Thursday 7 December 2017

A history lesson, nobility and a link to the Medici family

(This blog post covers the week 27 Nov - 3 Dec 2017.)

Tenuous as it may be, we have a link to Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici. Yes, those Medicis.

Aside from the usual routine of office work, Italian lessons, dinner with friends (introducing more of our Italian friends to Indian food - Amanda and Alessio this time) and errands around town, last week was, in the main, all about historical research.

Our quest to find out more about the history of our house began with a trip into Lucca. Thanks to Stuart's visit to the state archive in Pescia earlier this year, we already had the following information:

1870 - house owned by Guiseppe di Luigi Calderai
1845 - house owned by Michelangelo Campioni
1830 - house owned by Anna Pagni Bordoni, wife of Pietro Campioni

The archivists in Pescia weren't able to provide any information about the property any further back than 1830 as the older records are kept in Lucca, but of course following our exciting find a few months ago, of a hand-written note dated 1774 that had been stuffed between the window lintel of the office, we have good reason to believe that our house dates back at least as far as the 1770s.

We arrived at the archive in the centre of Lucca a little before 3pm - fully expecting simply to explain what it was we were trying to research, and to be told that we would need to make an appointment to come back another day. Instead, we were directed up to the reading library - a high-ceilinged room, lined with shelves crammed with old tomes, and smelling of old books and manuscripts. On our arrival in the hushed reading room, the two archivists on duty that afternoon ushered us into their office where they greeted us with slightly perplexed looks on their faces (clearly foreigners aren't everyday visitors to the reading room of the state archive) and listened while we explained what it was we were searching for and what information we had.

Initially, we were told that we actually needed to go to a different branch of the archive - one that is only open on Friday mornings, and for which you do have to book an appointment (and the archivists were able to tell us that the Friday of this week was already fully booked). Having told us that, though, one of the archivists started pulling books off the shelves and leafing through the pages searching for references to records for the Valleriana (our valley). She found something she thought was relevant, so while she headed off downstairs to the storage vaults to search out the relevant tome, we registered our details as users of the library for private research, signed something (which we didn't have time to read - presumably it was something along the lines of a promise not to write on the books, tear out pages or spill coffee on them), stowed our bags in a cupboard at the request of the other archivist, and took a seat in the library to wait.

The smell of old manuscripts was almost overwhelming.

Before long, the archivist came back bearing a heavy tome of land estimates (property evaluations) for the Valleriana for 1740 to 1835 - which should, theoretically, have included the name we already had for the owner of our property in 1830.

We were slightly taken aback simply to be presented with this ancient book and left to our own devices with it - no need to wear cotton gloves to handle the pages, no confiscating of phones with flash cameras, no strict rules as to how to handle the pages, not even a check to see if we had clean hands. Maybe we just looked trustworthy. And clean.

So, once we'd got over the intial shock of being allowed to handle the old book, it took us a little while to work out what information was recorded in it. It appeared to be a list of landowners' names, the property they owned, and its value (one name per page, with the exception of the larger property owners whose lists of property spanned several pages). Of course, the names were not listed alphabetically or in any such logical manner, and we couldn't really fathom a date order either (other than guessing that, by nature of the fact the entire set of records were handwritten, the entries at the back of the book must have been written in later than the ones at the front). All entries were in different handwriting, some quite easy to read, some almost impossible. We recognised a lot of property names from our valley, as well as familiar local family names, although of course we didn’t find the name we were looking for, and we had only got halfway through the book when it was time for the library to close! The archivists said they would set the book aside for us so that we could return and take up where we'd left off another day.

We duly returned on Friday morning, picking up again at page 593 where we'd left off earlier in the week, and working our way all the way to the back. And still we didn't find our elusive property owner.

It was interesting to note that a very large number of the entries (names of land owners) were female – generally listed as "[name], wife of [other name]" or "[name], daughter of [other name]", suggesting a tendency towards a matriarchal system of inheritance (no doubt in part as a means to dodge taxes). I would also estimate that 90% of the women were called Maria!

Despite the archivist having told us that the records in the tome covered the dates 1740 to 1835, amongst the few dates that we did find written amongst everything, we spotted an 1804, an 1805 and an 1816, but nothing later than that, so we weren't entirely convinced that the period it covered extended quite far enough for us to find the name listed as owner of our house in 1830. Of course it's also entirely possible that we simply missed it, whether through our inability to read 19th century Italian handwriting or through not being able to see the wood for the trees - there are so many names and dates to look at and concentrate on that after a while you lose concentration and realise you've turned a page without actually clocking what was on it.

