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The administration of political decisions on credit


The administration of political decisions on credit

1. Historiographical remarks

In the past few decades, various studies have looked at the history of the Monte di pietà of Bologna between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In the 1990s, historians looked at a wider framework of research involving two overarching themes, the development of the monti di pietà throughout Italy, and the emergence of the regional state. Thus, research on the Monte di pietà of Bologna was connected to this wider historiographical horizon, taking into consideration the development of medieval and renaissance cities, and the emergence of regional states. In particular, this scholarship looked at the Monte whilst asking questions about the transition from the civic state to wider territorial entities and their increasingly centralised administration. It is within this wider historiographical debate, that research investigated the history of Bologna of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, between the end of signoria by Giovanni II Bentivoglio (1506) and the penetration of Napoleonic troops in the papal territories. On top of this, some innovative and thorough research was carried out on the financial and economic roles of the Monte di pietà within the major cities of the Papal State excluding Rome. It is worth stressing that this city had indeed maintained its own Senate as well as an ambassador who governed thanks to the ‘constitutional’ dialectic between centre and periphery, that is, between civic and papal government (Fornasari 1993; Carboni 1995).

Moreover, next to the important questions about the transition towards oligarchic forms of government and the increasing economic weight of the Monte, which in the early modern period became the ‘thesoro (treasure)’ of Bologna, further areas of research have investigated credit activities and their many functions between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Fornasari 1993; Carboni 1995, 2014).

Another area of research connected with the study of the Monte has, instead, looked at the disciplining of society, the distribution of wealth and power in the modern age, the organisation of the Monte itself, and the coexistence of moral and strictly economic concerns among the leading social classes of the baroque age. As Carboni put it, ‘the Monte did not aim to profit when it became a bank. But at the same time, the (various) monti did not lag behind other banking institutions in the management of their patrimony, so that they adopted the newest trends and rational techniques of administration. But their economic activity was not aimed at obtaining the highest possible profit, but to maintain stability and be socially useful’ (Carboni 2014: 19 – in translation).

Finally, research on the monti has been accompanied by old and new questions such as the relationship with local Christian and Jewish bankers; money and usury; informal credit; welfare; dowries; urban development; archives and the publication of sources.

2. Brief historical overview of the Monte di pietà

The Monte di pietà of Bologna was first constituted in 1473, although it was then already closed a year later, because of different political and economic reasons. The Monte was re-opened in 1504, quickly becoming the most important economic entity of the city. The aim of the Monte was to assist the city poor, so to prevent them from having recourse to Jewish usurers. Like what happened in other parts of Italy, this kind of financial solidarity extended to credit and other forms of charitable activity, gaining considerable political importance. In the sixteenth century, the activity of the Monte expanded throughout urban and suburban space, so that its presence was registered in all of the four quarters of the city, and in the areas of Budrio and San Giovanni in Persiceto between 1531 and 1572. In the following century, the Monte became a public bank, so that among the roles performed was that of treasury of the public debt, deposit, and credit, although the original form of money-lending remained the main activity of the Monte. This took place within the context of an efficient and prolific relationship with ecclesiastical authorities, as it emerges clearly from the Statutes of 1576. These introduced various novelties to the previous statutory collection of 1514, as they introduced some of the decisions taken at the Council of Trent. Indeed, the new statutes supported the reforming action promoted by the archbishop Gabriele Paleotti whilst, at the same time, granting the wish of the Senate (and the Assunteria di Abbondanza) to keep the Monte under the influence and control of the civic government. Thus, at Bologna, a working relationship was instated between ecclesiastical authorities, civic government, and rectors of the Monte, which historians such as Fornasari and Carboni have seen as a distinctive tract of the Bolognese reality.

