Alessandra Torrigiani d'Arezzo



[1]To Lena from her sister Alessandra, with greeting and warmest wishes. I believe, dearest sister, that you know how in his last letter, my brother implored me to write to you, for you were lonely and homesick. I beg you to excuse then the lateness of this reply, for I have been much occupied and distracted by my duties to our estate, and also its inadequacy for I am but a woman of some small learning roughly fashioning words where many better have written before. Yet from my love and gratitude to you and my brother, I set myself to this task. Here I shall set out the story of my life for two reasons firstly that we may come to know each other better, and secondly that you being homesick in far off France may find memories of Firenze your home.[2]

I will begin with the discussion of my, and now your, family. The Torrigiani family came originally from Arezzo, this city being taken by Firenze in 1384[3]. It was my grandfather Matteo[4], a successful silk merchant in Arezzo who first moved to the city of Firenze intent upon the expansion of his commercial interests and the possible success of our family in the politics and court of Firenze[5]. Thus came the practice of calling those of our family 'd'Arezzo', emphasising our origin outside of the city[6].

My father Gabriello followed in his father's footsteps, in expanding the family business and strengthening our ties with the mighty of Firenze. His marriage was contracted to Isabetta Tommaso Falconieri, the daughter of a long established and respected family who were successful bankers.[7]

My brother Christofano and myself were the only two of the seven children my mother birthed to survive to adulthood, and were much treasured by my father.[8] It was due to this great affection that when my father engaged a tutor for Christofano that I was permitted to also attend these lessons[9]. In addition to these skills learnt with my brother, I was also taught the skills due to a noble-born woman by my mother, who in her time had been much admired for her grace and courtesy. For her I learned embroidery, dancing, and music, as well as the management of the household.[10]

I was married, at age 17, to Naldino Guidetti. He was the youngest son, though aged 32, and his family were bankers.[11] Upon this marriage, I came to live with my new family.[12]

In the summer of 1475 here was, as you may remember, much illness in the city. My husband died first, leaving me widowed and childless. Thus with no ties to further bind me to the Guidetti, it was agreed between the two families that I should return to my father's house.[13] Then further grief befell our family, as my father became ill. He died having lingered on his death-bed for a fortnight, and in this time it was decided the marriage between your self and my brother, long talked of but not yet sealed should take place, in order to preserve our family line. Directly upon his death and your marriage soon after, came the news from our broker in France of great opportunities fro trade with the noble houses there[14]. And so Christofano left for France in the autumn, taking you with him before we had much opportunity to become acquainted as befits family. My mother has since your departure taken up the vows of a nun, and lives in the nunnery on Santa Felicita[15]. I now reside in our country villa, and in my brother's stead supervise the running of the estate[16], and journey into Firenze regularly to assist in the running of the silk-trading business, which is ably run by our steward.[17] Thus sits my life at this moment, with responsibilities but also with pleasure, for my life is mine to guide. 

I pray you write back to me, or send news with my brother's letter, to tell me of the French court and your life there. Again and again, I bid you farewell.

By my hand in this year 1477.


Alberti, Leon Batista The Family in Renaissance Florence trans Watkins, Renee 1443; Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969

Castigone, Baldesar The Book of the Courtier 1528; trans George Bull Melbourne: Penguin, 1967

Fedele, Cassandra Letter and Orations ed and trans Robin, Diane Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000

Herlihy, David and Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane Census and Property Survey of the Florentine Domains in the Province of Tuscany 1427-1480 Machine readable data file Online Catasto of 1427 Version 1.1, Online Florentine Renaissance Resources Brown University, Providence RI, 1996

Herlihy, David and Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane Census and Property Survey of the Diocese of Florence, Italy, 1427

Austin, Tracy 'The Ars Dictaminus or Medieval Art of Letter Writing' Tournaments Illuminated v. 131 (Summer 1999)

Black, Jeremy ed Atlas of World History London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999

Drogin, Marc Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Techniques Montclair, NJ: Allanheld & Schram, 1980

Estep, Katherine 'Weddings in Renaissance Italy' Tournaments Illuminated v. 136 (Autumn 2000) 19-22

Hale, JR ed A Concise Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance London: Thames and Hudson, 1981

Herald, Jacqueline Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500 London: Bell & Hyman, 1981

Herlihy, David Cities and Society in Medieval Italy London: Variorum, 1980

King, Margaret and Rabil, Albert, eds Her Immaculate Hand: Selected Works By and About Women Humanists of Quattrocentro Italy Binghampton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Test and Studies, 1983

Peirotti-Cei, Luisa Life in Italy During the Renaissance trans Tallon, Peter J Geneve: Liber, 1977

