1577–99, Italian noblewoman, tragic figure of the late Renaissance. Her father, Francesco Cenci (1549–98), was a Roman noble noted for his viciousness. In 1595 he imprisoned Beatrice and her stepmother Lucrezia in a lonely castle; his cruel treatment finally led Beatrice, with the complicity of her stepmother, her brothers, and her lover, to procure his murder. After a famous trial (1599) the conspirators were put to death. This tragedy, often cited as an example of the dissipation and cruelty of 16th-century Rome, is the subject of, among other works, Francesco D. Guerrazzi's novel Beatrice Cenci, Percy Bysshe Shelley's tragedy The Cenci, and Alberto Ginastera's opera Beatrix Cenci.
According to the legend, Francesco Cenci 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 with which the nobles were treated, he had been freed early. Beatrice had tried to inform the authorities about the frequent mistreatments, but nothing had happened, although everybody in Rome knew what kind of person her father 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 decided they had no alternative but to try and get rid of Francesco, and all together organized a plot. In 1598, during one of Francesco's stays at the castle, two vassals (one of whom had become Beatrice's secret lover) helped them to drug the man, but this failed to kill Francesco. Following this Beatrice, her siblings and step mother bludgeoned Francesco to death with a hammer and threw the body off a balcony to make it look like an accident. No one believed the death to be an accident.
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 for the murder, protested against the tribunal's decision, obtaining a short postponement of the execution. But pope Clement VIII showed no mercy at all: on September 11, 1599, at dawn, they were taken to Sant'Angelo Bridge, where the scaffold was usually built.
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 (to be 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 and a legend arose: every year on the night before her death, she came back to the bridge carrying her severed head.
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