Italy

Family executed for murdering abusive family patriarch

September 11, 1599
Rome, Italy
Beatrice Cenci (21) along with her stepmother and brother, are executed for the murder of Beatrice’s father, Francesco Cenci

Francesco had long abused his family, beating and mistreating his wife and sons and sexually abused Beatrice. Beatrice had gone to authorities to report the abuse, but her protests fell on deaf ears.

In 1598, Beatrice, her brothers, her stepmother, and two vassals (one of whom had become Beatrice’s lover) plotted to murder Francesco. With the help of the vassals, Francesco was drugged, though the poisoning was unsuccessful. The plot was revised and an iron spike was placed against Francesco’s head and driven into his skull with a hammer. His body was then thrown from a balcony, hoping his death would be ruled an accident.

An inquiry into his death was ordered by the papal police and Beatrice’s lover was tortured to death to obtain information; he died without revealing the conspiracy. The second vassal was killed by a family friend who was aware of the murder, to ensure he would be unable to confess. The family was arrested nonetheless, found guilty, and sentenced to death.

Those who were aware of the family’s plight and of Francesco’s reputation pleaded with Pope Clement VIII for clemency. The Pope offered none, claiming he feared more family murders if he should be lenient with this case, citing a noblewoman who had recently been murdered by her son for her money.

The day of execution, Beatrice’s older brother Giacomo suffered torture in the cart on the way to the scaffold. Once at the scaffold, Giacomo’s head was beaten with a mallet and his corpse quartered. Beatrice and her stepmother Lucrezia were both executed by beheading at the chopping block. Beatrice’s 12-year-old brother Bernardo was spared from death but was forced to watch from the gallows as his family was executed. He was then sentenced to slavery and his family’s possessions taken (and given to the Pope’s family). Though his slavery sentence was intended for life, he was released after a year.

Local legend hold that every year on the anniversary of the eve of Beatrice’s execution, she can be seen walking where the scaffold used to be, carrying her severed head.

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