The three golden balls. The Lombards were the first
money-lenders in England, and those who borrowed money of them
deposited some security or pawn. The Medici family, whose arms were three gilded pills, in allusion to their profession of medicine,
were the richest merchants of Florence, and greatest
money-lenders. (See Balls.)
Roscoe, in his Life of Lorenzo de Medici, gives a different
solution. He says that Averardo de' Medici, a commander under
Charlemagne, slew the giant Mugello, whose club he bore as a trophy.
This club or mace had three iron balls, which the family adopted as
is the Latin pign[us]
(a pawn or pledge).
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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