End of Europe's Middle Ages


The Italian vendettas, or blood-feuds, were a long-standing tradition that most cities and towns tried to break. It was a difficult task since, by Italian standards, the honour of a family required that adequate vengeance be sought for the injury or death of a family member. The act of vengeance placed a similar burden on the newly bereaved family and the feud was perpetuated. Unfortunately, innocent bystanders could often be killed or injured and many laws were enacted in an attempt to reduce the violence of vendettas. Funerals, often held at night throughout the Middle Ages, were restricted to daylight hours in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The gathering of large family groups and the cover of darkness were too convenient for the perpetuation of feuds. Lorenzo de Medici was himself injured and his brother, Giuliano, was killed in an attack by a rival family in fifteenth century Florence. The vendettas and family feuds of Italy were well-known throughout Europe. Shakespeare used two feuding families in Verona, the Montecchi and Cappelo families, as the models for the Montague and Capulet families of his tragic play, Romeo and Juliet.

Home of family that was model for the Montagues Home of Cappelo family, model for Capulets

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

  Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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