Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Women on the margins: the ‘beloved’ and the ‘mistress’ in Renaissance Florence

Other women were daughters of peasants, such as Domenica,contadina, the mistress of Niccol˜ Baldovinetti,[90]Apollonia d’Antonio of Impruneta, who bore an illegitimate child,[91] as did Tana di Pagolo di Giovanni da San Casciano, Gemma di Marchionne di Castel Nuovo, Mea d’Agnolo da Casentino, and Mea da Quarantola.[92 Women of lower rank were more obviously available to men of higher rank.   According to Vern L. Bullough: “If a nobleman desired a peasantwoman so strongly that he could not resist the temptation, he was free to rape her on the spot since a courteous approach would only be wasted on a woman who could not possibly feel love”.[93] The ideology of romantic love posed a serious threat, it seems, only to those who were not expected to feel it.


Slaves and servants

The easiest mistresses for a Florentine male were, naturally, the most socially vulnerable: slaves and servants. The mistress of Pongano Baldi was his servant, Margareta,[94] while Nencia was the servant and mistress of Francesco di Cambio da Siena. Camilla, a servant, had a child with Ruberto Migliorati. The child was legitimated and studied canon law.[95]   Cilia di Vittorio, a servant, had a daughter, Cornelia, by her employer, Giovanni di Francesco Soderini.[96] A famous example of a slave as mistress cited by Origo and Niccolini da Camugliano is Lucia, the slave of Paolo Niccolini, who bore him two children and remained in his household throughout his marriage to Cosa Guasconi.[97] Otto Niccolini’s son Giuliano was the child of Otto’s slave, Nastagia.[98] Carlo, the provost of S. Stefano in Prato, was son of Cosimo de’ Medici and a Circassian slave, Maddalena.[99]Other examples include Lucia, the slave and mistress of Iacopo Tani, the slave of Tommaso di Piero Giovanni,[100] the slave of Giovenco di Giuliano de’ Medici,[101] Gianna, the slave of Bernardo Salviati,[102] Nastagia, the slave of Otto Niccolini,[103] Madalena, the slave of Giovanni di Luca Ubertini,[104]Caterina, the slave of Andrea della Stufa,[105] and Caterina, the slave of Piero di Jacopo Rinuccini,[106]


There are numerous examples in the city’s baptismal records of children identified as the child of a slave, for instance, ‘Francesco della schiava di Jacopo degli Agli’, baptized on 5th February 1451 (Florentine style).[107]   When a slave is baptized herself with a child that was presumably born outside of slavery, the entry gives evidence of the estimated age of the slave and her child, as in the case of ‘Francesca e Maria schiava di Amerigo di Simone Carnesecchi d’etˆ d’anni 14 o circha’.[108] Sometimes the slave’s name is given, as with ‘Leonardo e Domenico della Chaterina schiava’, baptized 16th November 1462.[109] Although the records rarely state that these children are illegitimate,[110] the lack of a father’s name would seem to indicate it. The same can be said where children are identified as the offspring of a ‘serva’ or a ‘balia’, as in the case of ‘Jacopo di mona Mattea di Andrea Visdomini balia’,[111] or ‘Alessandra e Apollonia della Nastasia serva di di Salvestro Spini.’[112] We yet again find ourselves having to trace the lives of women through the records of their children or partners. What, for instance, is the story behind the record of ‘Cristofano di mona Giuliana in S. Gallo’, baptized on 14th March, 1451 (s.f.),[113] or Bartolomeo di mona Lisa of Monte Lupo, baptized on the 25th March, 1452?[114] The alterity of some of these women is seen in their identification as foreign, as can be seen in the baptism of ‘Bianca e Domenica della Caterina Tartara’.[115] Slaves were frequently described as Tartars and it seems likely that Caterina was a freed slave. Another entry reads ‘Sforzo e Giovanni di Mona Caterina d’Arezzo delle Stinche’.[116] Again, one can only speculate about Mona Caterina, and about whether Sforzo Giovanni was illegitimate, whether she was in the Stinche, a notorious Florentine prison or whether she simply happened to live near the Stinche and be so identified in the register. Her place of origin according to her name is Arezzo; women who worked as prostitutes rarely did so in their own town, perhaps her profession brought her to Florence, and indeed, the Stinche.[117]   Some entries in the records list a child of a woman who ‘stays’ with an identified man, as in the case of ‘Ventura e Benedetto della Chaterina che sta con Cipriano saponaio’,[118] and ‘Caterina e Madalena della Margherita che sta con Bernardo Chanbini’.[119] These cases can be compared with mona Antonia, the mother of a child by Giuliano di Agnolo Benciatti, described by him in his tax return as one who ‘sta mecho in casa’,[120] and Maria, the mistress of Belfredello dello Strinato and mother of two of his children, as a Foristiera la quale  in chasa meco mia ( a foreigner who is in my house with me).[121]


