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School of History

Historical Treasures from the 15th Century: new website offers a treasure trove of data and research tools

Queen Mary University of London academics launch new web resource, revealing historical records of two fifteenth-century ledgers of the Bruges and London branches of the Milanese bank Filippo Borromei and partners.


Photo: Sailko, CC BY 3.0 'Humilitas' (Humility, Borromeo-Arese Family Motto, Palazzo Borromeo

The Borromei Bank Research project is the culmination of two decades of Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded collaboration between Professor Jim Bolton and Professor Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli , and will be a major resource for economic and social historians of late medieval Europe.

The new website offers a treasure trove of historical data that promises to captivate researchers, historians, and enthusiasts alike. It offers a window into the financial and trade activities of the fifteenth century and celebrates the enduring legacy of the Borromeo-Arese family. The website can be accessed free of charge by researchers, historians, genealogists, and the public.

The invaluable ledgers, previously thought to be destroyed during World War II, were preserved in the private family archive of the Borromeo-Arese family in their palazzo on Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy.

The Borromeo-Arese family, dating back to 1300, played a pivotal role in Italian banking history. Count Vitaliano I Borromeo established banks in Bruges, Barcelona, and London during the 1430s, significantly impacting European trade.

The project has digitised 396 folios from the Bruges ledger of 1438 and 440 folios from the London ledger of 1436-38. It encompasses the accounts of 753 individuals and identifies an additional 1259 individuals connected to the transactions. The database, now available on the website, offers various search options, including account holder names, keywords, and filters for specific criteria.

Project lead Professor Jim Bolton commented: “The ledgers are not only a testament to the financial history of the fifteenth century but also offer insight into the trade and economic relationships between north-western Europe, Iberia, and Italy during that era. Italian imports of precious cloth, silks, satins, damask and velvet, of spices and especially saffron, worth more than gold, dyestuffs, jewels, cheap cloth and arms and armour from Milan came through London, often via Bruges. They were bought for redistribution by London mercers, haberdashers, grocers, tailors and fishmongers and their accounts show in great detail how these purchases were made.”

Co-Project lead Professor Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli added: “Altogether, there are some 23,000 entries on the database, all translated into English from the original Italian. The database itself can be searched in various ways; directly by the name of an account holder taken from an index; and randomly by a word such as wool or cloth, or even by a combination of words. Filters are available so that researchers can call up all examples of bills of exchange, for instance, or all mentions of a particular place name, balances carried forward to a new account, commodities of trade.”

The Borromei  Bank Research project website:



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