Thursday, 3 January, 1285, Feast of St. Genevieve
Donna Interminell, Villa Interminelli, Lucca
May the Lord’s grace shine upon you and keep you in His holy light, tesoro mia.
I send to you my most fervent prayers and hopes for your happiness. Your recent letter to your Noble Father and me, where you extoll the horrors of your current “captivity” (I use your term here) and beseech us to return you home, has only toughened our resolve that sending you to the suore for refinement was the right decision.
I can see you rolling your eyes into the back of your head after reading that. Do not shut my words out, Caterina! I speak to you as the loving Mother you entreated in your lengthy missal. My love for you is as great now as it was when I first gazed upon your beautiful pink bawling face at your birth. You are my first born child and have all my love, but you are strong willed and need the suore to teach you to restrain your outbursts (and to learn your letters, for it is a scandal that you, having nearly reached the age of 16 you still cannot write clearly!) The suore will teach you the skills you require for the life you will lead as the Lady of a great house, how to manage a household and a larder (although you know your numbers, you will need to learn to reckon your expenses, to ensure that the tradesmen do not cheat your Noble Lord husband when you are wearing the keys to his house!)
Let me state it plainly Figlia mia, the life you have lead up until now with your Father, me, and your sisters, in Lucca is over. You are of an age when many are already wedding and bearing fruit. Your Noble Father and I have sent you to the suore at the blessed Abbey of Santa Giulia because you are in dire need of refinement. No lord of standing would consider you for his wife given your present state. Mother Abbess Annunziata has assured us that by Lammastide your will be fit to meet suitors. For that, your soul must be devout, your person pure, and your mind clear. You cannot run about the forest searching for berries and mushrooms with the pigs! You cannot be familiar with the peasants. You must raise yourself up, walk with a noble gate (not running about like a cucciola!) You must be circumspect, and modest. The suore will teach you–it is a process all ladies must endure, transforming as a butterfly from a doughy, crawling thing into a glorious creature destined to take flight.
Madonna Annunziata tells me that you have been causing trouble with the novitiates, inciting them to climb trees and steal food. For shame Figlia mia! The suore are not starving you, of that I am quite sure. You may not care to eat what is put before you every day but I know that you are given a joint of meat once a week, as well as wine and cheese–for your Lord Father has paid the suore a tidy sum to ensure that it is so. It may not be as it was at home, when the cook spoiled you and your sisters by making you sweet meats and your favorite marenda whenever you asked for it.
Uccellina, I know your pain. Your letter recalled for me my own pleas to my mother when I was a young girl sent to live with my aged Zia for finishing. I too was full of vigor and questioned all, most of all my state and that of all womankind. But in time I came to see the reason of it. God has a plan for us all. A woman’s place, beside her lord husband, nurturing her brood, managing his house is established in the good book, by God himself. We can but be the helpers to our husbands and sons, so that they can lead the world. A woman cannot run a business! Your Father is still dumbfounded by your arrogance in asking him to nominate you for the Traders Guild which would establish you as the heir of his silk business! He has indulged you too much. At first he thought your interest in his business to be amusing. He admits that you have a facility with numbers and that you have a well tuned eye for fine fabric, but Caterina a woman cannot run a business–surely you realize that is a man’s role? If women were in the trades, what would men do? It may not seem fair to you, your Father lacking a male issue. But you will never be the answer to his predicament. God willing, the child I bear now will be a boy and all will be right in our household.
Agneta, Beatrisia, and I miss you terribly. But I am peaceful in the knowledge that you are safe and well cared for, tesoro mia. If you promise to be obedient to the suore and improve your penmanship I believe I can arrange it so that your Father agrees to send for you home for the Pentecost celebrations. You have time to improve. By then the babe will be born, and God willing he will be the scion your Lord Father so desires (as well as myself). I know that you worry for me, as you helped me with the ordeal of Beatrisia’s birth. Worry not, Uccellina, the midwife Marcella will be at my side and I have borne so many at this point, I am proven. God willing, all will be well and you will be greeted upon your return home by me, your sisters, and a smiling bambino!
I close with a brief prayer for you, Caterina. May the Lord keep you safe all these days until my eyes alight upon your shining face.
Peace be with you, Figlia mia.
Your loving Mama
“Before Romeo & Juliet” by Emily Dodi and Linda Secondari, inspired by Shakespeare’s classic.
Read as the tale unfolds: http://beforeromeoandjuliet.com