Power, Eileen Medieval People 1924; London: Folio Society, 1999


1 The style of this letter is taken from the writings of Italian women humanists in the fifteenth century. Typical elements of the letters that this is based on included classical and biblical references (not really used as this is more of an informal piece), protestations of general unworthiness especially by women writers, praise of the recipient of the letter as well as a general striving for elegance of tone. One letter by Cassandra Fedele deals with the history of her family, but is set for a more formal relationship of appeal for patronage. I have found piece of family letters written by the Strozzi family, between Alessandra Macinghi Strozzi and her children, some of whom had travelled far away from Italy. These letters seem to include more advice and descriptions of places and people encountered than the more formal humanist letter.
Cassandra Fedele Letters and Orations ed and trans Diane Robin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)
Jacqueline Herald Renaissance Dress in Italy 1400-1500(London: Bell & Hyman, 1981) (contains translated excerpts from the Strozzi letters)
Margaret King and Albert Rabil, eds Her Immaculate Hand: Selected Works By and About Women Humanists of Quattrocento Italy (Binghampton, New York: Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1983)
The structure of the letter is based around the components of Salutatio (greetings), Benevolentiae Capatio (securing of goodwill), Narratio (the body of the letter), Petitio (request), Conclusio (conclusion).
Traci Austin 'The Ars Dictaminus or Medieval Art of Letter Writing Tournaments Illuminated v. 131 (Summer 1999) pp6-9
The layout of the handwritten version of this is taken from the picture of a letter from Thomas Betson to Sir William Stonor, in 1478. Though English, this is the only reproduction of a letter I have found. The script I have used is Italic, which was in use by this time.
Eileen Power Medieval People (1924; London: Folio Society, 1999) colour page facing p177
Marc Drogin Medieval Calligraphy: Its History and Technique (Montclair, NJ: Allanheld & Schram, 1980) pp94-97, 100-101
2 As shown in the Strozzi letters, writing served to reinforce family bonds across distances, as well as ensuring that the correspondents were working for the best interests of the family. Writing could also function as a form of female solidarity and support for women in similar situations. This is demonstrated in the exchange of letters between Cassandra Fedele and Alessandra Scala, two educated young women faced with deciding between marriage or a continued intellectual life.
Fedele, Letters, pp30-31
3 J.R. Hale, ed A Concise Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981) p136
4 All names in this family history are taken from the Florentine catasto (tax survey) of 1427.
David Herlihy and Christine Klapisch-Zuber Census and Property Survey of the Florentine Domains in the Province of Tuscany 1427-1480 Machine readable data file Online Castato of 1427 Version 1.1, Online Florentine Renaissance Resources Brown University, Providence RI, 1996
5 Alberti's guide to upward mobility suggests building and increased number of men, more possessions, a good name and reputation, making friends and avoiding enemies.
Leon Battista Alberto The Family in Renaissance Florencetrans Renee Watkins (1443: Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina, 1969) p110
6 Immigrants to the city often used their place of origin as a part of their name.
David Herlihy Cities and Societies in Medieval Italy(London: Variorum, 1980) p98
7 Marriages were arranged between families, and were as much economic and socio-political arrangements as anything else. Qualities to be expected in a good wife were 'beauty, parentage, riches' as well as potential fertility and knowledge of housekeeping.
Alberti, pp115-119
Katherine Estep 'Weddings in Renaissance Italy' Tournaments Illuminated v. 136 (Autumn 2000) pp19-22
8 A woman's primary duty was to breed heirs for the family. While women were instructed to breast-feed their own children, in reality this was little followed. The very well off families could afford to keep a wet-nurse in their own home, while other families farmed out their children to country families. The mortality rates for children placed out to be nursed was quite high.
Margaret L King Women of the Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)9 Alberti claims that 'a father delights in making his offspring well read.' While educating sons was a given, but for daughters education could be omitted. Women were not educated in humanist schools, and often were only able to access learning through sharing tutors with brothers, or their fathers providing tutors for them. The propriety of educating women was a debated topic in this period, with some arguing that learning could refine women's morality, and others that it was immodest and improper.
Alberti, p81
King and Rabil, eds, p19
10 By this period, and among the upper classes, tasks such as weaving and tailoring had become professionalised. Women were expected to supervise the provision of clothing, as well as their other duties of household supervision.
Herald, p37
11 Marriages at this time and place were characterised by vast gaps in age between husband and wife, with the average age difference 12.7 years. By age 18-22 85.9% of women were married, while at age 33-37 only 65.5% of men were.
Herlihy, Cities and Society, pp90-92
12 Marriage in Italy in this period consisted of a number of steps; negotiations between families, then the impalmamento (agreement), sponsalia (meeting of male family members, and dowry bargaining), matrimonium (the wedding ceremony, a civil ceremony though a priest could attend and give the Church's blessing) and finally the nozze (transfer of the bride and dowry to her new family). The matrimonium and noze could occur on the same day, or months apart, usually depending on the time needed to gather the dowry.
Estep, pp19-22
13 The fate of widows was tied to their dowry and children. Generally, if they had children, they and their dowry would remain with their husband's family. Childless women had more freedom to take their dowry and return to their birth family.
King, Women of the Renaissance
14 14 Major overland trade routes connected Florence and the cities of France.
Jeremy Black, ed Atlas of World History (London: Dorling Kindersley, 1999) pp190-191
15 Name of the convent taken from Census and Property Survey of the Diocese of Florence, Italy, 1427 <>
16 Most of the estate would be farmed by sharecroppers under mezzadria agreements, with half the crop returned to the landowners.
Herlihy, Cities and Society, p263
17 Agents like the steward would be related to the family, and employed for their honesty, fairness, and manners as well as their skills. Despite this, they would have been fairly closely supervised by the family.
Alberti, pp196-200