell you what I heard today from a woman named Margherita Datini, although she died in 1421. She was 38 when she dictated a letter from Prato to her husband in Florence in 1398. She wrote to ask him to buy her several lengths of black fabric, and dozens of little silver filigree buttons in order to make up her dress in the Sicilian fashion. She also asked him to buy a similar length of dark fabric and a similar number of buttons for her servant Lucia, saying “I don’t care what style hers is made up in, so long as it does not look like mine.”


In that last sentence is the voice of a woman who in one poignant request is summing up a betrayal, and a sense of failed expectations. For what Margherita knew and what her husband, Francesco knew and what Ser Stoldo di Lorenzo, Francesco’s chief man of business in Florence who would be buying the fabric knew, was that her own servant Lucia was the mother of her husband Francesco’s illegitimate daughter, and that Margherita, his wife of 20 years was the mother of no child. Bearing and rearing children were the objects of a woman’s life in late medieval Italy.


Margherita di Domenico Bandini was feisty, faithful, loyal, devoted to God, independent and spoke what was on her mind. She was the youngest child of an aristocratic family, whose father was beheaded, when she was three. "For God and Profit" was the motto of her husband's business. He was greedy, tough, nitpicking and kind.

Dead for 700 years, their voices are still alive in the letters they exchanged. I have been engrossed in translating their plain-speaking Tuscan into plain-speaking English. At the time I launched this blog, I was half way through the translation.

Their voices can speak again . Let them tell us how they dealt with plague, childlessness, success, war, affection and living the good life.