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13.02.04, Brolis and Zonca, eds., Testamenti di donne a Bergamo nel medioevo

13.02.04, Brolis and Zonca, eds., Testamenti di donne a Bergamo nel medioevo

Over the past three decades, testaments have become a popular source for studies of the social and religious history of the medieval world. Scholars of Italy, in particular, have drawn fruitfully on the thousands of testaments in Italian archives in their research. A much- abbreviated list of Italianists whose work is based on wills includes names such as Attilio Bartoli Langeli, Stephen Epstein, Samuel K. Cohn, Robert Brentano, Antonio Rigon, Linda Guzzetti, and Shona Kelly Wray. While archival research on Italian testaments continues, to date few editions of the records have been published, with the exception of Sally McKee's 1998 collection of wills from fourteenth-century Venetian Crete. [1] Yet edited collections of testaments have important scholarly uses. For beginning graduate students, editions give a first view of testaments in legible form. For established scholars, collections of edited testaments can allow for the comparison of records from multiple sites, expanding the scope of our research projects. Those who do take the time and effort to identify, transcribe, and edit these sometimes idiosyncratic records therefore deserve our thanks. This well-edited volume of fourteenth-century women's wills from the northern Italian city of Bergamo, prepared with care by the Bergamasque scholar Maria Teresa Brolis and the archivist and historian Andrea Zonca, makes a useful contribution to the small extant corpus of edited testaments in Italy.

The testaments preserved in the volume, dating from 1253 to 1399, are all drawn from the vast parchment archive of Bergamo's largest confraternity, the Misericordia Maggiore, or MIA. The MIA, which still exists today, is also the publisher of this collection. (For a view of its many activities, see The volume begins with an introduction by the editors (following a preface by Attilio Bartoli Langeli). It includes a brief discussion of the testament as a source, as well as comments about the civil status of the testatrixes, the identities of heirs and others receiving bequests, and the types of objects named in the testaments. Tables identifying the testatrixes and their heirs follow the introduction, and the documents themselves are introduced with a discussion of the criteria used to present them. Throughout the edited texts of the wills, the editors include marginalia identifying the type of bequest or the section of document. The volume concludes with a brief glossary of unfamiliar terms found in the wills (some are Bergamasque dialect) and a substantial and very useful index of personal names, titles, locations, and occupations curated by Bartoli Langeli.

The creation of a will took place at a dramatic moment in the life of an individual, and many details of that moment can be reconstructed from a close reading of the records. Bergamasque testators followed Roman law in dictating their testamentary desires before a group of seven (or more) witnesses, whose names the notary recorded. We can imagine the testatrix surrounded by a large group of men from her family and community (and other female friends and supporters, those aliis whose gender did not allow them to serve as legal witnesses) as she gave instructions about the distribution of her property. Other aspects of the context in which wills were created can also be found in these records. For instance, since notaries were required to record the mental state of all testators (to ensure that they were eligible to make a will) we learn the physical condition of the women as they dictated their wishes. Only 13 of the 45 women were healthy. We also learn where the wills were made. Healthy testatrixes usually dictated their wills outside their houses, either in the churches of the Franciscans and Dominicans, or the house that served as the headquarters for the MIA. Of the ill testatrixes, most dictated their wills in their own homes, although a few were resident in one of the city's hospitals.

Gender played a role in determining the identity of those who could make wills in Bergamo, as elsewhere on the Italian peninsula. In some places, namely Venice, married women made wills frequently, but in most parts of the peninsula most testatrixes were either widowed or, more rarely, never-married. Bergamo falls into this latter category, since most of the women named here--37 in total--were widows. A few were singlewomen, identified still with their connection to the fathers but to no other man. It would be helpful to know if the absence of married testatrixes was common across all social ranks, but the women represented in this collection were largely of the middling or upper echelons of Bergamasque society.