We wondered when had been the last time that anyone else had looked through this ancient book of records - and when, on turning a page towards the end of the book, we discovered the nib of an old-fashioned fountain pen sandwiched firmly in the seam between the pages,complete with the imprint of the residual ink that had been on it when it fell there, we realised that in all likelihood we were the first people to see and touch these pages in many years.

Despite the disappointment of not having found the relevant name in the tome in Lucca, we came home feeling a much stronger connection to the history of our valley, full of interest, and itching to try and find out more.

Since being here in Italy, we have had to lower our expectations of what can be found on the Internet - we've found that it's rare for local businesses to have websites, and when they do, there is often little information available. The idea of a successful Internet search for more information about the history of our house was, therefore, quite a stretch of the imagination, and we tried to managed our expectations - nevertheless, the excitement overtook us and we sat down in front of the computer, launched a browser, and set Google to work.

As it turned out, Google had a lot more to say about our house and its previous owners than we had expected.

The owner of the house in 1830, Anna Pagni Bordoni, wife of Pietro Campioni, came up in a number of searches, each time in a gazette that reported on court cases/judicial hearings/legal notices (more on which later). Where she was mentioned, she was referred to as "The Noble Anna Pagni Bordoni, wife of Pietro Campioni", which got me wondering as to just how noble she really was.

Turns out that she was from quite a distinguished family and that she was directly descended from one Lorenzo Pagni Bordoni, Secretary to Cosimo I of the Medici family! That's quite posh.

I even found the Pagni Bordoni family coat of arms:

So, it seems very unlikely that Anna ever lived in our house and more likely (as we had always imagined) that she owned it and simply had a tenant farmer in place here. It's even possible that she never set foot in the house.

The various court-related reports that we found (5 so far) have given us a little more insight into the family. As we suspected, the owner of our house in 1845, Michelangelo Campioni, was the son of Anna Pagni Bordoni. We'd assumed that perhaps he had inherited the house from his mother when she died, but a report from 1849 suggests otherwise.

The 1849 report relates to a dispute between Michelangelo (by then owner of our house) and his brother. His brother was attempting to make a claim on some property that had been acquired by the Pagni Bordoni family in 1668 and which had subsequently passed automatically down the male line of descendants. However, the court found that the brothers' mother, "our" Anna Pagni Bordoni, had put an end to this automatic right of ownership by selling the land to Michelangelo (her favourite son?). We don't know whether our house and land was included in the property under discussion in this case, but since the court documents refer to Anna in the present (rather than as deceased), we assume that, rather than inheriting the property, Michelangelo had bought it from his mother.

Other documents suggest that Anna Pagni Bordoni and her husband Pietro Campioni were pretty wealthy land owners, with references to various disputes over land ownership and the buyng/selling of property - frustratingly we didn't come across anything that we could relate directly to our property, but the information we did find helps to build a fascinating picture.

Of course, none of this tells us who lived in our house (something we would love to know), or gets us any closer to finding out how old it really is.

The next step of our research was to see if there were any records available online that would take us further back than the 1800s. Even after our success with the Pagni Bordoni/Campionis, I was dubious as to whether we would find any more information, but fortune and technology were on our side, and before long we had found a website housing a collection of old maps and were searching through maps of Vellano and Pietrabuona from the 1780s.

Despite being interesting to look at, the maps of Pietrabuona were confined to the main part of the village itself, and stopped just before reaching our part of land. We were about to throw the towel in and admit defeat on our search, when I spotted under the list of search terms the "Rio dell'Asino", which is the small stream that borders our land. Lo and behold, the search brought up a map from 1783 concentrating on the San Lorenzo area (halfway between Pescia and Pietrabuona), which included the Rio dell'Asino and... our house!

For interest (and to make things clearer), Stuart managed to overlay the borders of our property onto the map:

The numbers in black are the "particelle" or land parcel numbers, while the numbers in red indicate the size of each of those parcels. We spotted a faint "PAGNI" written on the map in a spot close to our house, but whether that was an original part of the map or added at a later date, we don't know.

Some of the annotations on the map include the word "aia", meaning farmyard or threshing floor; "cast", which we think is an abbreviation of castagne (chestnut); "noce" meaning walnut; and "lastrone", meaning rock face.

And that, pretty much, is as far as we have managed to get.

We will need to go back to the subsidiary branch of the archive in Lucca to see if they hold other records that can help us trace the house back further than 1783, and whether they have any records that can help us find out who owned the property prior to 1830.

Interestingly, along the way, we discovered that Pietrabuona was its own comune until 1775 (which explains why our note, dated 1774, refers to a mill tax that is owed to the "Comune of Pietra Buona"); in 1775 it came under Vellano Comune, and not until the 1890s did it fall under the Comune of Pescia.

And that's the end of today's history lesson - to be continued (we hope!).

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