Women and Institutional Practices of Information Gathering in Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-Century Tuscany
Edward Loss holds a PhD in Medieval History from the University of Bologna, an MA in Social History and a BA in History from the University of São Paulo. Before his I Tatti appointment, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici (2019-2021). His research focuses on diplomacy and espionage in late medieval Italy, especially on the development of the first institutions solely dedicated to these practices in the peninsula. He is the author of Officium Spiarum. Spionaggio e gestione delle informazioni a Bologna (secoli XIII-XIV), published by Viella in 2020, and the co-editor of Oltre la carità. Donatori, Istituzioni e Comunità tra Medioevo e Età Contemporanea, published by il Mulino in 2021.
In the beginning of the fourteenth century, central and northern Italian cities – especially those where the popolo occupied a prominent place in power – created specific institutions dedicated to obtaining information useful for maintaining their position and their influence in the region. These institutions received similar names in different cities – “Deputati super spiis” in Florence, “Ufficiali sopra le spie” or “Soprastantes spiis” in Siena and in Pisa, or even “Officium Spiarum” in Bologna – and enrolled a wide variety of subjects as “spias” and “exploratores”, from clergymen to merchants, farmers to artisans, and, interestingly, women. This project focuses on those women who decided to take part in the perilous activity of information gathering and espionage. In a period in which women could not even access public institutions without a male “procurator”, the evidence concerning female spies working for city authorities raises intriguing questions. By analyzing council acts, legal cases, and expense records preserved in the State Archives of Florence, as well as the vast Florentine chronicle tradition, this project aims to explore how these activities offered women an opportunity to get involved in city politics in fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century Tuscany. Furthermore, the study of female spies can also shed some light on female mobility in the period, questioning some paradigms concerning their opportunities to act outside domestic environments.