The origin of the Medici family is lost in the mists of the Middle Ages, and, only here and there, can the historian gain glimpses of the lives of early forbears. Still, there is sufficient data, to be had for the digging, upon which to transcribe, inferentially at least, an interesting narrative.
Away towards the end of the twelfth century, - exact dates are wholly beside the mark - there dwelt, under the shadow of one of the rugged castles of the robber-captains of the Mugello in Tuscany, a hard-working and trustworthy bonds-man - one Chiarissimo - "Old Honesty," as we may call him. He was married to an excellent helpmeet, and was by his lord permitted to till a small piece of land and rear his family.
In addition to intelligence in agriculture, it would seem that he, or perhaps his wife, possessed some knowledge of the virtues of roots and herbs, for, in one corner of his podere, he had a garden of "simples." The few peaceable inhabitants of that warlike valley, and also many a wounded man-at-arms, sought "Old Honesty" and his wise mate for what we now call "kitchen remedies."
Those, indeed, were happy days with respect to suffering human nature. "Kill or Cure" might have been the character of the healing art, but certainly specialists had not invented our appendicitis and other fashionable twentieth-century physical fashions! A little medical knowledge sufficed, and decoctions, pillules, poultices, and bleedings made up the simple pharmacopoeia.
All the same, the satirical rhyme, which an old chronicler put into the mouths of many a despairing patient, in later days, may have been true also of "Old Honesty" and his nostrums:
"There's not a herb nor a root Nor any remedy to boot Which can stave death off by a foot!"
Of that good couple's family only one name has been preserved - Gianbuono, "Good John." Passerini says he was a priest - probably he means a hermit. Anyhow, he acquired more property in the Valle della Sieve and founded a church - Santa Maria dell' Assunta - possibly the enlargement of his cell - upon Monte Senario, between the valley of the Arno and that of the Sieve.
Ser Gianbuono - ecclesiastic or not - had two sons - Bonagiunto, "Lucky Lad," and Chiarissimo II. In those primitive times nobody troubled about surnames - idiosyncrasy of any kind was a sufficient indication of individuality. The brothers were enterprising fellows, and both made tracks for Florence, which - risen Phoenix-like from barbarian ashes - was thriving marvellously as a mart for art and craft.
Ser Bonagiunto, in the first decade of the thirteenth century, was living in the Sestiere di Porta del Duomo, and working busily in wood and stone, the stalwart parent of a vigorous progeny. It was his great-grandson, Ardingo - a famous athlete in the giostre and a soldier of renown - who first of his family attained the rank of Signore.
Ser Chiarissimo, between 1201-1210, owned a tower near San Tommaso, at the north-east angle of the Mercato Vecchio - later, the family church of the Medici - and under it a bottega, or canova, for the sale of his grandmother's recipes. Over the door he put up his sign - seven golden Pillole di Speziale - pills or balls, which were emblazoned upon the proud escutcheon of his descendants. He was called "il Medico" - "the doctor" - hence the family name "Medici."
These were the days when the foundations of the fortunes of many great Florentine families were laid. The loaning of money was the royal road to affluence, and everybody who, by chance, had a spare gold florin or two, became ipso facto a "Presto" or bank. Next, after lending to one another with a moderate profit - a dono di tempo or a merito - "quick returns," came the ambitious system of State loans, with the regulated interesso and the speculative dealings in Cambio - on 'Change - with boroccolo - "unexpected gain," and ritravgola - "sly advantage," or, as we say, "sharp practice."
Ser Filippo, or "Lippo" - the twin son, as the name implies, of Ser Chiarissimo II. - what happened to the other twin we do not know - was probably the first of his family of doctor-apothecaries to deliberately abandon his less lucrative profession and establish himself as a banker in the Mercato Nuovo. Anyhow, his two sons were born and baptised under the happy auspices of plenty of money!
The elder, the prosperous doctor-banker, was jubilantly called Averardo - "Blessed with good means," and the younger was christened Chiarissimo III., to mark quite sententiously that, whilst his bank-balance was considerable, it had been accumulated by honest dealing!