Caterina Llull y Sabastida, our role model

The Money Changer and His Wife – Quentin Massys – Louvre – businesswoman

Our entrepreneur, who lived in the 15th century, is an example to all women.

The records of the time state that her name was Caterina Llull y Sabastida, that she was born sometime around the year 1440 and that she came from a bourgeois family in Barcelona’s commercial district of La Ribera.

At the age of 20, she got married and moved with her husband to Syracuse where she had four children before being widowed. From then on, everything changed for her.

The worries she had about managing on her own were compounded by new business challenges, which she also had to face without her husband’s help.

Her duties grew. In addition to running the household and caring for her children, she had to manage the family estate and the trading business she had inherited.

The struggle to defend her interests and those of her children became a priority. But a businesswoman with a strong entrepreneurial spirit does not give up easily. 

For the first time in history, a woman heads an international trading company

Caterina decided to continue with the business and the responsibility she had inherited, even if this meant that she had to fight for it.

As a pioneering merchant-to-be, she took the reins so that she could progress in the world of foreign trade.

Commercial disputes, legal impediments, communication difficulties. Even after many hurdles, Caterina did not give up and finally decided to turn to the highest authority there was:  The Queen.

Confident, Caterina wrote to the monarch to explain her situation.

The letter, which is still preserved, reveals a breadth of vision that presents her as an expert in economic evaluations and a strategist of the world in which she lived. It is a fully-fledged mercantile treatise.

Letter from Caterina Llull and Sabastida to the Queen 15th century

The first obstacle she was forced to overcome was the law that questioned her husband’s will and trust in naming her his heir and the reluctance of the Sicilian and Catalan authorities in this respect.

Willing and determined, she did not hesitate to confront the commercial hierarchies of the time and engage in lengthy lawsuits that finally had to be settled under the authority of HM.

In her new role as an entrepreneurial woman, she not only set out to manage the family business but also showed her desire to expand markets and increase the fortune that was bequeathed to her.

With such an approach, the result would allow her to set her own business goals objectively.

A daring gamble and a role model for all businesswomen

Before her husband passed away, Caterina devoted herself body and soul to instilling values and education in her children.

But one thing set her apart from the other women of her time: She made sure that it was her daughter Joana who learned how to manage and keep the household accounts. She was to be her father’s successor at the head of the business.  

The innovative vision of the future, focused on the figure of one of her daughters, is reflected in this choice to continue their legacy.

Her husband’s death in 1471, however, precipitated Caterina Llull y Sabastida’s leading role as administrator of her husband’s assets and capital. 

The future caught up with Caterina sooner than expected. Her forecasts were altered due to what happened, but the inevitable change of plans showed the entrepreneur’s ability to respond.

The unforeseeable suddenly revealed that Caterina’s merchant and entrepreneurial side was not the result of improvisation. 

Resolute and determined, Caterina acted in the 15th century like a modern-day entrepreneur. 

She did not hesitate to acquire the necessary legal documentation from Catalonia and Syracuse which allowed her to obtain the permits that legitimised her husband’s will.

Caterina Llull then demonstrated her great knowledge of the legal reality she found herself in. As we would say today, she was a woman with her feet firmly on the ground.

International commerce during the Middle Ages

A relationship based on love and respect

Love for oneself also magnetises the love of others. From her relationship with her husband and the legacy he left in her hands, it is also clear how much faith he had in her. 

The late merchant’s atypical will showed the esteem he had for his wife, but also a deep respect for her intelligence and management skills. Proof of this was evident from his wish that Caterina should act at her own discretion and with complete freedom over all his property.

Achievements, victories and innovation

Finally, around 1483, Caterina Llull y Sabastida moved with her entire family to Barcelona. She kept some of her possessions in Sicily, which she continued to manage from afar. 

Caterina did not limit her aspirations. Instead of being satisfied with the trade of an important city, she expanded her goals by projecting routes throughout the entire Mediterranean. She thus consolidated international trade in the area and the company she ran.

Can this globalising adventure, which our patron lady Caterina began, frighten us today?

The best way to follow in the footsteps of Caterina Llull y Sabastida is to imitate her determination and overcome the obstacles that we find in our path. To persevere in order to overcome any hurdles or setbacks and to achieve our goals. We will aim to raise the bar that Caterina Llull y Sabastida managed to set in the Middle Ages. 

Now, I ask you, reader, isn’t this a great entrepreneurial purpose?

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