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CELEBRATED CRIMES VOLUME 1(of 8), Part 2

By Alexander Dumas, Pere




THE CENCI

1598


Should you ever go to Rome and visit the villa Pamphili, no doubt,
after having sought under its tall pines and along its canals the
shade and freshness so rare in the capital of the Christian world,
you will descend towards the Janiculum Hill by a charming road, in
the middle of which you will find the Pauline fountain.  Having
passed this monument, and having lingered a moment on the terrace of
the church of St. Peter Montorio, which commands the whole of Rome,
you will visit the cloister of Bramante, in the middle of which, sunk
a few feet below the level, is built, on the identical place where
St. Peter was crucified, a little temple, half Greek, half Christian;
you will thence ascend by a side door into the church itself.  There,
the attentive cicerone will show you, in the first chapel to the
right, the Christ Scourged, by Sebastian del Piombo, and in the third
chapel to the left, an Entombment by Fiammingo; having examined these
two masterpieces at leisure, he will take you to each end of the
transverse cross, and will show you--on one side a picture by
Salviati, on slate, and on the other a work by Vasari; then, pointing
out in melancholy tones a copy of Guido's Martyrdom of St. Peter on
the high altar, he will relate to you how for three centuries the
divine Raffaelle's Transfiguration was worshipped in that spot; how
it was carried away by the French in 1809, and restored to the pope
by the Allies in 1814.  As you have already in all probability
admired this masterpiece in the Vatican, allow him to expatiate, and
search at the foot of the altar for a mortuary slab, which you will
identify by a cross and the single word; Orate; under this gravestone
is buried Beatrice Cenci, whose tragical story cannot but impress you
profoundly.

She was the daughter of Francesco Cenci.  Whether or not it be true
that men are born in harmony with their epoch, and that some embody
its good qualities and others its bad ones, it may nevertheless
interest our readers to cast a rapid glance over the period which had
just passed when the events which we are about to relate took place.
Francesco Cenci will then appear to them as the diabolical
incarnation of his time.

On the 11th of August, 1492, after the lingering death-agony of
Innocent VIII, during which two hundred and twenty murders were
committed in the streets of Rome, Alexander VI ascended the
pontifical throne.  Son of a sister of Pope Calixtus III, Roderigo
Lenzuoli Borgia, before being created cardinal, had five children by
Rosa Vanozza, whom he afterwards caused to be married to a rich
Roman.  These children were:

Francis, Duke of Gandia;

Caesar, bishop and cardinal, afterwards Duke of Valentinois;

Lucrezia, who was married four times: her first husband was Giovanni
Sforza, lord of Pesaro, whom she left owing to his impotence; the
second, Alfonso, Duke of Bisiglia, whom her brother Caesar caused to
be assassinated; the third, Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, from
whom a second divorce separated her; finally, the fourth, Alfonso of
Aragon, who was stabbed to death on the steps of the basilica of St.
Peter, and afterwards, three weeks later, strangled, because he did
not die soon enough from his wounds, which nevertheless were mortal;

Giofre, Count of Squillace, of whom little is known;

And, finally, a youngest son, of whom nothing at all is known.

The most famous of these three brothers was Caesar Borgia.  He had
made every arrangement a plotter could make to be King of Italy at
the death of his father the pope, and his measures were so carefully
taken as to leave no doubt in his own mind as to the success of this
vast project.  Every chance was provided against, except one; but
Satan himself could hardly have foreseen this particular one.  The
reader will judge for himself.

The pope had invited Cardinal Adrien to supper in his vineyard on the
Belvidere; Cardinal Adrien was very rich, and the pope wished to
inherit his wealth, as he already had acquired that of the Cardinals
of Sant' Angelo, Capua, and Modena.  To effect this, Caesar Borgia
sent two bottles of poisoned wine to his father's cup-bearer, without
taking him into his confidence; he only instructed him not to serve
this wine till he himself gave orders to do so; unfortunately, during
supper the cup-bearer left his post for a moment, and in this
interval a careless butler served the poisoned wine to the pope, to
Caesar Borgia, and to Cardinal Corneto.

Alexander VI died some hours afterwards; Caesar Borgia was confined
to bed, and sloughed off his skin; while Cardinal Corneto lost his
sight and his senses, and was brought to death's door.

Pius III succeeded Alexander VI, and reigned twenty-five days; on the
twenty-sixth he was poisoned also.

