Unknown Estranged Daughter of Marco Polo Revealed In Venetian Will
The Venetian merchant, explorer, and traveler, Marco Polo, is one of history’s most revered names, and his travels through Asia along the Silk Road at the end of the 13th century are documented in the seminal The Travels of Marco Polo , published around the year 1300. Marcello Bolognari , a PhD student at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, has now revealed that he may have stumbled upon an unknown daughter of Marco Polo in an ancient manuscript that was a Venetian last will and testament, reports Ca' Foscari University of Venice .
The last will and testament penned by a young Venetian woman called Agnese on 7 July 1319 in Venice, who may likely be an unknown early daughter of famous Italian explorer Marco Polo. (Venice State Archives / Ca' Foscari University )
The Marco Polo Family Document Trail
“We know for sure he had three daughters and this document reflects that most probably he had another daughter from a previous relationship,” said Bolognari. “We don’t know if he had been married before his second marriage or if the child was born from an affair.” Bolognari discussed the discovery in an article published in the journal Studi Medievali , titled Agnes uxor Nicolai Calbo de confinio Sancti Iohannis Grisostomi: un nuovo documento inedito sulla famiglia [Marco] Polo.
The other “Polo family documents” he refers to is the last will and testament of a young woman named Agnese, in which her father, Marco Polo , is clearly indicated. The legally vetted document from the 7th of July 1319 shows proof that Agnese had entrusted her father, Polo, to deliver her will and testament to the priest , Pietro Pagano. The manuscript was to be delivered to priest at the church of San Felice in Venice’s San Giovanni Grisostomo neighborhood. This telling and possibly history-changing document was accidentally discovered in the Venice State Archives .
A 16th-century portrait of Marco Polo, likely long after he fathered Agnese Polo, when he was the Western world's most famous explorer. ( Public domain )
Marco Polo: A Family Man
Polo was imprisoned in the year 1298 AD, only to be released a year later, as Venice was at war with the Republic of Genoa. The next year he married Donata Badoer, the daughter of another wealthy mercantile family, with whom he had three daughters: Fantina, Bellela and Moreta.
Agnese, the until now unknown Marco Polo daughter, was therefore probably conceived before Polo went to jail in 1298. The explorer had returned from his travels east along the Silk Road in 1295.
Fantina was Marco Polo’s most famous daughter. And she resolutely marched to the courts in Venice to demand her rightful inheritance when her famous father died.
Polo’s death was a prolonged affair. In 1323, he was bedridden with a terminal illness, during which time he drew up an extensive will. Apart from giving the church a part of his fortune, as was customary, he also had to clear the debts of some family members, which were paid in advance at the San Lorenzo convent (where he wanted to be buried). He also gave parts of different properties to every institution and organization that he was affiliated with.
In his last will and testament , Marco Polo appointed his wife and 3 daughters as co-executors of the will. Polo finally died in January 1324 at the age of 69.
The evidence of Agnese provides new information about Marco Polo’s private life before he formally married and had his known three daughters. Final proof and further evidence of another Marco Polo daughter (and her mother and his lover) would enrich the already exciting biography of Polo, according to the CF University press release .
The potential branch of the Polo family stemming from Agnese lived in the San Giovanni Grisostomo area of Venice pictured here. (Abxbay / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Agnese Polo: Estranged or Revered?
At the time of writing her will or testament, Agnese was 23-24 years old, and the mother of three children (who are all mentioned in the document). Clearly, her husband and father were slated to outlive her, as they are explicitly mentioned by name in the will. This potential branch of the Marco Polo family lived in the San Giovanni Grisostomo area of Venice . And researchers are now looking deeper into documents related to this ancient neighborhood in the hope of finding more about Agnese Polo.
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Agnese’s testament, adds Bolognari, “depicts an intimate and affectionate portrait of family life. She mentions her husband Nicolò, known as Nicoletto, as well as their children Barbarella, Papon (i.e., “Big Eater”) and Franceschino. The diminutives that she used to refer to her children tell us that this young mother wanted to leave something behind for her husband and children, but also, as the document shows, for the children’s tutor ( magister) Raffaele da Cremona, their godmother ( santola) Benvenuta, and the maid ( famula) Reni.”
Agnese’s entrusting of her will to Marco Polo points to the possibility of ties between both of Polo’s families, and a potential relationship of trust and love between father and daughter.
Agnese’s will manuscript was discovered by a team of historians at Co’Foscari University while conducting archival explorations at the Venice State Archives, under the tutelage of Eugenio Burgio and Antonio Montefusco.
Top image: The famous mosaic of Marco Polo displayed in the Palazzo Doria-Tursi, Italy, a man we now know more about with the latest evidence of a likely-earlier daughter by him in Venice. Source: Salviati / Public domain
By Sahir Pandey
Giuffrida, A. 2022. Marco Polo had previously unknown daughter before marriage, will suggests . Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/07/marco-polo-had-previously-unknown-daughter-prior-to-marriage-will-suggests
CUV. 2022. Agnese, the unknown daughter of Marco Polo . Available at: https://www.unive.it/pag/16584/?tx_news_pi1%5Bnews%5D=11938&cHash=92cbc9af6f08744a0a46e4cd860f4c92