In October of 1388, a recently widowed woman named Pasqualeta came before a notary to register an inventory of the goods left by her late husband, Gil Civera. Gil was a butcher and a citizen of Barcelona, and had died several weeks earlier. Pasqualeta had come to the notary especially to request an inventory of the goods she owned outright as part of her dowry, some of which she subsequently auctioned off. The case of Pasqualeta is valuable because both the inventory and auction records are preserved, as are an appraisal of the value of her assets conducted some two years later, when Pasqualeta decided to remarry. The three documents pertaining to Pasqualeta’s affairs—that is, the inventory, auction record, and appraisal—were registered and copied together and have now been published in the DALME collection.
Pasqualeta's efforts to document her finances were far from unusual, as medieval women often outlived their husbands, and widows frequently found themselves re-entering the marriage market. It is unknown whether Pasqualeta had borne Gil any children or if he had other heirs—the documents do not mention any—but an analysis of the documents Gil and Pasqualeta left behind can still illuminate their long-ago lives. As the Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa’s concept of heteronyms teaches us, a real person is not like a fictional one. Fictional characters are understood by their essences, and their actions issue from them. Real people, on the other hand, are not one-dimensional but rather made of layers, which renders their actions difficult to predict. As the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset stated, “I am me and my circumstance”; most people do not behave consistently according to an essence, but rather according to the circumstances in which they find themselves. As a widow, Pasqualeta faced a new set of circumstances when she wanted to remarry, which in turn unleashed a new chain of decisions. These three documents reveal some of Pasqualeta’s layers as a wife, widow, and new wife-to-be.
The household inventory sheds some light on her everyday life as a butcher’s wife and its material realities. The inventory first helps us envision the simple structure of their home. Since the goods listed last on the inventory were located in two rooms on the second floor, Gil and Pasqualeta must have lived in a two-story house with two rooms located on the second floor. But most of the items, including kitchen items, tablecloths, linens, and bed sheets, were found on the first floor, as was typical of a middle-class household of that era. Two things, however, do stand out. The first is that no tools related to Civera’s job are found anywhere in the documents. The absence of knives or other implements of the trade may be due to the fact that in Barcelona and other Mediterranean cities, butchers were not permitted to work from their homes but had to rent space at the market from the city council. Secondly, although there were no butcher’s tools recorded among the household goods, a spear, a sword, and a type of shield known as a "buckler" were listed. While it is relatively common to see weapons listed in household inventories, the items recorded in this inventory are significant because they comprise a basic panoplie (a fighter’s basic weaponry), and are not usually found in humble households. Not surprisingly, the profession of butcher in the Middle Ages was strongly linked to the idea of violence, so these items confirm that association.
As for Pasqualeta, the loss of her first husband and subsequent changes to her personal life ultimately required her to make a series of difficult decisions, some of which are reflected in the second document, the auction record. As she chose which objects to be sold, we get a glimpse of how she viewed her role as Gil’s wife, even if we cannot know whether her decisions were based on rational or sentimental criteria. All the weapons were sold in the auction, including another sword not listed in the inventory, but the most highly valued item auctioned off was a trio of garments—a tunic ("gramalla"), skirt ("gonella"), and a hood ("caperó")—for a total amount of four pounds and thirteen shillings. The clothing represented half the total amount of the auction, which brought in a little over nine pounds in all.
The limited value of the auction makes us wonder whether Pasqualeta was reluctant to get rid of more objects. When she wished to remarry two years later, she sought to have some of the remaining objects appraised by two sworn criers ("curritores publici") of Barcelona, Pere Castell and Bernat Cadireta. The total value of the assessed goods came to 23 Barcelona pounds. Although there isn't space enough to delve into the entire list of objects found there, we do know that Pasqualeta chose to include some objects in the appraisal and exclude others. Not all the items listed in the inventory reappear in the auction and appraisal documents, and some objects are present in the two later documents but not listed in the original inventory.
This series of three documents therefore stands witness to two different but interrelated processes. In the first instance, objects were assigned a material value by bidders at the auction, that is, by the law of the marketplace, and then by experts, the sworn criers, who applied their knowledge of the economies of second-hand goods to make their appraisals. The second process involved the decision making carried out by the protagonist, Pasqualeta, as she weighed the meaning and value of each item, based on rational or sentimental calculations and her need to adapt to a new set of personal circumstances.