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Renaissance: Odd, Strange and True Stories
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Check out some of the strange but true stories
from the Renaissance Period!
Have you found some interesting Renaissance stories?
Funny ones, Sad ones, strange ones!

We love them all. Famous lovers, murderers and more! Share them below.


In 1512, the elderly Spanish nobleman Pedro Arias d'Avila became seriously ill and lapsed into a coma. His family thought that he was dead, and decided to bury him in a monastery near Madrid. One of his servants opened the coffin to say a last goodbye and discovered that Pedro was still alive!

After that, Pedro was known by the nickname 'the Revived'. He recovered fully and was appointed to lead an expedition to the Americas in 1513. He later became Governor of Panama and held a solemn requiem mass every year in a coffin to thank God that he had been rescued from premature burial. Pedro died in Nicaragua in 1531 at the ripe old age of 91.

Pedro Arias d'Avila
Pedro Arias d'Avila


The cruel and ruthless Ferrante I, King of Naples from 1458 to 1494, had a novel way of dealing with his enemies. After having them murdered, Ferrante had their bodies mummified. He kept them in a private 'black museum', dressed in the clothes that they had worn in life. If he suspected one of his subjects of plotting against him, he took him to visit the 'museum' as a deterrent!

Ferrante I of Naples
Ferrante I of Naples


Rodrigo Borgiawas frequently criticised for nepotism because he favoured his family and gave many friends and relatives lucrative positions in the Church. He made his thoroughly unsuitable son Cesare a Cardinal at the age of 17, together with Alessandro Farnese, his mistress's brother. Cesare succeeded in leaving the church, whilst Alessandro stuck with it, becoming Pope Paul III in 1534. Previous Popes were hardly any better, and Rodrigo himself had benefited from the patronage of his uncle Pope Callistus III.

However, if Popes were bad, secular rulers were even worse. In 1504, James IV of Scotland made his illegitimate son by Marion Boyd, Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St. Andrews at the age of eleven. James does seem to have tried to give Alexander the appropriate training and sent him to study canon law at the University of Padua. We don't know how well Alexander would have lived up to the job, as he was killed with his father at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

An even more blatant example of a king making the Church pay for his sins dates from 1475. On the death of his illegitimate half brother, Ferdinand of Aragon gave the Archbishopric of Saragossa, to the six year old Alonso of Aragon, his illegitimate son by Aldonza Roig. Not unsurprisingly, Pope Sixtus IV refused to confirm the appointment. After a three year wrangle, the Pope finally gave way and confirmed the nine year old as head of the Aragonese church.

Alonso only said one mass in his life and had six children by his long-term mistress, but was a patron of the arts who made major improvements to his cathedral. He was also a very capable politician, serving as Viceroy of Aragon and Catalonia, and as Regent for his nephew Charles V. He was succeeded as Archbishop by two of his own illegitimate sons in turn. His daughter Joanna married Pope Alexander's grandson, Juan Borgia, Duke of Gandia, and was the mother of St Francis Borgia.

The Cathedral of Zaragoza

The Cathedral of Zaragoza (formerly Saragossa), Aragon


The abduction of Dorotea Malatesta Caracciolo by Cesare Borgia is a story that was widely disseminated at the height of his power. In the latter part of 1501 several extant dispatches and correspondence in Sanuto's' diarium survive to give historians yet another puzzle-piece to the enigma of Cesare's personality.The various rumours morphed into versions of the "truth" - even then no one could tell for certain what to believe. One thing was certainly "odd, strange and true" - Madonna Dorotea was abducted and held at whereabouts unknown for over two years!

Dorotea Malatesta was an illegitimate daughter of Roberto Malatesta, ruler of Rimini held in fief for the church. She was reportedly one of the most beautiful noblewomen in all of Italy, and was in residence at the court of Urbino. Dorotea was twenty-three at the time and was recently married by proxy to the Venetian infantry captain, Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Caracciolo. In August of 1501 she was on her way to join her husband in Venice when her entourage was unexpectedly attacked by an armed group, "all Spaniards." In her book Cesare Borgia, Sarah Bradford states, "at the request of Venice, Cesare had provided an armed escort for the lady, and the abduction had taken place after her company had crossed into Venetian territory...all Venice, the following morning after the news was received, displayed great grief [wrote Sanuto]. Thus this Duke Valentino, if he has had it done, has been ill-advised" (Bradford, pp. 142-3).

