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Lodovico Capponi: A Florentine Banker and a Lending Transaction in 16th Century Florence

Lodovico Capponi: A Florentine Banker and a Lending Transaction in 16th Century Florence

By Elsa Lindstrom

Voces Novae: Chapman University Historical Review, Vol.1:2 (2010)

Abstract: This paper examines how loans transpired in early 16th century Italy, taking a look at a specific transaction involving Lodovico Capponi of Florence and the Vatican in Rome. The study breaks down into three separate themes: lenders, collateral, and interest. The paper takes a look at what sorts of people were lending money to whom, the importance of collateral and the kind of objects that were deemed acceptable for it, and the delicate application and retrieval of usurious interest on a loan. This is followed by a debate concerning the economy and the movement of money during this era. Although at this time there was not yet a regimented baking system as we understand it today, it is clear that there were understood rules and regulations that were followed between two parties joined in a loan.

Introduction: On Pope Leo X’s death in December 1521, Lodovico Capponi was summoned to the Vatican by the Camarlingo, Cardinal Armellino, to loan money for the papal funeral and to fund the empty see. During this time, the Apolisitic Chamber owed a total of 297,000. Together with a handful of business partners, they offered up the sum of 27,000 ducats. During this time, the Apostolic Chamber owed a total of 297,000 ducats. This shows that this shows that this one loan of 27,000 ducats was an incredibly large sum, almost ten percent of the Vatican’s total debt. Although quite large, the debt was finally settled three years later by Pope Clement VII. Blurred distinctions between banking families, money, and lending institutions make it difficult to complete a conclusive study of economics in 16th century Florence. The term “bank” and “family” were used interchangeably, as well as coin denominations, such as “ducats” and “scudi.” Years of detailed research on individual account books would be needed to construct a reasonably complete economic history for this era. However, much can be learned by examining individual transactions, like the ones that involved Lodovico Capponi and the executers of the estate of Pope Leo in 1521. In the paper that follows, Lodovico’s life as a merchant-banker is outlined; some light is shed on the role of lenders, collateral, and interest in Italy; and the overall economy of Florence at the beginning of the 16th century is analyzed by looking at these lending transactions.

Much less attention has been devoted to the economic condition of the Florentine upper classes than to their cultural life. Without data for large numbers of individual families, it is difficult to come to satisfying conclusions about the general economic growth or decline in this period. It can be concluded, however, that with few exception, Florentine fortunes built by the early sixteenth century came from banking. Also, these fortunes were formed outside of Florence, often as the result of some connection with papal finances. For example, Lodovico Capponi was a Florentine banker but made his wealth in Rome dealing with the Apolistic Chamber. In sixteenth century Rome, the most influential group of Italians were the Tuscans. The Florentines were firmly established as the center of this group by the fourteenth century. The sway Florentines had in Rome only increased during the reign of a Medici pope, Pope Leo X. A cardinal once pointed out that Pope Julius “used to give about 4,000 ducats per month to the tinello; this pope needs 8 or 9,000, because so many Florentines claiming to be his relatives come to the tinello to eat.” In other words, it was believed that Leo X’s great extravagances resulted from his having to pander to the wishes of large numbers of Florentines who flocked to him expecting his patronage.

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