3. The congregation of the rectors (presidenti) of the Monte

At Bologna, charity was administered by the collegial government of the main pious activities, in line with the republican tradition of the city. The oligarchic nature of early-modern Bologna had been built on its republican institutions, and the members of the wealthy patriciate who sat in the Senate had a two-fold aim: to strenghten the autonomy obtained from papal control whilst managing a stable relationship with the papal legate; and to maintain control of their bases of power in the civic government. The Monte was managed by a large body, thereby allowing a relatively high number of citizens to sit in its council (the Twelve presidents of the Monte di pietà), whilst, at the same time, excluding the Bolognese patriciate from its direct control, which was, instead, entrusted to professional and competent administrators (Fornasari 1993, Carboni 1995, Carboni 2014). As Carboni wrote, “the division between political government pro tempore and permanent management constituted the cornerstone on which the administration of the Monte rested. This division of competences had the merit to quell any abuses which were, instead, perpetrated elsewhere” (Carboni 2014: 49).

The earliest statutes of 1514 had delineated a large administrative body, in which various exponents of civic society were represented. The government of the Monte created a social web in which laity, clergy, patricians and members of the corporations collaborated for charitable and economic purposes. The government of the Monte was entrusted to twelve presidents, four of whom belonged to the Ordine delle dignità (Order of dignities): a member of the chapter for the secular clergy; the ‘guardian of the Convent of the Annunziata for the regular clergy; a professor for the University; and a senator. These four men were joined by eight more presidents, four patricians and four citizens. Half a century later, access to the council had become more rigid, so that in 1564, it was decreed that three of the presidents would be elected with life-long terms. The statutes of 1576 led the way to a new equilibrium in which offices were perpetual, something that would consolidate in 1599, following a deliberation by the congregation of the presidents that balanced the principle of rotation with the need of experienced administrators and institutional stability (Antonelli 2014). It was, therefore, decided that three presidents (respectively from the clergy, university, and senate) should remain in charge for three years, and then be renovated at different times; the guardian would remain in charge for the whole duration of their religious office; the remaining eight presidents (both nobles and citizens) would remain in charge for four years, having been chosen by extraction and approved by the Senate. In this way, the new procedure skilfully combined election and extraction. The development of these procedures reveals that this mechanism characterised by such a rapid change-over was profoundly marked by the monopolisation of the offices by the elite members of the patriciate, of the university, and of the corporations. The main part of the presidents came from well-established families, underlining the strong link that unified the senatorial patriciate with the office of the president of the Monte. The congregation met every week and was presided by the prior, an office covered on rotation by each president, another distinctive mark of the collegial nature of the government of the Monte, an aspect also reinforced by norms that established the need to achieve large majorities in the deliberations (Fornasari 1993, Carboni 2012).

These various factors reflect on the way in which various matters were discussed in the council, and on the forms in which the deliberations were recorded, as notaries did not transcribe debates, following what, with few exceptions, had been a common procedure in the Italian cities since, at least, the fourteenth century. This is showed very clearly by the first register of minutes of the Monte di pietà, which I have transcribed in the appendix, and in which there is no mention of the discussions, as it will be possible to see for the months of May and June 1561 (Appendix 1).

This procedure shows that whether or not decisions were taken outside the councils, discussions and debates were not recorded, so that the voting was the only part, together with the matter of the proposal to be transcribed. Other archival sources from the Monte are not as dry (Ordinazioni fatte dall’illustrissima congregazione del Sacro monte di pietà per norma et istruzione degl’illustrissimi signori priori pro tempore d’esso Sacro monte):

Quali capitoli sono stati da me segretario d’ordine come sopra letti a' signori congregati e da essi (come è parso) ben intesi et uditi e dalli stessi, doppo essersi sopra quelli avuti longhi e maturi discorsi, sono stati con un segreto partito proposto, raccolto et ottenuto con voti affirmativi numero sette et un negativo confirmati et approvati tanto essi quant’anche li sopranominati capitoli fatti dell’anno 1653 e loro aggiunta fatta dell’anno 1664.

