List Of Contents | Contents of The Cenci, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
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abominable crimes, he only succeeded in procuring his liberation by
the payment of two hundred thousand piastres, or about one million
francs.  It should be explained that popes at this time were in great
need of money.

The lawless profligacy of Francesco Cenci first began seriously to
attract public attention under the pontificate of Gregory XIII.  This
reign offered marvellous facilities for the development of a
reputation such as that which this reckless Italian Don Juan seemed
bent on acquiring.  Under the Bolognese Buoncampagno, a free hand was
given to those able to pay both assassins and judges.  Rape and
murder were so common that public justice scarcely troubled itself
with these trifling things, if nobody appeared to prosecute the
guilty parties.  The good Gregory had his reward for his easygoing
indulgence; he was spared to rejoice over the Massacre of St.

Francesco Cenci was at the time of which we are speaking a man of
forty-four or forty-five years of age, about five feet four inches in
height, symmetrically proportioned, and very strong, although rather
thin; his hair was streaked with grey, his eyes were large and
expressive, although the upper eyelids drooped somewhat; his nose was
long, his lips were thin, and wore habitually a pleasant smile,
except when his eye perceived an enemy; at this moment his features
assumed a terrible expression; on such occasions, and whenever moved
or even slightly irritated, he was seized with a fit of nervous
trembling, which lasted long after the cause which provoked it had
passed.  An adept in all manly exercises and especially in
horsemanship, he sometimes used to ride without stopping from Rome to
Naples, a distance of forty-one leagues, passing through the forest
of San Germano and the Pontine marshes heedless of brigands, although
he might be alone and unarmed save for his sword and dagger.  When
his horse fell from fatigue, he bought another; were the owner
unwilling to sell he took it by force; if resistance were made, he
struck, and always with the point, never the hilt.  In most cases,
being well known throughout the Papal States as a free-handed person,
nobody tried to thwart him; some yielding through fear, others from
motives of interest.  Impious, sacrilegious, and atheistical, he
never entered a church except to profane its sanctity.  It was said
of him that he had a morbid appetite for novelties in crime, and that
there was no outrage he would not commit if he hoped by so doing to
enjoy a new sensation.

At the age of about forty-five he had married a very rich woman,
whose name is not mentioned by any chronicler.  She died, leaving him
seven children--five boys and two girls.  He then married Lucrezia
Petroni, a perfect beauty of the Roman type, except for the ivory
pallor of her complexion.  By this second marriage he had no

As if Francesco Cenci were void of all natural affection, he hated
his children, and was at no pains to conceal his feelings towards
them: on one occasion, when he was building, in the courtyard of his
magnificent palace, near the Tiber, a chapel dedicated to St.
Thomas, he remarked to the architect, when instructing him to design
a family vault, "That is where I hope to bury them all." The
architect often subsequently admitted that he was so terrified by the
fiendish laugh which accompanied these words, that had not Francesco
Cenci's work been extremely profitable, he would have refused to go
on with it.

As soon as his three eldest boys, Giacomo, Cristoforo, and Rocco,
were out of their tutors' hands, in order to get rid of them he sent
them to the University of Salamanca, where, out of sight, they were
out of mind, for he thought no more about them, and did not even send
them the means of subsistence.  In these straits, after struggling
for some months against their wretched plight, the lads were obliged
to leave Salamanca, and beg their way home, tramping barefoot through
France and Italy, till they made their way back to Rome, where they
found their father harsher and more unkind than ever.

This happened in the early part of the reign of Clement VIII, famed
for his justice.  The three youths resolved to apply to him, to grant
them an allowance out of their father's immense income. They
consequently repaired to Frascati, where the pope was building the
beautiful Aldobrandini Villa, and stated their case.  The pope
admitted the justice of their claims, and ordered Francesco, to allow
each of them two thousand crowns a year.  He endeavoured by every
possible means to evade this decree, but the pope's orders were too
stringent to be disobeyed.

About this period he was for the third time imprisoned for infamous
crimes.  His three sons them again petitioned the pope, alleging that
their father dishonoured the family name, and praying that the
extreme rigour of the law, a capital sentence, should be enforced in
his case.  The pope pronounced this conduct unnatural and odious, and
drove them with ignominy from his presence.  As for Francesco, he
escaped, as on the two previous occasions, by the payment of a large
sum of money.

