Sunday, January 13, 2013

Till Vendetta Do Us Part: Peacemaking Marriages I

"To the bride!"

Throughout the 13th century in Florence, every time the internecine violence reached a point where everyone agreed something had to be done, efforts to make peace - whether instigated from within the city or from outside - involved contracting marriages between the two warring families. 

In this post I'd like to give a little bit of background for this peculiar practice (which is certainly not unique to Florence, nor to the 13th century, but which still strikes me as a little strange, and probably thought up by somebody male.)  Imagine that you are a young (perhaps very young) woman in Florence.  You have been told all your life that the members of another faction are your bitter enemies, the devil incarnate.  Perhaps they have caused members of your family harm, or threatened to.  And now - suddenly - you're going to marry one.  You're going to have his children, and they and you will be under his absolute control.  If his family turns on yours again, too bad - your loyalties must now lie with your husband.

I'm going to list a few of the best-known occasions where this technique was employed through the century, mention a few specific pairings, and then, in my next few blog posts, I want to give a little post-wedding history for three of the couples.  But it won't make sense without a little historical and political background; hence the divided post.

We'll pass over the peacemaking marriage famously proposed in 1216, because I can't discuss it here without introducing spoilers for anyone who might want to read my book.   And I would really like for you to read my book.  Suffice it to say that a knight, one Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti, in an effort to resolve a conflict, was betrothed to a young woman whose family was allied with the powerful Uberti family, and "happily ever after" is not exactly how it went.

Marriage of Buondelmonte, by Saverio Altamura (1858-60 ca.)

In spite of that, 23 years later the Buondelmonti and the Uberti tried it again.  This time it was a granddaughter of Buondelmonte, whose name we don't know, promised to Neri Piccolomino degli Uberti, the grandson of Schiatta degli Uberti (who's also in A Thing Done).

Do you think that turned out any better?  No?  Very good - full marks for that answer.  We'll return to the unfortunate couple in next week's post.  For now, we will take a look at the rest of the 13th century.

By 1267, when a whole cluster of these marriages appears, party lines have been more firmly drawn.  With the clarity of hindsight we can see that the Buondelmonti were ringleaders in the proto-Guelf (pro-papal) party, though it was not yet called that, and the Uberti were the stalwarts at the head of the proto-Ghibelline (pro-imperial) party, also not yet called that.   This party division was not specific to Florence; it was to be found across Italy.

In the 13th century Florence had a pattern of upheaval that consisted of first one party gaining the ascendancy and then the other.  The party on top typically would exile the leaders of the opposition, and then the prevailing party would seize and destroy (or redistribute) the property of the exiles, up to and including pulling down their towers and destroying their homes.

The Wheel of Fortune

Then, when the wheel of Fortune turned, the triumphant exiles would return and cast out the other guys, and would then have a go at the property their enemies had been forced to abandon (including getting as much of their own side's property back into the hands of its original owners as they could). 

This resulted in a lot of rubble in the streets and a lot of very annoyed people.  It could mean total ruin for a family, but often it did not, because even then wealthy Florentines tended to have investments outside the city.  And nobody ever bothered exiling anybody except the rich and powerful.

So the exiles would leave, grumpily making their way toward a nearby city with a government sympathetic to their party, or in some cases to their own country castles and lands, to set up a shadow government, try to attract allies, plot and scheme, and then, when they thought the time was right, to make their own bid for power.

The 1267 nuptials followed a six-year period of Ghibelline supremacy and Guelf exile.  The Ghibellines' triumph at the bloody battle of Montaperti on September 4, 1260 had naturally resulted in an exodus of Florentine Guelfs.

Battle of Montaperti
But on February 26, 1266, it was the Guelfs' turn to triumph, in the battle of Benevento, north of Naples.  Moreover, Manfred, the son of the late Emperor Frederick II, was killed in that battle, leaving the Ghibelline party not much to rally around in the way of an imperial force.

Battle of Benevento
And yet the Ghibellines hung on in Florence, and the Guelfs didn't return for over a year.  It was a struggle for the Ghibellines, because the populace, weary of both the major parties, managed to move themselves into leadership positions, displacing the Ghibellines and resisting efforts by the Guelfs to take advantage of the Ghibellines' rudderless state and return.  It got to the point where the Ghibelline forces were mobilizing to square off against members of the populace, when a Ghibelline leader made what military strategists generally refer to as a Dumb Move.

Guido Novello, of the Conti Guidi (long a power in Tuscany), led his troops out of the city in order to come in again from a more strategic angle.  And while the Ghibellines were outside the city walls, the populace closed the gates.

