War – the old fashioned solution – October, 1397 Tuesday, Jun 20 2006 

Fear agentsIn the March of Folly that is our human engagement in fighting wars, we have rather forgotten the importance of climate. While British troops used to say that a place was "hotter than Basra" – and are no doubt saying so again in a week where daytime temperatures reached 60 degrees C – it is still possible to keep fighting. Logistics teams keep air conditioning operational, and machinery functioning. Although apparently sometimes only just.

600 years ago no commander dreamed of trying to keep an army in the field outside the regular fighting season, mostly spring and summer in Italy. Of course this effectively destroyed growing seasons and exerted huge pressure on the citizens of besieged cities. Nevertheless, when the rainy season hit our Datini in October, they at least could get out to the farms to gather chestnuts and repair walls. Money was flowing again, and merchandise. Thus you could maintain enough economic activity for a war to be sustained. And war was in fact a desirable profession, especially for the younger sons of noble families who would not inherit.

Withdrawing from the field at agreed times not only gives the revenue generating civilian population a chance to regroup. It also gives the power brokers a chance to negotiate a peace or a truce. So, war could seem like reasonable way to get an advantage.

But, in our own time, we commit ourselves to continuous battle with no rules for relief or release. War is an old-fashioned way to solve a problem.


Montepulciano – update – March 27, 1397 Thursday, May 4 2006 

Things are very scary right now. Armed soldiers (I'm not clear whose side they are on) are burning fields and houses. Francesco has still not come home from Florence. Margherita's letters appear to be missing from March 22 to March 30, so while we have ample examples (pages long) of Francesco's anxieties about the war, we are only able to understand Margherita's as they are mirrored in Francesco's letters.

Of the fear you have had, I am not surprised, since here [Florence] someone chattering that a wolf was within the walls, and a rogue running directly at the chains, tore open the gate and fled with those who were supposed to be guarding it: so you see what’s coming, so I am not at all surprised that you are fearful there, it is what war’s about!

In the meantime, fields are being put to the flame and the home of Stoldo di Lorenzo, Francesco's chief man of business in Florence has been burned in Marignolle.

I will deal more fully with the war in another post. But my little worker, Montepulciano exercises my sympathies greatly. I was relieved to see that Francesco wanted to be fair and keep him, as contracted until Easter. So he wouldn't after all have to wander out on to the dangerous brigand filled roads. But let Francesco spend a few days with no outlets because he can't get out of the house, and the general result is a stream of consciousness directive, to wit:

I am concerned that there was no letter from Stefano Guazaloti, because it was needed:… There will be with this one two other letters ; find a way to send them…. Send them when you can, either all or one; send Montepulciano, if you can’t find anyone else. He will not be robbed because he has nothing, and tell him to wait for a reply.

Followed by:

It seems to me that Montepulciano and Martino should sleep at Palcho [the farm just outside Prato], and that they bring the sacks under which Nanni and Domenicho ought to sleep, and stuff another one for them, and they can carry a mattress and a pair of sheets and a padded quilt and thus they will be perfectly well. And they have no need to be afraid, because as soon as anyone comes that way they would know and could hide in the woods; and so provide for these things as you think fit …

So, my little workman, while not facing a payment crisis is to be sent on the road to Stefano Guazaloti, protected by a cloak of poverty. At the same time, or sometime, he is also to leave the protective cover, and armed walls and gates of the Palazzo Datini in the walled city of Prato (by the way, when people buy big houses in expensive gated suburbs, are they really aware that they are returning to medieval conditions?), carrying two straw filled sleeping bags, a quilt and a mattress to join an unarmed few at Palcho. But they should be fine, because they will all see the armed forces and can run to the hills.


Fear, Famine and Faith _ March 22, 1397 Friday, Apr 28 2006 

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