Caesar Borgia had under his control eighteen Spanish cardinals who
owed to him their places in the Sacred College; these cardinals were
entirely his creatures, and he could command them absolutely.  As he
was in a moribund condition and could make no use of them for
himself, he sold them to Giuliano della Rovere, and Giuliano della
Rovere was elected pope, under the name of Julius II.  To the Rome of
Nero succeeded the Athens of Pericles.

Leo X succeeded Julius II, and under his pontificate Christianity
assumed a pagan character, which, passing from art into manners,
gives to this epoch a strange complexion.  Crimes for the moment
disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in
good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by
Catullus.  Leo X died after having assembled under his reign, which
lasted eight years, eight months, and nineteen days, Michael Angelo,
Raffaelle, Leonardo da Vinci, Correggio, Titian, Andrea del Sarto,
Fra Bartolommeo, Giulio Romano, Ariosto, Guicciardini, and
Macchiavelli.

Giulio di Medici and Pompeo Colonna had equal claims to succeed him.
As both were skilful politicians, experienced courtiers, and moreover
of real and almost equal merit, neither of them could obtain a
majority, and the Conclave was prolonged almost indefinitely, to the
great fatigue of the cardinals.  So it happened one day that a
cardinal, more tired than the rest, proposed to elect, instead of
either Medici or Colonna, the son, some say of a weaver, others of a
brewer of Utrecht, of whom no one had ever thought till then, and who
was for the moment acting head of affairs in Spain, in the absence of
Charles the Fifth.  The jest prospered in the ears of those who heard
it; all the cardinals approved their colleague's proposal, and Adrien
became pope by a mere accident.

He was a perfect specimen of the Flemish type a regular Dutchman, and
could not speak a word of Italian.  When he arrived in Rome, and saw
the Greek masterpieces of sculpture collected at vast cost by Leo X,
he wished to break them to pieces, exclaiming, "Suet idola
anticorum."  His first act was to despatch a papal nuncio, Francesco
Cherigato, to the Diet of Nuremberg, convened to discuss the reforms
of Luther, with instructions which give a vivid notion of the manners
of the time.

"Candidly confess," said he, "that God has permitted this schism and
this persecution on account of the sins of man, and especially those
of priests and prelates of the Church; for we know that many
abominable things have taken place in the Holy See."

Adrien wished to bring the Romans back to the simple and austere
manners of the early Church, and with this object pushed reform to
the minutest details.  For instance, of the hundred grooms maintained
by Leo X, he retained only a dozen, in order, he said, to have two
more than the cardinals.

A pope like this could not reign long: he died after a year's
pontificate.  The morning after his death his physician's door was
found decorated with garlands of flowers, bearing this inscription:
"To the liberator of his country."

Giulio di Medici and Pompeo Colonna were again rival candidates.
Intrigues recommenced, and the Conclave was once more so divided that
at one time the cardinals thought they could only escape the
difficulty in which they were placed by doing what they had done
before, and electing a third competitor; they were even talking about
Cardinal Orsini, when Giulio di Medici, one of the rival candidates,
hit upon a very ingenious expedient.  He wanted only five votes; five
of his partisans each offered to bet five of Colonna's a hundred
thousand ducats to ten thousand against the election of Giulio di
Medici.  At the very first ballot after the wager, Giulio di Medici
got the five votes he wanted; no objection could be made, the
cardinals had not been bribed; they had made a bet, that was all.

Thus it happened, on the 18th of November, 1523, Giulio di Medici was
proclaimed pope under the name of Clement VII.  The same day, he
generously paid the five hundred thousand ducats which his five
partisans had lost.

It was under this pontificate, and during the seven months in which
Rome, conquered by the Lutheran soldiers of the Constable of Bourbon,
saw holy things subjected to the most frightful profanations, that
Francesco Cenci was born.

He was the son of Monsignor Nicolo Cenci, afterwards apostolic
treasurer during the pontificate of Pius V.  Under this venerable
prelate, who occupied himself much more with the spiritual than the
temporal administration of his kingdom, Nicolo Cenci took advantage
of his spiritual head's abstraction of worldly matters to amass a net
revenue of a hundred and sixty thousand piastres, about f32,000 of
our money.  Francesco Cenci, who was his only son, inherited this
fortune.

His youth was spent under popes so occupied with the schism of Luther
that they had no time to think of anything else.  The result was,
that Francesco Cenci, inheriting vicious instincts and master of an
immense fortune which enabled him to purchase immunity, abandoned
himself to all the evil passions of his fiery and passionate
temperament.  Five times during his profligate career imprisoned for

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