Conti Guidi
Conti Guidi (variant)

Imagine that.  You try to get yourself into a better position, and while you're out maneuvering (and being out-maneuvered), those insolent plebs you were about to attack go and change the locks.  Machiavelli, who believed that Guido fled the city in fear of the people, says in his Florentine Histories, "...for the people who had been able to drive him out only with difficulty were able to keep him out with ease."

Chronicler Giovanni Villani says that when the dejected Ghibellines reached nearby Prato, "they bitterly reproached each other, but after a thing ill-judged, and worse carried out, repentance is in vain."  Hmmm.  "A thing ill-judged."  That would make a great title...

Thus did the Ghibellines go out with a whimper, never to have the rulership of Florence again.  Next the pope, Clement IV, persuaded the reluctant populace that they really should re-admit the exiled Guelf (pro-papal, remember?) party.  Popes in those days could be extremely persuasive; thus it was that the Guelfs returned, in April of 1267.

Clement IV, a persuasive pope

That sets the stage for the 1267 marriage contracts.  The defeated Ghibellines had trickled back, the Guelfs came home, and the pope wanted everyone to make peace.  

Among the couples united in that effort:  Iacopa, whose father was Guido Novello (remember the locked-out Ghibelline?), betrothed to Forese di Bonaccorso Adimari.  Bonaccorso, Forese's father, was caption of the Florentine Guelfs for over thirty years, so it doesn't get much Guelfer than that.  Bonaccorso's brother Bindo affianced Selvaggia degli Ubaldini, the daughter of a prominent Ghibelline house.


 Marriages were contracted between the Ghibelline Strinati family and the Guelf della Tosa.  That peace lasted for a time, but it must have been brittle - in 1301, we learn from chronicler Neri Strinati, the della Tosa attacked and robbed the Strinati houses, and "again in the same night the gang of the Medici [allied with the della Tosa] came to our house," where they stole everything that was left, and, as Strinati says in his Cronichetta, they "left the children, male and female, naked in their cribs, carrying off the clothing and bed linens."  One wonders if any of those children might have had a della Tosa grandmother.

della Tosa

Two other marriages were contracted at that time, both of which we will look at more closely in the next few blog posts:  Guido Cavalcanti (poet, and Dante's "first friend") was promised to Beatrice, daughter of the late Ghibelline leader Farinata degli Uberti (Guido Novello's predecessor); and Beatrice's brother Azzolino was given for wife Ravenna Donati.  Ravenna was the sister of Corso Donati, who I've often written about in these posts, and the daughter of Simone Donati, who played a role in the tale of the 1239 marriage that I'll recount in an upcoming post.  She was also a cousin of Dante's wife, Gemma Donati.



The Florentines were still at it in 1279, when the papal legate Cardinal Latino Malabranca Orsini arrived to make peace between warring factions (which by then included Guelfs arguing with other Guelfs, as well as Guelfs vs. Ghibellines).  Among the squabbling Guelf families he united were the Adimari (like Bonaccorso, above) and the Tosinghi; and the Donati (Ravenna's family) and the Pazzi.

Cardinal Latino

I have a theory that Gemma Donati's father Manetto promised his daughter to Dante (which he did in 1277, when Dante was 12 and Gemma probably younger) because he didn't want her to be available for such a peacemaking marriage.  As a leader in Florence and a prominent Guelf, he would have known early that efforts were afoot to have a papal peacemaker come to the city, and he also would have known that his own family would be one of the first to be considered for peacemaking unions.

I like to think that he wanted to spare his daughter such a fate, and so he arranged for her early betrothal to the poet-to-be, who lived a few doors down the street and was of a lower social station than the Donati.  Perhaps Manetto decided that to keep his daughter safe and nearby, he was willing to give the new couple a great deal of financial help, if needed, if it would keep her free of a union with a hostile family.  (He did indeed provide a lot of financial backing for Dante, all the way up to the point where Dante was exiled, and presumably assisted Gemma afterwards.)

In 1290, the Florentines were still making these marriages.  In that year, the priors not only mandated two marital liaisons between the della Tosa and the Lamberti, they actually pledged 1400 lire of the city's money toward the necessary dowries.  Such a deal - peace, if it works, and the woman's father doesn't even have to provide the dowry.

Next week:  the fate of Unknown Buondelmonti Lady and Neri Piccolomino degli Uberti.

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exceptions of the heraldic devices of the Adimari, the Conti Guidi (two lions), the Cavalcanti, and the Ubaldini, which are from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, created by Massimop; and the heraldic devices of the Uberti, the Conti Guidi (one lion) and the della Tosa, which are also from Wikimedia Commons and under the same licensing agreement, created by Sailko; and the picture of Pope Clement IV, also from Wikimedia Commons, same license, created by Marianne Casamance.

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