Social ties determined status, community membership, and even identity for all fifteenth-century Florentines. The marriage formation process was one of the most important opportunities to form social ties, not only between spouses but also with those friends, neighbors, and patrons who served as witnesses, guardians, and providers of dowries. This dissertation examines the process of marriage formation among Florentine artisans, defined as members of the minor guilds and their families in the late 1420s.
The study relies on 1425-1429 notarial records of marriages, betrothals, and dowry receipts, and on the 1427 Florentine Catasto. The narrow chronological range makes it possible to cross-reference the two documents, thereby increasing the amount of information available for the couples and their families. It also centers the study on a period of transition in Florence. At this time, Florentine artisans represented a sizable and politically active community. However, the Florentine republic was edging closer and closer to an oligarchy, and, increasingly, artisans were politically marginalized in favor of progressively more powerful elite factions. Artisans' social ties--including those created during marriage--became ever more important for a continued sense of political power.
From these sources, this dissertation makes three major points: First, although numerous studies of elite marriage exist for Florence and their results have been held to be representative of all Florentine society, marriage formation differed in significant ways across the social spectrum. Second, marriage formation provided artisans with an excellent opportunity to form and cement social bonds among themselves. This study also highlights the central role of artisans in both tying together those at different social levels and providing an avenue for social mobility, however limited. A focus on marriage also demonstrates the importance of women, particularly non-elite women, in Florentine social networks. Third, by demonstrating the variety of marriage patterns in Florence, and through comparison with the ever more diverse picture of marriage in England, this dissertation argues that the established contrast between marriage patterns in the two regions is increasingly untenable.