Italian Murderess: she was doing it right!

April 8, 2013

Perhaps because I have sadistic velleities or just an eccentric appetite for slightly scandalous deeds which delight me to such extent that I quite managed to become addicted, whenever I’m in need of spicy historical records I turn to Italy, whose patrimony of mischievous figures, rich criminals and lascivious damsels never ceases to quench my thirst. I don’t know if it has anything to do with living in the Boot and having mainly depraved popes, but they definitely put mediatized characters like bloody Elizabeth Bathory to shame.  Think Lucrezia Borgia– she could do more than kill helpless maidens and bathe in their blood to gain eternal youth (Naomi Campbell seems to have repeatedly attempted to test it unsuccessfully -boo, humdrum human rights disapprove-  which means it isn’t so astounding).

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Italians, on the other hand, have a certain something, a natural flair seasoned with one ravishing vice inherited as specific trait from their fiery ancestors, the Borgias, Orsinis, Medicis, Sforza and so on, unlike the French who were rather subverted by vanity, a particular section of generally named “vice” Italy’s inhabitants had (though I assume they still have) galore.  It’s suffice to say this enchants me (it does).

Returning to the main topic, to satisfy my perpetual desideratum for anecdotes I frequently resort to evidences from Rome, Florence or Napoli, the main gathering nests of the wealthy and infamous. Yesterday, to enlarge my research area, I was reading Staley’s “Lords and Ladies of the Italian Lakes”, a highly vibrant  compilation of rumors and stories set in the vividly painted Lombardy Lakeland  (rival to England’s similarly called region) and just stumbled across a single-paragraph biography of Adeliza de Borgomanero. Profession: part-time murderess, nothing unusual, in fact, for the gloomy Middle Ages, but still juicy and only good to savor today.

Adeliza de Borgomanero’s half-legend, pretty sad in the end, follows an interesting row of events and rumors embroidered around her numerous intriguing habits, culminating in her premature death.

Portrait of a woman, c.1400

She was born circa 1350 in a family of minor nobles, enough to secure her the proper background for marrying a local count from  Val d’Ossola region, elder and boorish, I assume, yet without documented evidence. We can scarcely imagine how the wedding might have been due to the complete lack of reports, but let me tell you it was ensued by a hearty feast and inexorably grand if we judge by the period’s traditions.

At any rate, Adeliza, the sinful child, couldn’t refrain her congenital iniquity and did a thing or two (again, unaccounted by history) apparently inappropriate because old, tedious hubby exiled the young girl to a remote Bellagio castle, situated in the vicinity of Lake Como (which will be a faithful accomplice to her atrocities).

Wrong move if he had any intention of rehabilitating his wife since it barely exonerated Adeliza, point from where she, officially discharged of marital duties, began to knock together her own personal court. For a graceful lady, with a small fortune (money speak, after all) at her complete disposition, I bet it wasn’t such a laborious job.

Lovers were definitely not missing from the jolly assembly and, as she gave the impression of having a weakness for both tall, muscular men or more romantic, effeminate boys  (exclusively gallant ones), soldiers and troubadours surrounded her castle. With them began the actual gossip about her disputable morals.

Countess Adeliza was said, inspired by Quenn Giovanna II of Napoli (who had promiscuous affairs with much younger men she then compelled to take their lives, threw over the balcony in the sea, assassinate, etc) to have demanded her paramours to commit suicide post the consumption of their sexual revels. The brave fools who refused obeying her desire were not much luckier: a servant was charged with dropping them through steel racked oubliettes in the lake below (remember I mentioned Como Lake’s implication in the murders) and none survived.

Queen Giovanna II of Napoli

 Either way, let’s remark she was a delicate lady who didn’t like to dirty her hands so those crimes were  more probably made to prove her authority, her sovereignity  over men (the thing women wand most, by Adeliza’s contemporary, Geoffrey Chaucer) and less to satisfy a devilish thirst of blood.

But she became a vampire-siren figure in the popular lore nonetheless, living in a metaphorical (or not?) charnel house.

More original than slaughtering your servants, right?

Adeliza passed away inexplicably at only 20 years of age, in 1370, leaving practically nothing historians can list apart from the legends.  And what beautiful legends.

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11 Responses to “Italian Murderess: she was doing it right!”

  1. Anonymus Says:

    some dangerous women you gathered here!… but was it really that usual to murder people in that time?

  2. tyroper Says:

    Wow, you put in a bunch of work on your posts. Thanks.

  3. ganhar dinheiro Says:

    parabens pelo blog, belissimo trabalho


  4. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with living in the Boot and having mainly depraved popes, …”

    Yes, I believe the concentration of extreme wealth and political power concentrated in certain “Familias” had a little something to do with it. They could do pretty much whatever they wanted to. Very interesting to observe these nice folks in action … from a safe distance in both time and place, that is.

    Great stuff!
    Grazi!


    • Hmm… I’m not sure how contented I am with the space-time distance interposed between Madame and these picturesque criminals… I don’t think I’d mind competing with their ingenuity…


  5. What I want to know, Patricia, is whether the beautiful woman in profile is Adeliza, or whether that just happens to be a useful contemporary portrait? I have always loved her, never thought she might be a murderer!
    Catherine


    • Alas, the sitter of that portrait is has yet to be known. Some art historians conjectured it may be Lucrezia Landriani, Caterina Sforza’s mother, but nobody is really sure. I chose it precisely because of that uncertainty. As far as I’m concerned, it may well represent Adeliza.

  6. probalmend Says:

    I live in Borgomanero but no one here knows this story. My father is a historian and knows very well the secrets of our town and never heard about it. What are the sources from which it was taken this story? A character so particular would be famous in a small town like Borgomanero… this is a (fascinating) legend.


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