Children during the Black Death
Testament of a Father during the Black Death [Will]
Below is a will that offers a window into the family life of Carinus, a parchment worker, or cartolarius, a fairly common trade in the university town of Bologna. Although many wealthy people left long and complicated wills filled with lists of pious bequests, this simple will is more typical of artisans who, despite modern assumptions to the contrary, commonly made wills in medieval Italy. According to intestate law in medieval Italian towns, sons were to inherit the patrimony equally while daughters were to receive a dowry, which their husbands could use while they were married and which was returned to them at the end of that marriage.
Carinus made his will when he was ill at the beginning of July and his wife, Ursollina, newly widowed, made hers two weeks later. The only other will to remain from this family is that of their married son, Johannes, who made his will on July 30, naming his unborn child as heir (his wife was pregnant at the time). Petrobellus, the brother of Mengorius, husband of Carinus and Ursollina's daughter, made his will on the same day as Ursollina. The same notary and parish priest were present for all four of these wills. The English translation has left out most of the legalistic and formulaic language.
Archivio di Stato di Bologna. Memoriali. Vol. 230, folio 98r. Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray.
Primary Source Text
In the name of Christ, Amen. July 8, 1348. Figliocharius, known as Carinus, son of the late Brother Donisdei, parchment maker living in the parish of San Biagio of Bologna, healthy in mind and intellect, but sick in body, declares his will thus. He leaves five lire for the benefit of his soul to be distributed by his heirs as would seem to them best and most useful for his soul. Of these five lire, five solidi [20 solidi equaled one lira] should go to Don Gerardus, chaplain of the parish church of San Biagio, for masses for his soul. He leaves 20 solidi for his two nieces Mina and Cicillia. He returns to his wife her dowry of 130 lire [a modest dowry, typical of the artisan class] and gives her 20 lire as well as his bed and all the linen and woolen clothes that she had during her life and at the time of his death. He grants his wife usufruct [the right to use but not own] all of his goods as long as she lives in the home with their children, remains a widow, and does not ask for her dowry and the aforesaid legacies [i.e., the 20 lire, bed and clothing]. He leaves to his daughter, Isabeta, wife of Mengorius, son of the late Brother Ugollini of the parish of San Biagio, all that he had arranged as her dowry for her marriage to Mengorius. As a blessing [nomine benedictionis], he also leaves her 20 solidi. For all of his goods and property, moveable and immovable, and all his rights and actions, both now and in the future, he institutes as universal heirs, his three sons, Thomas, Johannes, and Bernardus. He declares that this is his last will and cancels and invalidates any previous testament or codicil. Enacted in the testator's house in the parish of San Biagio, in the presence of the following witnesses: Don Gerardus, parish priest of San Biagio, Johannes son of the late Albertinus, draper of San Biagio, Petrus son of the late Johannes, parchment maker of San Biagio, Paulus son of the late Ugollinus, parchment maker of San Biagio, Bertone son of the late Jacobus, armorer of San Biagio, Guidone son of the late Simone, parchment maker of San Biagio, Tomas son of the late Brother Albertus, parchment maker of San Biagio, Bonacosa son of the late Leyus, draper of San Biagio, and Benvenutus son of the late Gerardinus, baker of San Biagio. Written by the notary, Johannes Laurentii Stephanii. The notary and Johannes Albertini, designated as proctor for the sick testator, went to the Office of the Memoriali on that day to register the testament.
How to Cite This Source
Shona Kelly Wray, "Children during the Black Death," in Children and Youth in History, Item #167, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/167 (accessed May 29, 2016).
- Primary Sources
- Decameron [Literary Excerpt]
- Italian accounts of the Black Death [Personal Accounts]
- Health Ordinances of Pistoia, 1348 [Legal Document]
- Testament of a Father during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of a Mother during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of an Elite Wife during the Black Death [Will]
- Testament of an Elite Husband during the Black Death [Will]
- Will-making among the general populace of Bologna during 1348 [Graph]
- The Dance of the Dead [Mural]
- The Dance of Death [Woodcut]