Indeed, ordinary documents did not always follow these procedures, as it appears in a report read by one of the presidents in 1601, where Pompeo Vizzani criticised the distinction that the Monte carried out to favour the poor and against the nobles, underlining the percentage on the denarino to the disadvantage of the wealthy (Fornasari 1993: 267-73, Carboni 2014: 44-46). His clear logical and juridical argument sought to obtain economic advantages for the patriciate, at a time of crisis for the city and in the name of equity, which Vizzani believed should be guaranteed to everyone so to respect the statutes of the Monte (Appendix 2).

4. The secretary and the minutes

The recording of minutes, their preservation, accessibility, and relationship with other documentary series (Instrumenti, Bolle, Statuti, Regolamenti) was the relationship of the notary-secretary, a figure created on 13 May 1561 (Appendix 1), following the expansion of the activities of the Monte and the growing complexity of the apparatus. The presidents decreed to activate a progressive refinement of the organisation of the monte, of its documentary forms and internal management. The statutes of 1576, which remained in vigour for two centuries, established the main roles and assets of the figures involved in the management of the Monte. The roles of the remaining officers were the object of a continuous normative production culminating in the compilation of 1629, the earliest collection of regulations to be printed by the Monte. The management of the Monte was not centralised, but rested on the various urban branches, where loans were recorded and authorised. At the top of this administrative apparatus were the treasurer (economo) and the notary-secretary. The latter played a key function, standing at the intersection between the council of the presidents and the bureaucratic structure.

The notary-secretary was required to be a Bolognese citizen, an official and experienced notary enrolled in the guild, and a man of good standing and reputation. The notary took part in the congregations, took the minutes, and kept the secrets of the Monte. This was a delicate role, so that the notary was the protagonist of a fundamental part of the documentation. In the late sixteenth century, the notary-secretary was joined by a second notary (instrumentario), who was required to record the instrumenti, that is, the contracts stipulated on behalf of the Monte, and to keep a register of copies (Carboni 2014: 154-60). The importance of the duties of the notary-secretary emerges from the manuscript books of Instruzioni per gl’illustrissimi e reverendissimi signori presidenti:

[…] Terminata questa lettura e licenziato l’economo ordinarà al segretario la lettura della passata congregazione dopo la quale farà leggere al medesimo un capitolo dello Statuto.

[…] Farà pure nella stessa prima congregazione ordinaria leggere dal segretario il vacchettino intitolato "Memorie per la congregazione", introdotto a fine che gli affari del Sacro monte non restino arretrati.

Deve in ogni congregazione esibire alli signori congregati tutte le suppliche, memoriali, instanze ed affari di qualunque sorte concernenti il Sacro monte ed illustrissima e reverendissima congregazione, esponendo per ordine una dopo l’altra tutte le cose suddette, incominciando sempre da quella che stimerà di maggior premura, raccogliendo sopra di ciascheduna li voti de’ signori congregati, incominciando sempre dal degniore, e così proseguendo per grado sino all’ultimo ne passerà a proporre altra cosa, se non dopo che sarà stato dato sfogo alla cosa proposta e così dovrà sempre fare servando sino all’ultima l’ordine suddetto, portando piuttosto ad altra congregazione quegli affari che non abbisognano di così sollecito provvedimento, quando questi potessero pregiudicare alla comoda spedizione ed al metodo introdotto per molte ragioni ma particolarmente per questa, cioè, perché tutti gli atti della congregazione possino fedelmente e con il dovuto ordine ed esatezza notarsi dal segretario per poscia registrarli nel solito libro conforme l’obbligo suo, cosa che difficilmente potrebbe ottenersi nelle sessioni tumultuarie.

[…] In detto giorno introdotti per la prima volta li nuovi signori presidenti in congregazione ordinerà al segretario la lettura della bolla di papa Giulio Secondo e li capitoli per la distribuzione delle doti Torfanini ed obbligo che ha ciaschedun signor presidente di tacere li segreti del Sacro monte, in seguito della quale dovranno li signori presidenti, tanto nuovi che vecchi, giurare la plenaria osservanza del contenuto in detta bolla e capitoli letti.

