Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

A Gang of Traitors

On the Penalty of the infamous, or the Hanged Man


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013

Continuing our investigation on the figure of the "traitor" who, as we pointed out in our iconological essay The Hanged Man, was represented in the Tarot through the penalty for this defamatory action, below we provide a number of examples, some famous and others virtually unknown, of historical figures who incurred such an  unfortunate situation or, as they were considered traitors, worthy of being portrayed that way; we try also  to provide the motives for these betrayals. Those deemed traitors were the ones who tended to be sentenced to this type of punishment. Usually, the miscreant was killed first and then hung being exposed to public condemnation as an example not to be imitated.


“I give Bernardino da Corte"


Of Bernardino da Corte, governor of the Sforza Castle, who as a result of corruption in September of 1499 opened its doors to the French and Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, thereby betraying the Sforza, in a comment placed in the margins of the text in some editions of L’Historia d’Italia [The History of Italy] by Guicciardini (1) shows how this traitor, scorned by all, even by the French, in a short time died of grief. The French soldiers despised him so much that when playing tarot, instead of saying "I give the traitor", they said 'I give Bernardino da Corte'. But let us go to the description of the event as reported by Guicciardini in the original edition of 1561:


"[Sforza] deputed, even if he was discouraged by all his [advisors], to guard the Castle of Milan, Bernardino da Corte, Pavian, who was then assistant to the former Castellano [Governor of the Castle], putting faith in him rather than his brother Ascanio, who had offered to take charge of its security : & he left three thousand infantry under trusted Captains & provisions of victuals, of munitions, & of money sufficient to defend him for many months ... and the Castellano of Milan, chosen by him as the most trusted of all, without waiting for artillery shelling, or any kind of assault; gave on the twelfth day entry to the King of France, to the castle, which was held impregnable, received a prize, of so much perfidy, a large amount of money, conducted by one hundred lances, sources perpetual, & many other gifts & privileges, but with such infamy, & with so much hate, that the French, who refused to be proud of such a one so pestiferous, & abominable in his business, & mocked for everything when he arrived, with opprobrious words, tormented by shame, & conscience, the most powerful & most certain scourge of those who do evil, he then passed with much suffering to the next life. Taking part in this infamy were the Captains who had been with him in the Castle, & above all Filippino Fieschi: who, a cadet of  the Duke, & left there by him as very faithful, instead of comforting  the Castellano in holding it [the Castle], blinded by great promises, comforted him in the opposite direction, & together with Gianmaria Palavicino, who intervened in the name of the King, negotiated the surrender" (2).

So the commentary on this passage, "This amount of money that Bernardin Corte received from the French as his award of treason is specified by Bembo as 250 pounds of gold. The traitor Bernardin di Corte was hated even by the French themselves, who when playing the game of 'Tarot & wanting to give the card of the traitor, said, “I give Bernardino di Corte" by which is seen to be true the saying of Plutarch in Apostegmi: Proditionem: amo, sed proditorem non laudo [I love the treason but do not praise the traitors]. And Demosthenes said, if, however, he had also spoken in Latin: Proditor pro hoste habendus [Having a traitor as an enemy]. Of course it seems to me that for this sudden change in the State of Milan, & loss of the strong Castle by treason one could very appropriately recite the verses of Claudian in book 2 against Ruffino: Quod tantis Roman manus contexuit annis, Proditor unus iners augusto tempore vertit" [What Roman hands had put in order over many years, a single incapable traitor changed in a short time] (3).


Traitors in Bologna


In the manuscript diary of Jacopo Rainieri, which tells us about events that took place in Bologna from 1535 to 1549 (4), we read: "On the 21 of said [month] was atached in the corners of the plaza one sheet of paper in which were depicted Cesaro di Dulcini and Vincenzo de Fardin, called Vignola, who were hunging by one foot as traitors of their homeland, who had brought into the city of Trento the art of spinning and working silk and had amassed earnings of 100 ducats and were owed 200 ducats. It was noted that the aforesaid Cesaro Dolsino did the art of silk and Vicenzo did the art of making the spinning wheels, i.e. out of wood".  It seems that there was a painting depicting the two personages hanging. Whenever the colors began to fade, they were refreshed: "They keep painting their portraits hanging on one foot as is done with traitors, with their infamies inscribed, and when they are worn out by time they renovate them" (5).