The editors explain their choice to edit and present only women's wills in the introduction, stating that the relatively small number of women's testaments in the parchment fonds of the MIA archive gave them the opportunity to present the records in their entirety, allowing for the possibility of qualitative analysis of these "autobiographical" records. That said, it is important to keep in mind that the wills in this collection form only one small part of the rich archival holdings of testaments and related documents in Bergamo for the fourteenth century. In several cases, testatrixes whose wills appear here made multiple versions of their wills, some of which are extant in the notarial archives of the city (in particular in the fondo notarile of the Archivio di Stato di Bergamo). In a few cases we can even track the distribution of bequests after the women's deaths. Comparing versions of a will with other, related records can demonstrate how much took place behind the scenes of these documents. For instance, the collection includes two testaments by Franzina Brignoli, widow of Lombardino de Levate, the first from 1346 and the second from 1351 (documents # 26 and #33, pp. 88-92 and pp. 114-115). The editors note that the tone of the second will is very different from the first, since in the first Franzina named many legatees from several religious institutions across the city (in particular the monastery of Mater Domini), while in the second she named only the MIA as her heir. A third will, not included here but found in the notarial fonds of Bergamo's Archivio di Stato and dated 1349, named a series of individuals not found in the first will, but this will also retained and even amplified many of the bequests of the 1346 testament. [2] Did Franzina reject these people and institutions as potential heirs when she made her final will? A record of the distribution of the bequests, held in the Biblioteca Civica, suggests that she did not. [3] That record includes both an inventory of the possessions found in her house after her death, and a list of the bequests distributed, which resembled those found in the earlier wills, and which the MIA claimed cost almost 160 lire. The change in the tone of the final will, then, did not reflect a change in the testatrix's final priorities for her estate.

Isolating these wills from others in the archives of Bergamo reveals only a portion of some women's stories. Similarly, reading the testament of an individual in isolation from those of her household members, as this volume invites us to do, provides only a partial view of her role within her social world. One trend in recent scholarship is to see the individual's testament as the product of a set of household strategies. For instance, Shona Kelly Wray's 2012 research on faculty and notarial families in Bologna emphasized how testaments show these households working as a group, as female members of the professors' households often took care of spiritual (pro anima) bequests for their husbands and themselves. Reading the wills of the women in this collection along with those of their household members can similarly illuminate how couples coordinated their testaments. For instance, the will of domina Bertrama, widow of Bergamino de Drosio, (document # 34, pp. 116-117) is a short, unforthcoming document, naming only her sister Iacoba as her heir (on the instruction of her late husband), and leaving everything else to the Misericordia Maggiore. While she followed her husband's lead in naming her heir, was her bequest to the MIA a reflection of Bertrama's own pious inclinations? Possibly not. Bergamino, whose will reveals that he was a magister, made at least two wills, the first in 1330 and the second in 1353. [4] The 1330 will named the couple's son Martino as his heir and identified all of the personal items, including clothing, furs, jewels, and bedcoverings that domina Bertrama could take from his estate. But the largest cash bequest in that testament was for the MIA; Bergamino asked that the confraternity receive 100 lire to be distributed among the poor of the city in his name. In 1353, Bergamino made a new version of his will in which he again named Martino as his heir, but this time left his son only one third of his estate. The other two thirds of the estate were to go to the Misericordia Maggiore. If Martino died within three years of Bergamino's own death, the rest of the estate was also to devolve to the MIA. The bequest to the MIA in Bertrama's will was thus probably shaped by the wishes of her husband, as much as by her own pious needs and desires.

Husbands probably played a role (even from beyond the grave) in determining their wives' testamentary instructions, but notaries, too, helped shape the will, and their presence in these records is worth consideration. More than eighty different notaries make appearances in these testaments; some appear multiple times. Most of these men were inhabitants of Bergamo; some were from established notarial families, and their fathers or sons also appear in these pages. The notaries are far from a coherent group; they were identified as coming from a range of different ranks. Many were identified solely as notaries, or notarius publicus pergamensis, while a few were notaries "by imperial authority" and still others had been given their power to redact by the bishop. Notarial influence on the form of the wills can be seen, for instance, in the one testament (that of domina Giovanna, or Flora, de Cumis, document #19, pp. 65-69) redacted by a non- Bergamasque notary. Brolis and Zonca draw our attention to the differences in the formula employed by this notary, including the fact that he used the first person, rather than the standard third person forms found in the other wills in this collection.

To the North American reader, the volume looks ideal as a source collection for a graduate seminar in medieval social and religious history. It is inexpensive and clearly presented, and the choices made by the editors are useful and provide a foundation for further discussion. Readers need to keep in mind that this is a far from complete collection of the extant archival materials, but it serves as a very good introduction to the wealth of medieval testamentary records available throughout the archives of the Italian peninsula and beyond.



1. Sally McKee, ed. Wills from Late Medieval Venetian Crete, 1312- 1420 (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1998).

2. For the 1349 will, see ASBg, Notarile, Busta 10 (not. G. Soiario), 165-169 (1349, 9 August).

3. See Biblioteca Civica di Bergamo (BCBg), AB 229, 22v-24r.

4. His wills can be found in ASBg, Notarile, Busta 6, (not. G. Soiario), 143-144 and BCBg, MIA pergamene, 1254.