London: A rare accounting document has revealed the activities of Italian bankers in the early 15th century London, decades before the capital became a financial powerhouse.
The half-concealed document beneath a coat of arms design was discovered by economic historians at Queen Mary University of London.
Among the pages of a bound collection of traditional English crests held at the London College of Arms, the headquarters of British heraldry are several papers belonging to a book of debtors and creditors for Florentine merchant-banking company, Domenicio Villani & Partners.
The coats of arms are estimated to have been painted in 1480, during a time when good quality paper was scarce and anything that was available was re-used, according to a university statement.
The banking records, only half-covered by the design, dated from 1422-24, hint at the extensive trade in wool and other commodities produced in Britain during the era.
Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli, who is based at the University of Florence and also a research fellow at Queen Mary, and Jim Bolton, professor at Queen Mary`s School of History, have spent more than a decade working on the Borromei Bank Research Project, documenting the activity of Italian merchant bankers operating from London in the late medieval period.
Guidi, who was alerted to the Villani ledger`s location by Queen Mary historian, Kate Lowe, commented: "What makes the discovery of these pages so surprising is that, usually, the foreign offices of the Florentine companies periodically sent the books back home so they could be checked."
"In this case, the books remained in London, where they gradually lost their documentary value and some 55 years later were considered scraps of good quality paper to be re-used for the drawing of coats of arms."
By the late Middle Ages, Italian merchants had created far-reaching pan-European networks. Their business involved international trade, exchange by means of written instruments and loans to sovereigns and popes.
England`s trade in commodities, such as wool and woollen cloth, eventually led to the nation becoming the financial hub of the West, overtaking Italy in status.