The Merchant of Prato's Wife

Margherita Datini and Her World, 1360-1423
Ann Crabb
The first full study of the life of Margherita Datini illuminates the role and social standing of wives in early modern Italian society 


Although the fourteenth-century Italian merchant Francesco Datini has received attention from business historians, there has previously been no full study of his wife, Margherita Datini. Drawing on a sizable trove of Margherita’s correspondence held in the Archivio di Stato di Prato, including hundreds of letters she exchanged with Francesco, Ann Crabb investigates the social and economic importance of women’s roles as wives and mothers, early modern European views on honor, and the practice of letter writing in Margherita’s world.

Margherita’s often colorful comments demonstrate her attitudes toward her rather unhappy marriage and her inability to have children, along with other aspects of her life. Her letters reveal the pride she felt in carrying out her many responsibilities as a wife and, later, a widow: in scribal letter writing, in business, in household management, and in farming. Crabb emphasizes that the role of a wife was a recognized social position, beyond her individual relations with her husband, and provided opportunities beyond what restrictive laws or restrictive views of female honor would suggest. Further, Crabb considers Margherita’s successful efforts, on her own initiative and in her late thirties, to learn to read and write at a literate level.

This book will be of interest to both scholars and general readers of women’s history. In addition, historians of early modern Italy and, more generally, of early modern Europe will find this book valuable.

“Crabb is an especially careful and sensitive reader of the Datini correspondence, arguing for Margherita’s proud sense of agency as wife and helpmate within the great Datini economic sphere. . . . Her scholarship is always sound and well-balanced, and her citations thoroughly draw upon the classic literature of Renaissance historiography as well as the most recent work in a number of fields.”
—Cynthia Polecritti, University of California, Santa Cruz

Ann Crabb is Professor Emerita of History, James Madison University. She is the author of The Strozzi of Florence: Widowhood and Family Solidarity in the Renaissance (University of Michigan Press, 2000).

Praise / Awards

  • "...a very welcome monograph on a fascinating late medieval woman."
    --Carolyn James, Renaissance Quarterly
  • "Outstanding correspondence is both the origin and heart of the book."

  • "This is a fine and insightful book....Crabb’s careful reading gives us a splendid insight into marital relations in one household over six hundred years ago."
    --American Historical Review

  • "Outstanding in its scope and its quality source inventory Crabb successfully undertakes an astonishingly large task."
    --Rezensionen im Deutschen Archiv

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Product Details

  • 288 pages.
  • 10 halftones.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2015
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12073-4

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • Women’s history
    Letter writing
    Middle ages
    Early Modern 
    Business history