[…] Quanto al modo deve il signor priore essere avvertito che il secretario unitamente col notaro instrumentario devono ripartire in sei viaggi con buon ordine e secondo il solito tutti li processi delle zittelle concorrenti e ciò per buona regola e minor incomodo in seguito li suddetti viaggi fra di loro e cioè due signori per ciaschedun viaggio li quali così accompagnati e serviti da ministro pratico visitano le zittelle già dette nelli modi e con le regole descritte nelle polize a tale effetto stampate. In questa ultima congregazione aperto l’archivio ed estratta ed aperta la cassetta delle imborsazioni già dette dal signor priore si estraeranno dalla borsa de’ nobili li nomi di due soggetti e dalla borsa de’ cittadini altri due li quali così estratti e riconosciuti attualmente capaci dall’uffizio di presidenti dovranno essere descritti dal segretario in una lettera sigillata la quale dal signor priore viene pregato il signor senatore in occasione di trasferirsi a palazzo per la estrazione del nuovo signor gonfaloniero a volerla presentare al detto illustrissimo ed eccelso senato per la solita conferma e trovandosi impedito o ricusante esso signor senatore dovrà in tal caso il signor priore trasmetterla a palazzo per mezzo del segretario della congregazione e questo non può mai omettersi.

It was only at the beginning of the eighteenth century, that the cluster of writings and the concern to protect the patrimonial rights of the Monte led the congregation of the presidents to deliberate a refashioning of the writings of the archive, thanks to the assumption, on 28 January 1706, of the first archivist of the Monte (Mita 1990, Antonelli 2005). The notary-secretary was required, together with the other officers of the Monte, to swear an oath every year following an exhortation of the guardian. At Bologna, the office of the notary-secretary did not generally become dynastic, although, in some instances, members of the same family did cover the role, such as Annibale and Giovan Battista Rustighelli, Costanzo and Valerio Manfredi (for the list of the secretaries from 1561 to 1693, see Carboni 2014: 182). The hiring of Giovan Battista Rustighelli by the first secretary of the Monte Annibale Rustighelli allowed the latter to be accompanied by a young and trusted helper, who would benefit from a period of apprenticeship followed by the perspective to take over after the death of the current notary. At the same time, the transition towards the hiring of a new notary benefited the Monte as well, as this did not involve additional expenses.

The series of the minutes of the council of the Monte is constituted by 202 registers, recorded by the secretaries of the council within a chronological framework spanning from 1561 to 1924 (1561-89; 1598-1808; 1814-1924). In their meetings, the council discussed all the matters of interest to the Monte. Every register has an alphabetic rubric: this Abecedarium allows us to retrieve the decisions taken by the congregation about a copious and multiform series of matters.


Antonelli 2014 : I primi statuti del Monte di pietà di Bologna (1514-1576), a cura di Armando Antonelli, Bologna, il Mulino, 2014. Antonelli 2011 : Armando Antonelli, Raccogliere le carte e rappresentare l'ente: l'uso delle immagini nella documentazione del Monte di pietà di Bologna tra XVI e XVIII secolo, in L'iconografia della solidarietà, a cura di Mauro Carboni e Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli, Venezia, Marsilio, 2011, pp. 147-161. Carboni 1995 : Mauro Carboni, Il debito della città. Mercato del credito, fisco e società a Bologna fra Cinque e Seicento, Bologna, il Mulino, 1995. Carboni 2014 : Mauro Carboni, Il credito disciplinato. Il Monte di pietà di Bologna in età barocca, Bologna, il Mulino, 2014. Fornasari 1993: Massimo Fornasari, Il "Thesoro" della città. Il Monte di Pietà e l'economia bolognese nei secoli XV e XVI, Bologna, il Mulino, 1993. Mita 1990 : Paola Mita, Gli uffici e le scritture del Monte di Pietà di Bologna. Presidenti, notai e computisti; dall’origine alla fine del Settecento, «Il Carrobbio», XVI, 1990, pp. 248-257.