Giovanni di Ser Lodovico della Casa and Lusanna di Girolamo

views updated

Giovanni di Ser Lodovico della Casa and Lusanna di Girolamo



C. 1420-?

Romantic litigants


Examined Lives. The easiest thing for historians to research is the public life of famous people. The private lives of such individuals are also often open to view; because they were important, private documents such as letters and diaries were saved, and other people often commented about their private lives. Thus, much more is known about the marriages and child-rearing practices of the elite—monarchs and their heirs—than about anyone else. Because of their standing, however, the personal and family life of wealthy and powerful individuals cannot be considered typical, and one cannot make generalizations based only on their experiences.

Legal Disputes. The private lives of ordinary people from the Renaissance and Reformation period are largely lost to us, as they rarely leave a trace in the records. One of the times that they do become visible, however, is when events led to a legal dispute. The situation involving Giovanni di Ser Lodovico della Casa and Lusanna di Girolamo is one of those cases. In the summer of 1455, Lusanna, the daughter of an artisan and the widow of a cloth maker, brought a case to the Archbishop’s court in Florence, requesting the marriage of Giovanni to another woman be ruled invalid because he was already married to her. (The case was actually brought to court by a male legal representative, called a procurator, because women did not usually argue their own cases; Lusanna was the plaintiff, however.) She asserted that she had married Giovanni after the death of her first husband and wanted the marriage recognized. The case was extremely complex, involving the testimony of twenty-nine people and eventually leaving three hundred pages of records handwritten by a notary. Though it is also not typical—most people’s marriages did not lead to long legal disputes—the parties in this case were very ordinary, and through their words and those of the witnesses, one can get a better glimpse of commonly held Renaissance ideas about love and marriage than from sources that concern elite people. The exploration of a single individual or situation is termed “micro-history,” and it has become a popular type of historical study.

The Case. According to the testimony of witnesses in the case, Lusanna was an extremely beautiful woman; Giovanni was infatuated with her even before her first husband died, and immediately after the death began following her and showing up at her house. Her father would only allow the relationship to continue if the couple were married, but Giovanni would not agree to a public marriage as his family was much wealthier and more prominent than Lusanna’s and his father would disinherit him if he learned of it. The witnesses for Lusanna testified that there had been a secret ceremony, in which the couple had formally agreed to marry in front of a friar and several other people, and an exchange of rings. If this ritual indeed had happened, it was a legal marriage according to Christian law, which simply required consent of the spouses and witnesses for a marriage to be binding. The witnesses for Giovanni testified in response that there had been a sexual relationship between the two, but that it had begun before Lusanna’s first husband died and had never involved marriage. They swore that Lusanna was promiscuous, with other lovers besides Giovanni, and that she and her family were inventing the story of the wedding to get Giovanni’s money; they hinted that she might even have poisoned her first husband. Both sides charged the other with bribing witnesses, and attacked the honor and credibility of opposing witnesses. The case dragged on for several months, with many affidavits and petitions. Finally the archbishop, who was well versed in church law, ruled that the wedding had indeed taken place, that Giovanni’s second marriage was annulled, and that he should acknowledge Lusanna publicly as his wife and treat her as one should treat a wife. The case did not end there, however. Giovanni’s family was linked by connections of business and friendship to the powerful Medici family of Florence, and they used their influence with the pope to get the archbishop’s decision reversed. The marriage of Giovanni and Lusanna was declared null and void; Giovanni stayed with his other wife, had several children by her, and continued to carry out business activities for his family business all over Europe. Lusanna disappeared from the records; she may have entered a convent or married a man from outside of Florence.

Lessons. What can this case teach us about love and marriage in the Renaissance? It is clear that despite the church’s prohibition of adultery, love affairs involving married individuals were quite common. Giovanni’s side, not Lusanna’s, brought up his having an affair with her before her husband died. For young men who were members of the upper classes, such affairs were common. Well-to-do men usually did not marry until they were in their thirties, and frequently had liaisons with servants, prostitutes, or lower-class women; censuses from Florence list hundreds of illegitimate children living in the households of their fathers or in the foundling homes. (In addition to the illegitimate son of his father, Giovanni himself had two illegitimate sons who lived with him, whose mothers are not listed but were neither Lusanna’s nor his wife’s.) Women involved in sexual relationships outside of marriage were criticized more than men, and some of the witnesses called Lusanna a “bad woman” (malafemmd), but they did not refuse to associate with her; other men sought her hand in marriage after the death of her first husband. What was unusual in this case was the fact that she held out for Giovanni rather than accepting any of these other men and ultimately brought her case to court. The witnesses on her side attribute this action to her love for Giovanni (and describe his public displays of affection for her as well), and those on his side attribute this stubbornness to her desire for wealth and higher social standing. From their words, it is clear that both love and money made sense as motives for marriage in the Renaissance.


Gene Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

David Herlihy and Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Tuscans and their Families: A Study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

About this article

Giovanni di Ser Lodovico della Casa and Lusanna di Girolamo

Updated About content Print Article