Slaves were easy prey not only to their masters but to others. Caterina, the slave of Andrea della Stufa (possibly the same woman as the above-mentioned) was attacked by a certain Francesco in 1453.[122] Della Stufa registered dowries for two illegitimate children in the Monte delle doti, one by a Madalena from Raugia, the other from Caterina ‘mia schiava’, and may have seen an attack on his slave as not only an attack on his property, but also as a problem in identifying paternity.[123] Della Stufa was particularly unfortunate in protecting his slaves; a slave of his had a child by Vieri di Antonio Davanzati.[124] As already shown, the slave of Giovanozzo Biliotti married Tommaso Biliotti. The slave of Pagolo da Diacceto had a child by Lionardo di Zanobi del Recha.[125] A certain Tommaso da Asti was convicted of impregnating a slave of Nerone di Nigi’s in 1435. Tommaso was forced to pay her full worth to her owner in case her childbirth went wrong.[126] The slave of Otto Niccolini, himself the father of illegitimate children conceived with slaves, had a child with Vieri di Tommaso Corbinelli.[127] Francesco Strozzi fathered two children by other people’s slaves.[128] Anna, the slave of Lorenzo Barducci, was the mother of Damiano, an illegitimate child by Giovanni d’Amerigo Benci.[129] Caterina, the slave of Giovanni Rucellai, bore a child of Pagolo Ottavanti.[130] The slave of Giuliano di Cattaneo di messer Cristiano had a child by Filippo d’Ardingo Ricci.[131]     In 1474 Jacopo Niccolini had a child by the servant of the Baldovinetti house.[132]



Although a servant was technically a free person, a slave had no control over their fate or their children. Ruggieri Crucci had a child by his brother’s slave, the child, Lisa, was kept, the slave sold.   Ruggieri’s other child, Francesco, was also illegitimate. In his tax declaration of 1458 Ruggieri named the child’s mother, Mona Papera di Cienni Cenini, but declined to name her husband due to reasons of honour.[133]   Goro Dati had a child by a Tartar slave, Margherita, who he owned while he was in Valenza. The child was sent to be educated in Florence.[134] The slave of Giovanni di Luca Ubertini bore him a child in 1449, was manumitted in 1452, yet bore him a second child in 1454.[135] Bernardo Morelli had no legitimate children with his wife, Simona, but plenty of illegitimate ones: ebbene molti non ligitimmi, parte d’una donna assai da bene, e parte d’una ischiava era sua, assai bella, e di poi la marit˜ in Mugello: non gli vo’nominare, perchŽ non  onesto s“ fatta ischiatta, come ch’e’ sieno di buona condizione assai, secondo loro essere.’[136] Antonio Ricci petititoned to have his child by his slave Caterina legitimated; she was separated from her child.[137] Lucia, the slave and mistress of Jacopo Tani, was freed 1458 but she remained in his house, having given birth to a son, Filippo, in 1440.[138] The foundling hospitals of Renaissance Florence were filled with children, many of them the children of slaves.[139]   Their higher-born counterparts however also had few rights over their children in a society where a legal wife was not the automatic guardian of her children in the event of her husband’s death.


Life after being a mistress

As is shown above, mothers were frequently parted from their children, although sometimes they were retained in the home in a type of parallel family, as is the case of Lucia, the slave of Paolo Niccolini. Former mistresses were sometimes married off to others, as in the case of Simonetta da Sommaia who was married to a Neapolitan merchant.[140] The mistress of Francesco di messer Arnaldo Mannelli was married off to another man,[141] as was Lorenza di Lazzerino, the servant of Bernardo Machiavelli and mistress of Niccolo Machiavelli.[142]



Illicit relationships did, however, sometimes end in marriage to the lover concerned.   Verdiana, the mistress of Rosso del Boneca Rossi was first listed as the wife of Martino di Pietro da Ulignano and then listed as Rossi’s wife.[143] Caterina di Filippo del Buono was married on her lover’s deathbed in a clear attempt to legitimise their children. Those who contested his will accused her of being a nun.[144] Giovanna di messer Iacopo del Panna married Giovanni Casciatelli in a similar attempt to legitimise children.[145] Guidantonio di messer Domenico di ser Mino married his mistress.[146] Tommaso Biliotti married the slave of Giovanozzo Biliotti, but the matter was not to be discussed for the sake of honour.[147] Marsilia di Bartolomeo di Luca, mother of the sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, lived with the goldsmith Bartolo di Michele while still married to Cione Ghiberti. It was only after Cione’s death that she married Bartolo di Michele.[148]


Some cases show affection between the parties although not marriage. Marcionne di ser Marchionne Donati freed Madalena, slave of Stoldo Frescobaldi.   He had a child with her and called her his donna, although there is no record of a marriage in this case.[149] Andrea Rucellai presented a petition to the Signoria tin 1388-9 to legitimise his son Santi, saying of his mistress that: ‘for some twenty years, she has lived with him in his house as his concubine, and since he has never had a wife, and since he has never had a wife, he loves her as though she were his legitimate spouse’.[150]

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