It will be readily understood that his sons' conduct on this occasion
did not improve their father's disposition towards them, but as their
independent pensions enabled them to keep out of his way, his rage
fell with all the greater intensity on his two unhappy daughters.
Their situation soon became so intolerable, that the elder,
contriving to elude the close supervision under which she was kept,
forwarded to the pope a petition, relating the cruel treatment to
which she was subjected, and praying His Holiness either to give her
in marriage or place her in a convent.  Clement VIII took pity on
her; compelled Francesco Cenci to give her a dowry of sixty thousand
crowns, and married her to Carlo Gabrielli, of a noble family of
Gubbio.  Francesco driven nearly frantic with rage when he saw this
victim released from his clutches.

About the same time death relieved him from two other encumbrances:
his sons Rocco and Cristoforo were killed within a year of each
other; the latter by a bungling medical practitioner whose name is
unknown; the former by Paolo Corso di Massa, in the streets of Rome.
This came as a relief to Francesco, whose avarice pursued his sons
even after their death, far he intimated to the priest that he would
not spend a farthing on funeral services.  They were accordingly
borne to the paupers' graves which he had caused to be prepared for
them, and when he saw them both interred, he cried out that he was
well rid of such good-for-nothing children, but that he should be
perfectly happy only when the remaining five were buried with the
first two, and that when he had got rid of the last he himself would
burn down his palace as a bonfire to celebrate the event.

But Francesco took every precaution against his second daughter,
Beatrice Cenci, following the example of her elder sister.  She was
then a child of twelve or thirteen years of age, beautiful and
innocent as an angel.  Her long fair hair, a beauty seen so rarely in
Italy, that Raffaelle, believing it divine, has appropriated it to
all his Madonnas, curtained a lovely forehead, and fell in flowing
locks over her shoulders.  Her azure eyes bore a heavenly expression;
she was of middle height, exquisitely proportioned; and during the
rare moments when a gleam of happiness allowed her natural character
to display itself, she was lively, joyous, and sympathetic, but at
the same time evinced a firm and decided disposition.

To make sure of her custody, Francesco kept her shut up in a remote
apartment of his palace, the key of which he kept in his own
possession.  There, her unnatural and inflexible gaoler daily brought
her some food.  Up to the age of thirteen, which she had now reached,
he had behaved to her with the most extreme harshness and severity;
but now, to poor Beatrice's great astonishment, he all at once became
gentle and even tender.  Beatrice was a child no longer; her beauty
expanded like a flower; and Francesco, a stranger to no crime,
however heinous, had marked her for his own.

Brought up as she had been, uneducated, deprived of all society, even
that of her stepmother, Beatrice knew not good from evil: her ruin
was comparatively easy to compass; yet Francesco, to accomplish his
diabolical purpose, employed all the means at his command.  Every
night she was awakened by a concert of music which seemed to come
from Paradise.  When she mentioned this to her father, he left her in
this belief, adding that if she proved gentle and obedient she would
be rewarded by heavenly sights, as well as heavenly sounds.

One night it came to pass that as the young girl was reposing, her
head supported on her elbow, and listening to a delightful harmony,
the chamber door suddenly opened, and from the darkness of her own
room she beheld a suite of apartments brilliantly illuminated, and
sensuous with perfumes; beautiful youths and girls, half clad, such
as she had seen in the pictures of Guido and Raffaelle, moved to and
fro in these apartments, seeming full of joy and happiness: these
were the ministers to the pleasures of Francesco, who, rich as a
king, every night revelled in the orgies of Alexander, the wedding
revels of Lucrezia, and the excesses of Tiberius at Capri.  After an
hour, the door closed, and the seductive vision vanished, leaving
Beatrice full of trouble and amazement.

The night following, the same apparition again presented itself,
only, on this occasion, Francesco Cenci, undressed, entered his
daughter's roam and invited her to join the fete.  Hardly knowing
what she did, Beatrice yet perceived the impropriety of yielding to
her father's wishes: she replied that, not seeing her stepmother,
Lucrezia Petroni, among all these women, she dared not leave her bed
to mix with persons who were unknown to her.  Francesco threatened
and prayed, but threats and prayers were of no avail.  Beatrice
wrapped herself up in the bedclothes, and obstinately refused to

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