13th-century will reveals Marco Polo may have had a secret daughter

A woman named Agnese wrote her will and entrusted it to her father, Marco Polo.

A REPLICA of Marco Polo’s 700-year-old last will and testament. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A REPLICA of Marco Polo’s 700-year-old last will and testament.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

The famous 13th-century explorer Marco Polo may have had a previously unknown daughter who revealed herself in her will from 1319, in which she wrote that she was entrusting it to her father who she named as Marco Polo.

The will was discovered by Marcello Bolognari at the State Archive of Venice, which holds many historical documents, and his findings were published in the Italian Studi Medievali journal. 

Marco Polo married his wife, Donata Badoer in 1300, and the two had three daughters - Fantina, Bellela and Moreta. Fantina was well-known for being resolute and assertive, demanding her and her sisters' inheritance from the court after her father died.

The newly discovered will, however, reveals that Polo's oldest daughter was probably its writer, Agnese, who wrote the will at the age of 23 or 24. If she is indeed his daughter, it would mean that she had been born out of wedlock or that Polo was a widower when he married Badoer.

Most likely, Agnese wrote her will at such a young age and named her father and husband in it because she knew she was about to die.

An empty canal is seen after the spread of coronavirus has caused a decline in the number of tourists in Venice, Italy, March 1, 2020 (credit: REUTERS/MANUEL SILVESTRI)An empty canal is seen after the spread of coronavirus has caused a decline in the number of tourists in Venice, Italy, March 1, 2020 (credit: REUTERS/MANUEL SILVESTRI)

"Agnese's testament depicts an intimate and affectionate portrait of family life," said Bolognari. "She mentions her husband Nicolo, known as Nicoletto, as well as their children Barbarella, Papon (i.e. "Big Eater") and Franceschino."

As well as her husband and children, Agnese also mentioned her children's tutor Raffaele da Cremona, their godmother Benvenuta and the family's made Reni.

"This document offers information about the branch of the Polo family that lived in the San Giovanni Grisostomo area and raised important questions which, for now, can only be answered if we examine the documents we have one more time, publishing new critical editions and examining the archive in even more depth," said Bolognari.