Monday, January 28, 2013

The Inlaws: Peacemaking Marriages III

For those who haven't followed the last two posts, you may wish to look back at the first post in this series, which gives a bit of historical context for the phenomenon of peacemaking marriages.  However, here are the basics of what you need to know:

We're following the marital lives of three 13th century couples in (or from) Florence, all of them examples of marriages contracted to make peace between warring factions - in this case, between Guelfs and Ghibellines.  We're exploring how this practice actually played out in people's lives (to the extent that we can find out, at a distance of nearly eight centuries).

The Second Couple

Beatrice di Farinata degli Uberti and Guido Cavalcanti were promised to one another in January 1267, part of a flurry of peacemaking marriages at a point in Florentine history when the Ghibellines had been in control of the city for six years, but were rapidly losing their grip on power after the death of Manfred, son of the late Emperor Frederick II, at the battle of Benevento in 1266.


Frederick II

Beatrice, records tell us, was probably called Bice (rhymes with eBay, and with a "c" as in "cello").  She was the daughter of the late, great Ghibelline military and political leader, Farinata degli Uberti, who had died in Florence in 1264, in the midst of that last period in which Ghibellines controlled the city (which they did as a result of Farinata's victory at Montaperti in 1260).

We don't know how old Bice was in 1267.  There's reason to believe that her betrothed, Guido, was in his teens, and it is quite possible that she was still a child, and that they would not live together as husband and wife for some time yet.

However, I suspect she was old enough to wed, because within a matter of months the Ghibellines were to be ousted again - or rather, to oust themselves, fearful over the imminent arrival of Charles of Anjou to take over rule of the city (which Florentine officials had asked him to do).

Had Bice been merely betrothed, and too young to leave with her husband-to-be and his family, I'm guessing the marriage would not have taken place.  So I think one of two things must have happened:  Guido was young enough, and innocent enough of having personally provoked the Guelfs, that he managed to stay in Florence, and the two then wed.  Or they married, rather than simply pledging their betrothal, in January 1267, and she left with him.

Guido Cavalcanti was the son of a knight, messer Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti, a prominent Guelf.  Guido was also one of the greatest poets of his day.  His contemporary, chronicler Dino Compagni, describes him thus:  "He was courtly and bold, but scornful, solitary, and studious."

Guido (on tombstone) being scornful and solitary

 Giovanni Boccaccio, who was born thirteen years after Guido died, features Guido in the ninth story of the sixth day of his Decameron.  He calls the poet "one of the finest logicians in the world and an expert natural philosopher" and "an exceedingly charming and sophisticated man, with a marked gift for conversation, and his outshone all his contemporaries in every activity pertaining to a gentleman that he chose to undertake."  (These translations are by G.H. McWilliam, from the Penguin Classics edition of the Decameron.)

He also tried to kill Corso Donati with a spear once, but his aim was not as good as his poetry, and he missed.  Besides, he was convinced that Corso had tried to have him poisoned once while he was on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  Guido and Corso did not like each other very much.

Dante simply called Guido his "first friend."

Before we look at the marriage between the charming-but-scornful Guido and Bice the daughter of the great Ghibelline, let's have a look at their respective fathers.


Farinata and Cavalcante

Dante has installed both men in the Inferno, damning them for heresy.  The Ghibelline Farinata and the Guelf Cavalcanti occupy open tombs next to each other, which they will never leave.  Virgil (Dante's guide) informs Dante that Farinata is a follower of Epicurus, the Greek who denied immortality, claiming that the soul dies with the body.  Hence the permanent tombs, for in a tidy example of "the punishment fits the crime," these souls will not be resurrected at the Last Judgment. 

(We will see other charges against Farinata later.)

Farinata was christened Manente degli Uberti; Farinata is a lifelong nickname derived from his fair hair, like golden wheat.  He led the Florentine Ghibellines from 1239 till his death in 1264.  His troops drove the Guelfs out in 1248 and defeated them at Montaperti in 1260.  We are told, by Dante and others, that when a council of triumphant Ghibellines wanted to raze Florence to the ground after Montaperti, Farinata alone opposed them and saved the city, saying that he didn't defeat his enemies to destroy his city, but to live in it.  For this act, Dante accords Farinata's shade much respect.  He calls the Ghibelline chief "magnanimo," which I've seen interpreted as "great-souled."

You get something of the measure of the man in these verses from the Inferno:
I had already fixed my eyes in his; and he was rising up with his breast and forehead as if he had Hell in great disdain.
When I stood at the foot of his tomb, he gazed at me a little, and then, as if scornful, asked me:  "Who were your forebears?"  (translation by Robert M. Durling)

Ah, Farinata.  Ever-proud, ever-partisan, uncowed by Hell itself.

And Guido's father, the knight Cavalcante, who had died around 1280?  Dante suggests, by placing him in this particular part of the Inferno, that his friend's father is a denier of the Resurrection.

Were these men in fact heretics?  Both, Guelf and Ghibelline, could have pointed to known Cathars in their family histories, but we do not know if either man espoused this dualistic belief, which was at that time very much under fire from the church.  But before we follow this thought further, let's look back at Guido and Bice.

The couple

So did they live happily ever after?  We have no idea.  They did produce a son, Andrea, and probably also a daughter, Tancia, who eventually married Giacotto Mannelli, from a Ghibelline family.  But Bice did have to undergo what must have been a deeply disquieting experience, about sixteen years into her marriage (if we can assume she was still alive at that point - we don't really know).

The disturbing event for Bice occurred in 1283, when Florence's chief inquisitor, Fra Salamone di Lucca, convicted the late Farinata and his late wife Adeleta of following the Patarine (Cathar) heresy, on the grounds that they had accepted the Cathar "consolation" ritual on their deathbeds.

His verdict was that their bodies, interred in Santa Croce, be exhumed, burned, and the ashes deposited in or on unconsecrated ground.  This would all have been done publicly.  It cannot have been easy for a daughter to see this, or even to hear of it happening in her city.  Was Bice old enough when Farinata died to remember him?  Was Adeleta her mother, or perhaps a stepmother?  We don't know.

And was Farinata really a heretic?  Florentines at this time, with the Guelfs solidly in charge, tended to lump Catharism together with Ghibellinism, not without some cause.  And yet, as we've seen, the very Guelf Cavalcanti also had Catharism in their ranks.  Ironically, if Farinata was indeed a Cathar, he would not have particularly minded the removal of his remains from consecrated ground, as he would not have believed in bodily resurrection.

But it was to the Guelf city's advantage to make this Ghibelline-heretic connection, because every time they condemned a Ghibelline for heresy, they could confiscate all his goods and his properties - including those long since passed on to heirs.  Thus, all of Bice's brothers and their sons shared in their parents' condemnation to some extent, and their property was forfeit and they were banished from Florence.

Bice herself, and her dowry, probably remained untouched.  Both were in the good Guelf Guido's hands, and unlikely to be disturbed.  But that still means she had to witness not only her parents' exhumation and posthumous punishment, but the impoverishment and banishment of her male relatives.

Unless she came to Guido at such a young age that she had managed to forget all of her birth family, I cannot believe that Bice, at least, lived happily ever after.

As for Guido, his love poetry featured one Giovanna (affectionately nicknamed "Primavera," or "Springtime"), and, later, Mandetta.  But courtly (and even not-so-courtly) love affairs do not tell us whether he lived with his Ghibelline wife in harmony or not.

In short, we will never know. 

Next time:  Ravenna Donati and Azzolino di Farinata degli Uberti

Images in this post are in the public domain by virtue of their age.

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