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Beatrice was the son of Francesco Cenci, an aristocrat who, due to his violent temper and immoral behaviour, had found himself in trouble with the papal justice more than once. In Rome, they lived in a mid 16th century mansion in Regola district, built over the ruins of a previous medieval fortified palace. Together with them lived also Beatrice's elder brother Giacomo, Francesco's second wife Lucrezia Petroni, and Bernardo, the young boy born from the man's second marriage. Among their other possessions was a castle in Petrella Salto, a small village near Rieti, north of Rome. Even at home Francesco Cenci behaved as a brute. He abused his wife and his sons, and had reached the point of committing incest with Beatrice.
He had been jailed for other crimes, but thanks to the leniency which the nobles were treated with, he had been freed too soon. The girl had tried to inform the authorities about the frequent mistreatments, but nothing had happened, although everybody in Rome knew what kind of person Francesco Cenci was. When he found out that his daughter had reported against him, he sent Beatrice and Lucrezia away from Rome, to live in the family's country castle. Exasperated, the four Cenci had no better choice than to try and get rid of Francesco, and all together they organized a plot. Palazzo Cenci In 1598, during one of Francesco's stays at the castle, two vassals (one of which had become Beatrice's secret lover) helped them to drug the man, stab him with a long nail through his eye and his throat, and hide the corpse.
But somehow his absence was noticed, and the papal police tried to find out what had happened. Beatrice's lover was tortured, and died without revealing the truth. Meanwhile a family friend, who was aware of the murder, ordered the killing of the second vassal, to avoid any risk. The plot was discovered all the same, and the four members of the Cenci family were arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The common people of Rome, knowing the reasons of the murder, uprose against the tribunal's decision, obtaining a short postponement of the execution. But pope Clement VIII, despite his name, showed no mercy at all: on September 11, 1599, at dawn, they were taken to Sant'Angelo Bridge, where the scaffold was usually built.
At first, Giacomo was quartered with a mallet, and had his limbs torn off and hung in the four corners; then Lucrezia and finally Beatrice took their turn on the block, to be beheaded with a sword. Only the young boy was spared, yet he too was led to the scaffold to witness the execution of his relatives, before returning to prison and having his properties confiscated (and given to the pope's own family!). Beatrice was buried in the church of San Pietro in Montorio. For the people of Rome she became a symbol of resistance against the arrogant aristocracy, what still brings her back to the bridge every year, on the night before her death, carrying her severed head in Sant'Angelo Bridge, where Beatrice's ghost is said to appear her hands.
She has been the subject of a number of literary and musical works, including Francesco D. Guerrazzi ís novel Beatrice Cenci, Percy Bysshe Shelleyís tragedy The Cenci: A Tradgedy in Five Acts' Composed at Rome and near Leghorn (Villa Valsovano), May-August 5, 1819, published 1820 (spring) by C. & J. Ollier, London., 1819 , and Alberto Ginasteraís opera Beatrix Cenci.
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