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The Florentine Magnates

The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune

Carol Lansing
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvpmz
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    The Florentine Magnates
    Book Description:

    In the 1290s a new guild-based Florentine government placed a group of noble families under severe legal restraints, on the grounds that they were both the most powerful and the most violent and disruptive element in the city. In this colorful portrayal of civic life in medieval Florence, Carol Lansing explores the patrilineal structure and function of these urban families, known as "magnates." She shows how they emerged as a class defined not by specific economic interests but by a distinctive culture. During the earlier period of weaker civic institutions, these families built their power by sharing among themselves crucial resources--forts, political alliances, ecclesiastical rights. Lansing examines this activity as well as the responses patrilineal strategies drew from women, who were excluded from inheritance and full lineage membership. In looking at the elements of this culture, which emphasized private military force, knighthood, and faction, Lansing argues that the magnates' tendency toward violence derived from a patrician youth culture and from the instability inherent in the exaggerated use of patrilineal ties. In describing the political changes of the 1290s, she shows how some families eventually dropped the most stringent aspects of patrilineage and exerted their influence through institutions and patronage networks.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6234-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. LIST OF FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  2. 1 INTRODUCTION: THE MEDIEVAL FLORENTINE NOBLES
    (pp. 3-26)

    THE DOMINANT features of medieval Florence were the high towers of the nobility. Most north Italian communes by the late twelfth century were forests of narrow stone towers: Benjamin of Tudela, visiting Pisa in the 1160s, estimated the number of towers there at a dramatically improbable 10,000.¹ In 1100, Florence probably contained only a handful of towers; by 1200 the city’s skyline was jammed with more than 150, some ranging as high as 250 feet.

    No civic monument offered visual competition: in fact, there were few public buildings. Florence had a new set of walls, built in the 1170s, but...

  3. PART ONE: THE LINEAGE

    • 2 THE FORMATION OF URBAN LINEAGES
      (pp. 29-45)

      BEYOND THE household, two distinct patterns of family structure were characteristic of medieval Florence, as they were of Mediterranean Europe. These were the kindred and the lineage. The most enduring was the kindred, a flexible and impermanent structure based on a conjugal couple. In the kindred, as Randolph Trumbach has written, “each individual … stood at the center of a unique circle of kinsmen connected to him through both mother and father and through his spouse.”¹ Family identity was imprecise: a man’s relations were not only hisconsanguineibut hispropinquii, including relatives by marriage as well as blood. Which...

    • 3 JOINT LINEAGE PROPERTY: AN OVERVIEW
      (pp. 46-63)

      IN LATE twelfth- and thirteenth-century Florence, the weakness of civic institutions led rising families to adopt a patrilineal inheritance strategy and set of values in order to foster cooperation in the preservation of shared resources. These resources were used to establish family power and status in the commune. What kinds of properties were shared by lineages, and how were they actually administered by these large kin groups?

      The most remarkable text for the centrality of joint property to the formation and continuing identity of a lineage is Neri Strinati’sCronichetta.¹ Neri Strinati was a Florentine magnate who while exiled in...

    • 4 ECCLESIASTICAL RIGHTS AS JOINT PROPERTY
      (pp. 64-83)

      AMONG THE most valuable lineage assets in medieval Florence were ecclesiastical rights. These rights were a type of property that was prestigious, at times lucrative, and could not be divided. Rights over the church were crucial to some lineages, just as they had been to the older landed nobility, as joint property and as a source of family identity.¹ Scholars now argue that patronage rights were a major reason for lineage formation. In the eleventh century, families of the rural nobility had used ecclesiastical patronage as a means of safeguarding their patrimonies. When a family founded a monastery and donated...

    • 5 JOINT PROPERTY: TOWERS AND PALACES
      (pp. 84-106)

      IN THE twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the major motive for the formation and cohesion of patrician lineages was the establishment of a family complex within the city. Urban forts and residences were the crucial element of shared property, the element first established and last divided. Lineage identity was closely bound up with the family palaces and towers. Individuals at times were left fractions of family property so small that they could only have had symbolic value: ownership of a hundredth share of the family’s palaces must have meant primarily that one belonged to the family.

      Lineage property also expressed political...

