A Voyage through the Medieval Italian City States

I began my writing career in Medieval Italy, the setting for my first novel, The Slave. One aspect of writing historical fiction that I love is doing the research. You just have no idea what you’ll turn up. However, to be honest, I didn’t really do much research before I started writing this novel because it came directly out of my university studies – albeit 30-odd years later!

Back in the 1970s, in my second year at Latrobe University, I studied Medieval and Renaissance Italy. While History was my minor, my major was French and that year we started attending lectures given in French. Sitting up the back of the auditorium, in what I imagined was regal isolation, was a tall handsome Asian boy whom, to my eternal chagrin, I was too shy to ever actually approach. Instead, I wove romantic dreams around him. He was a Laotian prince, sent to Australia to protect him from the Pathet Lao, sitting in on French lectures just to hear a familiar language. It was also the university year I started to make friends, many of whom were gay. All of this experience went into a story that stayed with me for thirty years before I finally wrote it down.

The following essays were written for a promotional blog tour for The Slave and each of them looks at the historical background of an aspect of the novel.

The Slave is set in Northern Italy in the Middle Ages which was an entirely different world to the feudal and strictly hierarchical medieval world of England and Northern Europe. What made it so different was The Medieval Italian City State which was governed by a democratically elected Commune, or city council, made up of its leading citizens. My heroine’s father is an enterprising merchant, not unlike Francesco di Marco Datini, better known as The Merchant of Prato, with ambitions to be elected to his city’s Commune.

In pursuance of her father’s ambitions my heroine is given in marriage to a young nobleman and so learns about Women and Marriage in Medieval Italy. The heroine’s aristocratic in-laws love nothing more than La Caccia: Hunting in Medieval Italy and expect my heroine to partake.

You may be wondering what an essay entitled A Warrior of the Golden Horde is doing under the category of Medieval Italy. There are two connections. While not as well-known as the institutional slavery of the Roman world, or the notorious African slave trade, there was Slavery in Medieval Italy and many of those slaves, including the eponymous hero of my novel, came from Eastern Europe ruled at that time by the Mongols. One theory about how La Pestilenza: The Black Death in Italy originated, is that it came with Italian merchants escaping one of the earlier instances of biological warfare when the Mongols used dead bodies infected with bubonic plague as weapons.

The Italian city states were in a state of constant warfare, which brought down on them The Scourge of Italy: the Condottieri and their mercenary armies, one of which my hero joins, but even there he cannot escape an intractable conflict, which can only be resolved by recourse to The Duel of Honour.

Do any of your friends love Italy, too? Share this post with them so they can enjoy a little armchair travel with you.

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