Sunday, December 11, 2011

He was only mostly married - A Puzzle, Part 3

Last time, as you may recall, I had managed to persuade myself that Buondelmonte's foes would probably not have murdered him on Easter day in Florence in the year 1216, for various religious and logistical reasons, though the attack probably did occur close enough to Easter to be associated with it in people's memories. But there are still those chroniclers who state that he was married on Easter (to the Donati girl, thus jilting the young lady of the Amidei to whom he had been betrothed as a peacemaking gesture). Was he?

I doubted whether all of the Easter ritual would have left any time to celebrate a wedding, especially a wedding between wealthy Florentine nobles, with all the pomp and circumstance such an occasion would have demanded. I had visions of wedding processions clashing with religious processions, mystery plays coexisting with shawm players, elaborate displays of trousseaus contrasting with freed prisoners in penitential garb. It just wasn't going to work.

The many paintings of the marriage of the Virgin and Joseph give us some idea of what medieval Florentines might have expected to see when a wedding was celebrated, as in this fresco by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

Even the Virgin, in all her holy simplicity, had a wedding procession, with attendants and musicians. And check out this Bolognese wedding - it must have been pretty noisy.

Just how binding was Buondelmonte's reluctant betrothal to the Amidei girl? There's no doubt that he committed a serious offence by failing to honor his contract, risking a city-wide conflict so he could marry a different woman. (My husband's pithy description of the good knight was, "He was a goofball of a major order.") Breaking the contract was enough to call forth a vendetta against him, and yet his marriage to the Donati girl was legal. Although he had made a legal contract with the family of the other girl, betrothal was not yet marriage. To paraphrase The Princess Bride, he was only mostly married. Maybe we need to understand some things about weddings and betrothals at this time and place.

Marriage in early 13th century Florence was seldom as simple as running down to the Palazzo Vecchio, grabbing a notary, and getting hitched, and yet its essential element boiled down to mutual consent. It was not even necessary to have a priest present. Speaking the words of consent, even without witnesses, could be interpreted as a legal wedding, though doing it in this way would have been very unusual. It was more likely to be a multi-step process, and those steps could span anywhere from days to years, sometimes leaving couples in legal limbo for an excruciatingly long time until a dowry could be paid in full, for example.

After the initial arrangements were made between the two families, probably through the efforts of intermediaries - and neither bride nor groom had to be present for this - the heads of the two families clasped hands (the impalmamento), and soon afterwards the prospective groom brought a gift to the home of his bride-to-be and was a guest of her family at dinner. The couple were now considered to be betrothed.

Next, usually fairly soon after the impalmamento, came the giure, also known as the giuramento grande or the sponsalia or sponsalitium. This was both solemn and public, and involved males only, with kinsmen of both spouses-to-be and male friends of their families. The woman's father (if living; otherwise whichever male kinsman spoke for her) promised to obtain her consent. (One wonders about the definition of "consent" under these circumstances...) The groom promised to take her within an agreed time period and according to any stated conditions. A notary recorded the details and the dowry, which had been agreed to during the impalmamento. The bride-to-be may not even have been named in this document; if she was listed simply as "daughter of X", it was legally possible for X to substitute a different daughter, under certain circumstances. If an impalmamento was binding, the giure was even more so.

Next came the anellamento (ring day). The festivities took place at the bride's home, this time there were women present, including
the bride. A notary would again be present to record the legal details, and it is he who posed the questions prescribed by the church to obtain consent from both parties. The husband gave his bride a ring. His gifts to his bride's household were distributed (often they included edibles for the feast to come), and a supper, hosted by the bride's family, followed. At this stage the couple was considered to be man and wife, but under normal circumstances the marriage would not yet be consummated or publicly celebrated. The anellamento could follow the giure by a long or a short time - days, months, even years, especially if the pair had been pledged to one another as children.

And finally, the nozze. This was the public aspect of the wedding, including a procession, in which the bride and her belongings were public transferred to her husband's home. The bride was said to be "led" by a group of her husband's friends. The nozze could take place a long time after the anellamento, and often, payment of the dowry was an issue. Thus, a woman could be technically married, yet still living in her father's home, for a long (and potentially awkward) time.

Note, in this Marriage of the Virgin by Nicciolo di Buonaccorso, from the late 14th century, the man standing behind Joseph, about to give him a good clap on the back. This gesture, complete with the blow, was repeated in medieval Florentine marriages, to bring luck - it represented the anger felt by Joseph's unsuccessful rivals for the hand of the Virgin, and was usually performed by the groom's close friend, a sort of early Best Man.

So, when the chroniclers suggest that Buondelmonte got married on Easter, exactly which part of the marriage were they talking about? It probably would have been the nozze, since a procession was involved, or it could have been all of them - however unusual, it was not impossible to combine all major stages into a single day. But I still find it hard to believe that all of this was going on while Florence was celebrating Easter.

Why did the chroniclers (some of them, anyway) say that Buondelmonte was killed and/or married on Easter? I'm a writer; I understand the urge to make a story a little more dramatic by tweaking a detail here and there. I believe that's what they did, especially since the chroniclers, in almost every case, were trying to make a political point by how they presented this story. Even writing two or three hundred years after the fact, those historians were living in a world shaped by the conflict which began with this incident, and their own Guelf or Ghibelline sentiments were reflected in how they allocated blame for what happened to Florence in 1216.

But it still leaves me with a problem. If I've decided that these things didn't happen exactly as related, what, then, did happen? Come back for Part 4, the final piece of the puzzle, in which we explore why Buondelmonte was consistently said to have been wearing white, and what conclusion that led me to draw about both his marriage and his murder.

All images are US-PD (public domain because of expired copyright).


Anonymous said...

Wondering who the artist in 3rd picture is (anellamento - ring day- scene). And whether the groom's wand/staff is a scorpion or spider tip?

Tinney Heath said...

Hi, Anonymous - the artist was Coda Benedetto (1492-1535); the painting is in the City Museum of Rimini. Sorry, I have no idea what the squiggly little buglike thing on Joseph's staff is.