  4. PART TWO: THE EXCLUSION OF WOMEN

    • 6 DISAFFECTION FROM THE LINEAGE: UMILIANA DEI CERCHI AND THE CATHARS
      (pp. 109-124)

      IN THE twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Florentine patricians reacted to urban society with a shift in their patterns of family structure. The result was a new patrilineal emphasis in inheritance, in which undivided fractions of some types of property were shared among brothers and over time among more distant kinsmen. The extended family was redefined as a patrilineal descent group, a group united by descent from a common ancestor. This patrilineal emphasis fostered cooperation among kinsmen and facilitated the sharing of valuable and strategic resources. The pattern in fact probably originated among kinsmen who shared an indivisible resource, rights over...

    • 7 WOMEN WITHIN THE LINEAGE
      (pp. 125-142)

      UMILIANA dei Cerchi and her Franciscan and Cathar contemporaries were women who sought to turn their backs on marriage and the patrilineage. What of the vast majority of women, who remained within the family? Because a woman’s status within the lineage was marginal, she was placed at the center of the relations between lineages.¹ Her life was immediately shaped by lineage interests when she moved from one family to another: when she was married and when she was widowed. The size of her dowry and the family’s choice of a husband would be of great concern to the lineage. If...

  5. PART THREE: THE MAGNATES

    • 8 KNIGHTHOOD AND COURTLY STYLE
      (pp. 145-163)

      FROM 1281, THE Florentine government imposed a series of statutes intended to stabilize the city and put an end to violence and civil war. The laws were based on the conviction that civic unrest was the fault of a distinct group of lineages, termed the “potentes, nobiles vel magnates”: the powerful, nobles or magnates. The statutes required the magnates to post security against the possibility that they might commit crimes, and gradually restricted their access to public office. This effort begged a difficult social and political question: who precisely were the magnates? What criteria defined the group to be restricted...

    • 9 VIOLENCE AND FACTION
      (pp. 164-191)

      IN 1286, MAGNATE status was based on three general criteria: knighthood, popular opinion, and a propensity for violence and faction, implied by the requirement that they post security against the possible commission of a crime. The implications of knighthood are clear. It meant actual military training and service on horse; it also implied elaborate ceremonial and courtly style. The magnates were in some ways a military class, even at the end of the thirteenth century.

      What of the other criteria, popular opinion and a propensity for violence and faction? The criteria seem highly subjective: houses were to be named not...

    • 10 THE POPOLO AND THE ORDINANCES OF JUSTICE
      (pp. 192-211)

      THE MAGNATES came to be defined as a legal class only because of the growth of organized opposition to their power. From the late twelfth century, popular associations formed in opposition to the nobles. These groups came to view the city’s instability as a conflict between magnati and popolani, thus creating those social categories. They then acted to restrain the magnates. The measures they imposed both defined the group of magnates and altered its social and political roles.

      This does not mean that the popular measures were always successful, or even that they were always carried out. Even the Ordinances...

    • 11 THE DEBATE OVER TRUE NOBILITY
      (pp. 212-228)

      THE STATUTES directed against the magnates implicitly questioned the social justification of their status. If the nobles acted not as society’s protectors but rather as a threat to public order then in what sense could they be considered noble? What legitimated their privilege?

      This challenge to the justification of the noble status raised a number of problems. The first was a political question, a problem of social analysis. As we have seen, the thirteenth-century Florentines believed that many of the problems of their society were caused by the magnates. However, if the nobles or magnates were not a social group...

    • 12 THE MAGNATES IN THE EARLY FOURTEENTH CENTURY
      (pp. 229-238)

      IN THE course of the thirteenth century, Florence changed dramatically. The city doubled in size and was transformed from a disorderly collection of houses, shops, and towers, parish churches and a few convents, to a city paved in stone and ordered by major public works. These public palaces, streets, andpiazzewere the physical expression of strengthened civic institutions. The change is easily symbolized: in 1241, when the commune owed damages to the Amidei, the lineage was given the city’s judicial and tax records as surety. By 1300, the Amidei were posting surety for good behavior under communal law.¹ The...

  6. APPENDIX I LIST OF THE MAGNATES
    (pp. 239-242)
  7. APPENDIX II A NOTE ON COINAGE
    (pp. 243-244)