The surprising thing is that although everyone believed Cesare to be guilty, no one attempted to punish Cesare or make him root out the abductor and find the missing lady - he was far too powerful and feared by that time - and if his version of the facts is true, Cesare was only protecting a comrade in his love-affair-elopement turned international incident. Cesare blamed one of his Spanish soldiers, Diego Ramires, who was formerly in the service of the Duke of Urbino, who he eventually let go unpunished. An ambassador reported that Pope Alexander heard the news and exclaimed "...a brutal horrible and detestable thing, and I don't know what punishment whoever did it deserves. If the Duke has done it, he has lost his mind" (Bradford p. 144). Time passed, Venice urged her restoration but Dorotea was nowhere to be found, and no one had been punished.

"Over a year later, in December 1502, Sanuto reported briefly: 'With the Duke, when he left Imola, was the wife of our captain of infantry'" (Ibid). Another odd, strange and true part of this story is that Dorotea herself demanded a written guarantee that her husband treat her 'gently' upon her return (after she had finally surfaced - apparently no one recorded how or where she was found). Caracciolo pleaded before the Venetian council that he had" forgiven" her and only then did she go on to Venice. Raphael Sabatini writes; "The last mention of the subject in Sanuto relates to her restoration to her husband. He tells us that Caracciolo received her with great joy; but he is silent on the score of the lady’s emotions on that occasion." During the initial investigation and questioning of Cesare, the Venetian envoy reported: "that [Cesare] had not found the ladies of the Romagna so difficult that he should be driven to such rude and violent measures." (Sabatini, The Life of Cesare Borgia Chapter 7).

The Rape of the Sabine Women

The Rape of the Sabine Women

The Craziness and Danger of Roman Life

(Recorded by Johann Burchard in 1498) In these days was imprisoned Cursetta, a certain courtesan, that is honest prostitute, who had amongst her household a Moor who used to go about dressed as a woman, who called himself Barbara the Spaniard and knew her carnally in I know not what manner, and for this they were both led through the city in scandal. [Cursetta] dressed in black velvet to the ground but not bound, but the Moor, in female dress, with his upper arms tied behind his back, and the skirts of his dress and shift raised up to his navel, so that all could see his testicles and thus his fraud was clear.

Having made a circle of the city, Cursetta was set free; the Moor was thrown into prison, and on Saturday the seventh of his month of April, he was led out with two robbers from the Torre di Nona proceeded by a constable mounted on an ass, bearing a can to which was tied the two testicles cut off from a hew, who had copulated with a Christian woman, and taken to the Campo di Fiore where the two thieves were hanged. The Moor was placed on top of a pyre and tied to the pillory, the cord around his neck was twisted strongly behind the column, and the faggots set alight, but they would not burn because of the heavy rain, but his legs at last were burnt being closest to the wood. (Sarah Bradford - Lucrezia Borgia: Life Love and Death in Renaissance Italy)

Rome 1498

Six peasants were put in 'the mitre' (presumably the stocks) after having been whipped through the streets, for a particularly disgusting fraud: They had sold olive oil to syphilis sufferers with which to bathe themselves in the hope of a cure; afterwards the vendors had put the oil back in their pitchers and sold it to unsuspecting customers. (Sarah Bradford - Lucrezia Borgia: Life Love and Death in Renaissance Italy)


Following the death of his wife, Elizabeth of York, in 1503, Henry was keen to remarry. One potential bride was Joanna, the widowed queen of Naples, who was the cousin of his son's widow Katherine of Aragon. Joanna lived in Valencia with her mother, who was the Vicereine, or Governor, of that kingdom. Unable to meet the lady in person, Henry sent extremely detailed questions to his ambassadors John Stile and Francis Marsin, who compiled this report in June 1505:

'Whether the young queen speak any languages other than Spanish and Italian - She understands both Latin and French, but does not speak them.

To mark her visage, whether painted or not, fat or lean, sharp or round, cheerful, frowning or melancholy, steadfast, light or blushing - Is not painted, is of a good compass, amiable, round and fat, cheerful, not not frowning; a demure, shame-faced countenance; of few words, but spoken with a womanly laughing cheer and good gravity.

