In the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, women were supposed to marry and provide their husbands with heirs. In their marriages they were expected to be silent and obedient. The model that was told to women was to obey whether the request was reasonable or unreasonable, something that could be accomplished or was utterly futile. Many women, except those at the top of the social scale and those in nunneries, were illiterate. Most of all, wives were expected not to demand equality with their husbands. Although Margherita di Domenico Bandini was only sixteen when she married the Italian merchant Francesco Datini in 1376, and he was over forty, in this marriage Margherita demonstrated courage and compassion and an insistence on equality rare for her time period. Over a hundred of her letters to him have survived, which give a rare glimpse into the marriage of an extraordinary woman.
Margherita's new husband had built up a thriving career as a merchant. Although they were both from Italy, they married in Avignon, where Francesco had been engaged in trade for many years, since that was in the fourteenth century the seat of the papacy. Francesco's family had been pressuring him for years to marry and had feared because of his traveling he would not marry a hometown girl. They were delighted when he settled on Margherita, even though she was an orphan and did not bring her husband a dowry; she was, however, young, attractive, and on her mother's side connected with Florentine nobility, making her a good catch for a merchant.
Soon after the marriage, the Pope left Avignon to return to Rome; soon Francesco Datini and Margherita returned to Tuscany. As a merchant, Francesco traveled frequently. When he was away, he would write at least twice a week to Margherita. Even though Margherita was young and wives at the time were told to be silent and obedient, Margherita was frequently outspoken in her responses.