Beatrice of Cenci (1577–1599)

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Beatrice of Cenci (1577–1599)

Noblewoman of Rome. Name variations: Beatrice Cenci; "the Beautiful Parricide." Born in 1577 (some sources cite 1583); executed on September 11, 1599; daughter of Francesco Cenci (1549–1598) and his first wife whose name is unknown.

In 16th-century Rome, Beatrice Cenci was the youngest of 12 children of Francesco Cenci and his first wife. Following his second marriage, Francesco, a Roman noble of enormous wealth, began to treat the children of his first marriage, in cluding Beatrice, rep rehensibly. It was even rumored that he had hired bandits to murder two of his sons on their return from Spain.

One medieval source states that as Beatrice matured, her father was attracted to her beauty: "The beauty of Beatrice inspired him with the horrible and incestuous desire to possess her person; and with mingled lust and hate he persecuted her from day to day, until circumstances enabled him to consummate his brutality." On September 9, 1598, Beatrice's friend Olimpio Calvetti and a hired assassin drove a large nail into Francesco's brain while he lay sleeping.

Differing scenarios have been painted by historians to explain the events prior to Francesco's murder. In Italian historian Lodovico Muratori's version of the events, Beatrice sought the help of relatives and Pope Clement VII but received no assistance. Therefore, in the company of her brother Giacomo and her stepmother, she planned the murder of her father. Other historians maintain that Beatrice was indeed innocent and cite her date of birth as 1583 instead of 1577, claiming she was only 16 at the time of her father's death.

Italian historian Bestolotti had far more sympathy for the father. Bestolotti maintains that Francesco, though profligate, was not a monster, and that Beatrice was not a 16-year-old girl at the time of the killing, but a 21-year-old, who was far from beautiful and had an illegitimate son. He further asserts that the sweet and mournful countenance of Beatrice painted by Guido, one of the treasures of the Barberini Palace in Rome, could not have been painted from life, as Guido did not paint in Rome until nine years after her death.

When the crime was discovered, Beatrice and Giacomo were tortured; Giacomo confessed, but Beatrice continued to declare her innocence. Despite efforts to obtain a pardon from the pope, all three were condemned and beheaded on September 11, 1599. The tragedy has inspired a number of literary works, including The Cenci by Percy Bysshe Shelley and a novel by Francesco Guerrazzi.

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