Clearness of skin - Very fair and clear
Colour of hair - Seems to be of a brown colour
Eyes, teeth and lips - Eyes greyish brown; brows brown; teeth fair, clean and well set; lips somewhat full and round Nose and forehead - Nose a little rising in the middle and bowed towards the end; forehead not perfectly to be discerned, for her kerchief came down to her brows
Complexion - Fair, sanguine and clean
Arms - Round, and not very small; in length of a good proportion
Hands - Right fair, somewhat full and soft Fingers - Right fair and small, and of a meetly length and breadth
Neck - Full and comely, not misshapen
Breasts - Somewhat great and full and trussed somewhat high
Whether any hair on her lips - As far as can be seen, none
Whether her breath be sweet - ...believe her to be of sweet savour
To enquire whether she has any sickness, blemish or deformity - Hath applied to her physician...who made answer that she hath ever been in good health
To note her height - Seems not to be of high stature
To enquire the manner of her diet - Is a good feeder and eateth well her meat twice a day; drinketh not often, most commonly water '

Henry was no doubt pleased by this favourable description but disappointed that she had little money. In any event, Joanna refused to consider the marriage - she may have been put off by being sized up like a prize heifer at market! Henry was no luckier with other ladies, and ended his life as a widower.

Henry VII, King of England (Michel Sittow)
Henry VII in 1505, probably by Michael Sittow


King Charles I was his own worst enemy. Self-righteous, arrogant, and unscrupulous; he had a penchant for making bad decisions. His troubles began the moment he ascended the throne in 1625 upon the death of his father James I. Charles simultaneously alienated both his subjects and his Parliament, prompting a series of events that ultimately lead to civil war, his own death and the abolition of the English monarchy.
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Charles I and family
Charles' problems revolved around religion and a lack of money. His marriage to the Roman-Catholic French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625 did not please his Protestant subjects and led to suspicions of his motives. In 1637 he totally misgauged the sentiments of his Scottish subjects when he attempted to impose an Anglican form of worship on the predominantly Presbyterian population. Riots escalated to general unrest; forcing Charles to recall Parliament in 1640 in order to acquire the funds necessary to quell the Scottish uprising. This so-called "Short Parliament" refused Charles' financial demands and disbanded after only one month. The continuing civil unrest in the north forced Charles to again convene Parliament in December 1640. The following year the Irish revolted against English rule while the determination of King and Parliament to assert their authority over the other led to open conflict between the two in 1642. The tide of the Civil War ebbed and flowed for the next six years, culminating in the defeat at the Battle of Preston of Charles' army in August 1648 by Parliamentary forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell. The King was charged with high treason against the realm of England. At his trial, Charles refuted the legitimacy of the court and refused to enter a plea. Not withstanding the absence of a plea, the court rendered a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death declaring:

"That the king, for the crimes contained in the charge, should be carried back
to the place from whence he came, and thence to the place of execution, where his head should be severed from his body."
Three days later, the king was led to the scaffold erected at Whitehall, London.Beatrice Cenci

Renaissance: Odd, Strange & True Stories - THE  BORGIAS   wiki

The portrait associated with Beatrice Cenci attributed to Guido Reni that Shelley saw in Palazzo Colonna in 1818, sparking his interest.
Beatrice Cenci (6 February 1577 – 11 September 1599) was an Italian noblewoman. She is famous as the protagonist in a lurid murder trial in Rome. Beatrice was the daughter of Francesco Cenci, an aristocrat who, due to his violent temper and immoral behaviour, had found himself in trouble with papal justice more than once. They lived in Rome in the rione Regola, in the Palazzo Cenci, built over the ruins of a medieval fortified palace at the edge of Rome's Jewish ghetto. Together with them lived also Beatrice's elder brother Giacomo, Francesco's second wife, Lucrezia Petroni, and Bernardo, the young boy born from Francesco's second marriage. Among their other possessions there was a castle, La Rocca of Petrella Salto, a small village near Rieti, north of Rome.

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. The four Cenci decided they had no alternative but to try to get rid of Francesco, and all together organised 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. However, no one believed the death to be accidental. 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 for the murder, protested against the tribunal's decision, obtaining a short postponement of the execution. However, Pope Clement VIII, fearing a spate of familial murders (the Countess of Santa Croce had recently been murdered by her son for financial gain), showed no mercy at all. On 11 September 1599, at dawn, they were taken to Sant'Angelo Bridge, where the scaffold was usually built. In the cart to the scaffold, Giacomo was subjected to continual torture. On reaching the scaffold his head was smashed with a mallet. His corpse was then quartered. The public spectacle continued with the executions of first Lucrezia and finally Beatrice; both took their turns on the block, to be beheaded with a sword. Only the 12-year-old, Bernardino, was spared, yet he too was led to the scaffold and forced 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). It had been decreed that Bernadino should then become a galley slave for the remainder of his life. However, he was released a year later. 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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