Acts of God, April 5, 1397 Friday, May 26 2006 

Francecso Datini - Portrait, 20 years after his death

I had a dream tonight of a house fallen completely into pieces, in which were some members of my family…

The reason this dream gave me much to think upon is that there is a ship, which left Venice more than two months ago, which was going to Catalonia, and no news is known and I am up 300 florins, which are securities for my goods, as I guaranteed Domenico di Cambio’s ship, which sank the other day. I have learned that, in that ship,there was such merchandise from our company valued at 3000 florins and perhaps more, and even though that ship was insured in large part , it is not impossible that we will lose the value of 500 florins if she is lost,which is bad enough without a man having to plead his case with those assurors, since, when they made that insurance, it was a sweet thing for them to get their hands on some money, but when the disaster of a loss comes, it’s completely the opposite and each one plays the innocent and makes promises without paying; so we’ll see how we stand!

Francesco is referring to the insurors of his day – fellow merchants who take money (as he did himself for Domenico di Cambio) to cover the loss of cargo to storms or pirates. And it seems then as now, that there were many more reasons NOT to pay than to pay.

It has brought Francesco to a high state of anxiety, because there are four more forced loans, and he is pressed for cash. Like his fellow merchant Antonio, the Merchant of Venice, Francesco can be destroyed, along with his family. But he says

..bad as these things are they will seem like a fresh drink in the morning, if things continue to develop as they are.

I have told Nicholò …to send with our Nanni the mules on Sunday morning, and I will come the same day, if I can: I don’t know what I will do. On Saturday, I will tell you what there will be for you to do. I don’t know where I am.

For he will go to prison if he cannot pay the forced loan. His despair is real, and his disarray uncharacteristic.

He was not alone. For the second time in two days, grain inspectors had come to the house in Prato to assess howmuch grain they held. Malicious gossip in Florence had sent the inspectors back, because “not enough had been disclosed”. Monna Margherita pleads with him:

I ask you that you figure out a way to be back here by Easter [in 5 days time], because I am very worried by many things that have been said to me, and it is not enough that I have my own worries, but all your friends tell me nothing different, unless you involve yourself here in many pieces of business, which you know: you understand me!


God keep them!

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Test your credit rating, clear your debts, April 3,4 1397 Friday, May 19 2006 

Margherita Datini as Dominican lay sister, painted 20 years after Francecso Datini - Portrait, 20 years after his death

Margherita's husband was among the wealthiest of the citizens of Prato, and attracted attention from the tax officers of Florence as well. He was not born to this wealth. He built it up over 40 years, and like many a self-made man took his money very seriously.

The roads, teeming with mercenary soldiers, were becoming less attractive channels for the money from trade. In the meantime, to pay her own army, the Republic of Florence was demanding more "voluntary loans", from her citizens. Francesco needed to call in his own debts and outstanding payments. John Padgett and Paul McLean point out that casa in Italian means not only a seat of business, but also a family. And a family was very widely defined as relatives, friends and servants all linked in the support of a common enterprise.
Nowhere is this mingling clearer than in Margherita's role as debt collector. We will all be familiar with the credit rating distinctions below. Ser Naldo is a lawyer, who often acts for Francesco as a debt collector himself. Michele, may be a tenant farmer who owes Francesco the market value of a portion of his harvest. If Francesco is asking for cash, instead of kind, which was increasingly the practice as city dwellers began to take over farming estates, Michele may have been in trouble. Independent farmers in the UK supplying dairy products to supermarket chains at prices below their production costs know exactly how Michele was feeling.

So Francesco to Margherita, April 3, 1397

There is nothing more to say about ser Naldo. You tell me that you have £4½ and he owed me £4½; take that which he gave you,…; but have him make a note of the rest, and tell him that you need it for expenses and that I will be there and will account for everything as needed.

 

As for Michele who had nothing, have him called for and tell him that this is no good way to behave; and likewise have Barzalone speak to him in such a way as you think suitable.

And Margherita, April 3, 1397

 

 

I have had Michele sought as much I can, and also I will tell Barzalone what my mind is on this matter that he speak to him in such a way as he thinks fit. (Michele in effect is not answering the telephone when the collection agency calls.)

 

And Francesco, April 4, 1397

 

 

There is nothing more to say about Michele, except that you continue to call for him in the time of my absence, and say to him: <<Francesco will be here in a few days and he will want to be paid everything, and he won’t want excuses; and therefore you would do yourself a favour to pay the money before he is here, since it will not look good to him that you have broken your word to me as you have.>> And so on as seems best to you.

And there you have it, a particularly painful combination of owing money, not to any old impersonal bank, but to the "family", in the person of monna Margherita herself. Not nice.