To Have and to Hold: Marriage in Pre-Modern Europe 1200 – 1700

To Have and to Hold: Marriage in Pre-Modern Europe 1200 – 1700

Peter and I had the pleasure interviewing Professor Ann Crabb ( James Madison U) and I had the opportunity to hear her give a paper on Margharita Datini, entitled ” Wifehood as a Profession – Margharite Datini 1376- 1410″. The following are some notes I took during her paper about the fascinating and remarkable life of Margharita Datini.

Margharita Datini and her husband Francesco lived 10 miles apart for the majority of their marriage so that they could manage their properties. They corresponded to each other about personal and practical matters and Margharita’s letters give us a glimpse into the life of a Tuscan wife in the late 14th century.

Their marriage was not a happy one. Francesco had 2 illegitimate children and was obsessed with work. He and Margharita didn’t have any children as she had probable Endometriosis.  She was frustrated by Francesco because she felt it was her duty to look after him and she could not do so because he was constantly absent.

Margharita was well schooled by her husband in the duties of household management – she knew how to keep accounts before she could write! She learned how to write in 1390,but before this, she was given a scribe and dictated to him. She also collected on delinquent accounts. Francesco sent her to speak to the wives of debtors to garner sympathy, and encourage them to pay their debts. Margharita was considered a “deputy husband” due to Francesco’s frequent absences and the lack of male relatives to fulfil this role. Margharita oversaw the building of the villa, and even purchased wood for a platform on the villa mezzanine. She managed the accounts and servants, entertained guests, supervised the harvest, and bought grain at the market. She had more freedom than most women of her time.

While Francesco respected her abilities, he could be harsh and unfair. The stress from her duties may have contributed to her poor health and she died at the age of 63.

The paper was extremely interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed the topic. There is much to be gleaned from letters during this period about daily life; I look forward to further translations of this nature.

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