The Compagnia dei Bardi was a Tuscan bank started by members of the Bardi dynasty. By 1310, they were the wealthiest family in Florence. They maintained business branches at locations stretching from the Low Countries to North Africa and the Middle East. The firm traded in agricultural commodities (olive oil and wine) and industrial products, especially woollen textiles, but they drew much of their profit from fees levied on exchange of currency.
Florentine banks flourished abroad because they established a network of family members and trusted associates to represent their interests. By the 1290s, Bardi made its presence felt in Lombard Street. Within a quarter of a century, they were Europe’s main bankers. By that time Edward III was preparing for what would become the Hundred Years’ War, borrowing vast amounts of money from Bardi (900,000 gold florins).
With the war dragging on, the King repudiated his enormous debts to foreign bankers in 1343. Bardi was ruined and liquidated in 1346. The collapse of this and other Florentine banks was a major cause of a great depression that lasted beyond the 1340s. The Bardi family reappeared during the fifteenth century, operating in various European centres and playing a notable role in financing some of the early voyages of discovery, including those by Columbus and Cabot.