Florence has hugely rich and powerful in the 14th century; so much so its patronage of the arts and academia has given us the Renaissance that has influenced all our lives.
Marriage was a Serious Business in Florence
Among the powerful Florentine families marriage was a serious and expensive business and a dowry symbolized just how serious. Fishing with a good dowry cost a small fortune; as much as 1,400 florins and for an even better catch, upwards of 2,000 florins. When Lorenzo de’ Medici married Clarice Orsini, she arrived in Florence for the occasion with a dowry of 6,000 florins! When one considered that the best paid lawyer at the time was unlikely to earn more than 500 florins per annum, it is little wonder that many eligible women who could not raise a sufficient dowry ended up as nuns.
The Marriage Contract Details
There were many stipulations to a marriage contract; very much in favour of the husband. If for example the dowry was unpaid, the husband was allowed to send his wife back to her family, a humiliating fate. The Medici insisted that Lorenzo could return Clarice to her family if she did not bear children. There had been many bitter disputes when the family of a husband died insisted the widow repay her dowry if she remarried.
Paying the Dowry in Installments
Most Renaissance Florentines were good in business started paying for their daughters future dowry by depositing money into the Dowry Bank (Monte dei Doti), a communal fund set up to guarantee a dowry on their daughter’s marriage. It was treated as a taxable asset.
Florence used the money over a fifteen-year period, after which the girl was deemed eligible for marriage. Many believed that the amount in the Dowry Bank accounted for half the assets of the city!