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Beatrice Cenci (Italian: [beaˈtritʃe ˈtʃentʃi]; 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, 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 reached the point of committing incest with Beatrice. He was jailed for other crimes, but thanks to the leniency with which the nobles were treated, he was freed early. Beatrice tried to inform the authorities about the frequent mistreatments, but nothing happened, although everybody in Rome knew what kind of person her father was. When he found out that his daughter reported against him, he sent Beatrice and Lucrezia away from Rome to live in the family's country castle at La Petrella del Salto in the Abruzzi mountains. The four Cenci decided they had no alternative but to try to get rid of Francesco, and 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 stepmother 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 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 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. 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 was decreed that Bernardino 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.
Literature and arts 
Beatrice Cenci has been the subject of a number of literary and musical works:
- Philip Massinger's play The Unnatural Combat (c.1619) contains specific echoes of the case and antedates the Romantic revival of Beatrice by 200 years.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley's verse drama The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts (composed at Rome and at Villa Valsovano near Livorno, May–5 August 1819, published spring 1820 by C. & J. Ollier, London, 1819)
- Les Cenci, a short story by Stendhal (1837)
- Béatrix Cenci, a verse drama (1839), by Polish poet, Juliusz Słowacki
- Beatrice Cenci, a statue by American sculptor Harriet Goodhue Hosmer.
- Beatrice Cenci, a novel by Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi (1854)
- "Beatrice Cenci (In a City Shop-Window)", (1871) a poem by Sarah Piatt, American poet.
- Béatrix Cenci, by Astolphe de Custine
- Nemesis, tragedy by Alfred Nobel.
- Beatrice Cenci, a play by Alberto Moravia
- Beatrix Cenci, opera by Alberto Ginastera, based on the Shelley play
- Beatrice Cenci, opera by Berthold Goldschmidt, based on the Shelley play
- Les Cenci (1935), play by Antonin Artaud, adaptation of the Shelley play
- The Cenci, essay by Alexandre Dumas in Volume 1 of Celebrated Crimes (1840)
- The Cenci (1951–52), an opera by Havergal Brian (abridged from Shelley's play)
- Beatrice Cenci (1969) an Italian film directed by Lucio Fulci, aka "The Conspiracy of Torture"
- The Cenci Family (2004), a radio play by Lizzie Hopley directed by Lu Kemp
- Beatrice Cenci (2006), musical drama by Alessandro Londei e Brunella Caronti (original play)
- Fallen Angel (2011), a novel by David Hewson
- Béatrice Cenci : Telle une fleur coupée", a novel by Jean Rocchi, editeur Esmeralda (10 mai 2004)
The painting of Beatrice Cenci by Mannerist painter Guido Reni (1575–1642) and the legend surrounding Beatrice figures prominently in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860). The book's two principal female characters, Hilda and Miriam, debate the nature and extent of Beatrice's guilt. Hilda believes Beatrice's act to be "inexpiable crime" but Miriam believes it was "no sin at all, but the best possible virtue in the circumstances". Hawthorne draws many similarities between Miriam and Beatrice and the reader must debate whether or not Miriam is an avenger or a culprit.
Reni's painting also appears in David Lynch's film Mulholland Dr. (2001), shown hanging in the Hollywood apartment of Ruth Elms, as a reference to Cenci.
An Italian film about her story called Beatrice Cenci, directed by Lucio Fulci, was released in 1969, also distributed under the title The Conspiracy of Torture. The film follows the historical events very closely and Fulci always said it was one of his favorite films, even though he is known today for his excessively gory horror films.
The Canadian opera Beatrice Chancy, written by George Elliott Clarke and James Rolfe (and inspired by the Shelley play), transplanted the story to a 19th century Nova Scotia setting. Harriet Goodhue Hosmer sculpted the marble Beatrice Cenci (1857) which resides at the St. Louis Mercantile Library.
See also 
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Beatrice Cenci|
- Charles Nicholl, "Screaming in the Castle" Deconstructing the Cenci legend with documents.
- Beatrice Cenci (in Italian) Francesco Domenico Guarazzi "Beatrice Cenci" at Project Gutenberg.