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From English Literature, from Widsith to the Death of Chaucer, A Source Book, by Allen Rogers Benham, A.M., Ph.D.; New Haven: Yale University Press, London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University; 1916; pp. 261-262.

YEAR 1345 A.D.


Giovanni Villani on the Failure of the Bardi*

Our last passage deals with a specific instance where the evil practice of usury is censured. Giovanni Villani (1275-1348), a merchant and politician of Florence, his native city, wrote a historical work which he calls Historie Fiorentine (Florentine History) or Cronica Universale (Universal Chronicle), and which begins with Biblical times and comes down to the year 1348. There is no better authority for the intellectual and economic life of Florence in the first forty-eight years of the fourteenth century, which Villani observed at first hand. In one of the later chapters of his work he thus records the failure of a well-known Italian banking house. The causes of the failure, he says, in quite the medieval fashion, are avarice and usury.

In the year 1345 in the month of January failed the company of the Bardi, who had been the greatest merchants in Italy. And the reason was that they, like the Peruzzi, had lent their money and that invested with them to king Edward of England and to the king of Sicily; and that the Bardi found they had owing to them from the king of England, what with capital and interest and gifts promised by him, 900,000 florins of gold, and on account of his war with the king of France he was unable to pay; and from the king of Sicily 100,000 florins of gold. And to the Peruzzi were owing from the king of England 600,000 florins of gold, and from the king of Sicily 100,000 florins of gold, and a debt of 350,000 florins of gold, so they must stop payment to citizens and foreigners, to whom the Bardi alone owed more than 550,000 florins of gold. Whereby many other smaller companies and individuals whose money was in the hands of the Bardi or Peruzzi or others who had failed, were ruined and so became bankrupt. By this failure of the Bardi, Peruzzi, Acciajuoli, and Bonaccorsi — of the company of Uzzano Perandoli, and many other small companies and individual craftsmen, owing to the burdens on the state and the disordered loans to lords, of which I have made mention (though not of all, which were too long to tell), came greater ruin and discomfiture to our 262 city of Florence than any our state had received, if the reader well considered the damage caused by such a loss of treasure and money lost by our citizens, and lent from avarice to lords. O cursed and greedy usury, full of the vice of avarice reigning in our blind and mad citizens of Florence, who from covetousness to gain from great lords put their wealth and that of others in their power and lordship to lose, and ruin our republic; for there remained no substance of money in our citizens, except in a few craftsmen and lenders who with their usury consumed and gained for themselves the scattered poverty of our citizens and subjects. But not without cause come to states and citizens the secret judgments of God, to punish the sins which have been committed, as Christ with his own mouth said in the gospel “Ye shall die in your sin.” The Bardi agreed to give up to their creditors their possessions, which they estimated would come to 9 shillings and 3 pence in the pound, but at a fair price did not come to six shillings in the pound.

*   From Historie Fiorentine, Book XII, Chapter LIV, Tr. Ashley, English Economic History, pp, 95, 96.

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