As Mrs May bravely approaches Florence to brag about the great trading relationship between England and Florence since Medieval times I thought it might be pertinent to put out a warning that this could be another dangerous move on her part!
I wrote this Blog in 2015 after a lecture which raised this subject but I should also mention that it came up in conversation with the first Florentine I ever met socially – and he warned me that the Florentines – like the Irish – NEVER forget, whilst we British, never REMEMBER!
Be warned Mrs May – you might yet,( hopefully in jest!) be presented with a bill that makes the cost of the Brexit bill look like a bowl of peanuts!
My original post below
My thanks to Dr. Ermelinda M. Campani Spogli, Family Director of The Breyer Center for Overseas Studies in Florence at the Centro Studi Famiglia Capponi for my Invitation to theexcellent Stamford University in Florence on October 14 2015.
Based in the ancient Capponi family Palazzo it was the perfect venue to learn about the 800 year history of the Capponi family (1215-2015) with a focus on Risorgimento hero Gino Capponi, as told by Zeffiro Ciuffoletti , Professor of History, University of Florence.
Amongst his many fascinating anecdotes across the many generations of this illustrious Florentine family was the one reminding us of this story of the ever untrustworthy English and their default on Florentine debt ……..for which the Inglese have never been forgiven!
The story goes something like this….
Once upon a time the Kingdom of England was ruled by a great general, King Edward III of England (1312- 1377) , who, in common with his father and grandfather, was always running short of money!
Increasing tax revenues could have solved his problem but then, as now, the raising of taxes was exceedingly unpopular, particularly with the Scots who refused to count themselves as English subjects in the first place.
Therefore in 1336, brave King Edward III hatched a plan to invade France and claim his right to the French throne to add to his land, titles, and through them, increase his tax revenues.
An ambitious plan, claiming his rights to the succession through his mother, Queen Isabella of France , aka The She Wolf of France. (NB ignore the story as portrayed by Sophie Marceau in Braveheart, in which even Mel Gibson admits that history was twisted to make Scottish warlord William Wallace the father of the warlike Edward III . In 1305, when Wallace was put to death, she would only have been 10 years old and hardly up to negotiation – or alternative congress – with a Scottish Warrior – however fluent he was in French!
There is some more truth in the portrayal of her husband, Edward II as someone who was more interested in lovers of his own gender – and thus rumours abound that he did meet a truly gruesome end but this is not the point of this story!)
As the only daughter of two reigning sovereigns, The Iron King, Philippe IV of France and Jeanne de Champagne, Queen of Navarre, from the moment of her birth in 1295 , Princess Isabella of France was guaranteed a high-profile role in European history. Three years after her birth she was already a pawn in negotiations for an Anglo-French truce and in 1308, aged only 12, she was duly married off to the King of England’s eldest son, who became King Edward II– their son was our hero Edward III , who by 1337 wanted to also become the King of France , ….but lacked the wherewithal to finance a war against the then incumbent Philip VI.
Edward III’s excuse for his attack on France in 1337 was that Philip VI had appropriated the English king’s duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Ponthieu and was now threatening further attacks from across the channel. The French maintained their “auld alliance” with the Scots, who despite an agreement between his father and Robert the Bruce after the battle of Bannockburn. were still not helping matters by raiding England across the borderlands and creating continuous mayhem in protest against any notion of deference to any English King.
Edward III decided to make war to keep the peace – and regain his lost territories and thus engendered what became known as the Hundred Years’ War!
To finance this endeavour Edward III chose to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and to borrow money from the famous Banking families of Florence. In particular the Ricciardi of Lucca (1272-1294), the Frescobaldi of Florence (c.1294-1312) the Bardi family and above all in relation to this story, the Peruzzi family who were, until 1345, the rich patrons of Giotto di Bondone. The Peruzzi and the Bardi families were the two that were most impacted by the English loan.
The fresco shown above is an image from Giotto’s Life of St John the Evangelist in the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa Croce. I wonder how many of the old banking family were depicted in wonderment as St John rises to the heavens?
It is possible that family members were also depicted as Saints in the famous Peruzzi Altarpiece, now in the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh certainly they needed the patience of a Saint as they waited in vain for the return of their money!
Peruzzi Altarpiece, about 1309–15, Giotto di Bondone and His Workshop
The Peruzzi family family lent Edward III 600,000 gold florins, whilst the Bardi family gambled even more bravely and lent him 900,000 florins. It is difficult to identify the actual interest rates on medieval loans, largely because interest charges had to be disguised because usury was defined in the Bible as a crime, but one of my best sources suggests annualised interest rates ratio of 3:2 for investments and returns and another shows that rates of what were known as “conditionalities” varied between 15% in times of stability and 40% when things got risky – such as in times of war!
Failing in his quest to become hailed as the King of France Edward reneged on these huge interest payments, although I am pleased to refute the claim that he defaulted altogether – according to various sources – throughout the initial period of the load he did make quite considerable “interest” payments with cash, expensive “gifts” and royal grants of wool, a principal export of the English economy at the time. Later the bank took total control of royal revenue commodities on wool and clothing and privatised the Kings business to their own advantage.
Nonetheless it has to be admitted that the King of England failed to repay the Capital of his debt – and this led to the declaration of Bancarotta and collapse of both Bardi & Peruzzi families’ banks in 1345 – with the consequence of a lot of negative vibes between the Florentines and future English requests for loans!
The specific story that Zeffiro Ciuffoletti told us, which started me on all this research was that in 1830, a Perruzi descendent of the Peruzzi banking family arrived in London with a bill for the Lord Major of London based on the estimated interest still outstanding to the Peruzzi family on King Edward III’s loan .
The Spreadsheet attached shows the amount of Interest outstanding on the Peruzzi loan based on only the first 3 years at the 40% rate and the more usual 15% thereafter – the figure in pounds sterling is based on an exchange rate of 6 Florins to the pound!
Based on these simplistic calculations The 1830 debt appears to be at least £ 224,484,454,175,461,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
More exciting still for the Italian economy should the UK Government – or our Queen – decide that this part of Edward III ‘s loan should be repaid in 2016 , using the same simple calculations the stratospheric repayment would be £43,750,656,753,571,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – I don’t even know how to say this number let alone imagine how any country could repay such a debt!
Florence didn’t totally lose out as a result of the bankruptcy of the Bardi bank either – at that time young Cosimo di Medici – later known as Il Vecchio – was only the second generation of what was becoming another successful Banking family in Florence. As a nouveau riche upstart it is unlikely that he would have been able to win the hand of Contessina de’Bardi , a member of one of the old prestigious Florentine Banking families of Florence, unless her father had been forced to become a mere partner in the Medici Bank after the family ruin.
Cosimo and Contessina went on the found the family Medici who reined in Florence – more or less – for the next 300 years.