Children during the Black Death
Testament of a Mother during the Black Death [Will]
Below is a will that offers a window into the family life of Ursollina, wife of a parchment worker named Carinus. Although many wealthy people left long and complicated wills filled with lists of pious bequests, these simple wills are 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 Ursollina made hers, newly widowed, 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. 229, folio 9r. Annotated by Shona Kelly Wray.
Primary Source Text
In the name of Christ, Amen. July 23, 1348. Ursollina, daughter of the late Thomas Ursii and widow of the late Figliocarius, known as Carino, parchment maker in the parish of San Biagio, healthy in mind and intellect, but sick in body, declares her will thus. She leaves five lire for the benefit of her soul to be distributed by her heirs as they deem most useful for her soul, of which five lire, five solidi [20 solidi equaled one lira] are to go to Don Gerardus, her parish priest, and the rest are to be distributed as she said above. She leaves 20 lire for her daughter, Ysabeta, daughter of the late Figliocarius known as Carino, demanding that she be quiet and content with this sum. For all of her goods and property, moveable and immovable, and all her rights and actions, both now and in the future, she institutes as universal heirs, her three sons, Thomas, Johannes, and Bernardus, sons of the late Figliocarius. She declares that this is her 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, Petrobellus, son of the late Brother Ugollini, draper of San Biagio [he is the brother of her daughter's husband, Mengorius], Johannes son of the late Petrus, parchment maker of San Biagio, Ser Bondus son of the late Guidone, shoemaker of San Biagio, Jacobus son of the late Picinus, parchment maker of San Biagio, Petrus son of the late Rummollus, parchment maker of San Biagio, Marcus son of the late Dominicus, baker of San Biagio, and Symone son of the late Gerardus, furrier of San Biagio. Written by the notary Johannes Laurentii Stephani. The notary and witness, Petrobellus, designated as proctor for the ill 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 January 16, 2017).
- 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]