Also a certain “Ugolino brought it [the art of spinning silk] to Modona & other places, and likewise this one was painted as a traitor hanged by one foot, as at present can be seen at the prisons reencounter the Customs, which first was on the corner of the public Plaza" (6). These men were "hung by one foot" [aphicati per uno piede] because they taught the art of spinning silk in other cities, thus creating the conditions for possible competition that could be detrimental to the commerce of the city. In practice, a betrayal of the homeland.


Another personage depicted in Bologna hung by his feet was the Praetor [Magistrate] Guido di Camillo, who carried out his mandate so badly that he escaped secretly so as not to undergo the ire of the people: "Year of Christ 1519. Guido of Camillo, made free by the hands of the people of Parma, was Praetor for the first few months, then he was succeeded by Gerardo Roberti. Guelfo da Prato was appointed Captain of the people, who was succeeded by Jacopo Orvelli, born in Aquila in the Abruzzi. Cammillo so badly exercised his office, and with so much disgust of the people, that he, knowing himself held to be the bad guy, and fearing the storm that he saw growing on his head, fled just before the Easter at night to Bologna. Whereupon the Council, to perhaps quiet the chatter of the crowd who shouted punishment to the fugitive, had him painted in the most visible parts of the town square, hanging like a traitor by his feet" (7).


Similarly, in 1520, was punished in effigy, having previously been killed by his relatives, Paglierino da Cuzzano, who had committed criminal acts against the government in Bologna: "Now Pagliarino da Cuzzano, Now too famous in the acts of our Annals for these nefarious deeds, now in the sign where the eternal attend to his justice, mercy for his ill life, did not fall into the hands of the Felsine militias, but of his own countrymen, by his relatives and his old friends he had the death penalty. Because from Zechariah called Chiozzo, and Mazzarello, his oldest brother and son of Gualtiero da Cuzzano, both exiles from Bologna, came the aforesaid Pagliarino who with restlessness attacked and killed his followers. And then in Bologna, in the public square, he was with his accomplices hanging on the gallows dead as examples, shown atrociously, and his effigy was painted on the wall of the building, hanged by his feet as is customary to signify a traitor. And for the death the man's killers had their exile lifted, for which they showed themselves most happy, but they did not want the money promised as a reward, showing with words and deeds they were not moved to such a step by greed for gold, but by the desire to purge the earth infested with such men" (8).


In 1585 Count Lucio Tedesco incurred the same fate as Guido di Camillo: sent by the Bolognese "with two hundred and sixty lances between his men and the English" to re-occupy the castle, it fell into the hands of Rinaldo and Giovanni Barbiano, he was deterred from moving into battle thanks to three thousand gold ducats. The Senate of Bologna, after calling Count Lucio several times without obvious success, told him that "Bologna had no more need of him or his troops, and that in consequence they dismissed all of them, for which reason, Lucio seeing himself abandoned, left secretly at night from Barbiano, taking the few relics [soldiers] that remained. And the Senate of Bologna had painted, in the palace of the Elders, the treacherous man hanged by one foot, as a traitor, along with his companions, that may be kept alive among the people the memory of the disloyal, and so that all may see with what torture traitors are punished" (9).


Traitors of the Pope

With the same punishment was condemned Muzio Sforza Attendolo by the Antipope John XXIII, who in 1412 denounced him as a traitor for having allied himself to his enemy, King Ladislaus of Naples. In his Annali d’Italia [Annals of Italy] Muratori wrote that the Pope felt so offended that he had him painted suspended from the right foot, with underneath a sign in which the offender was convicted of twelve betrayals".

More detailed information reaches us from the chronicles of the time: “Per ordine del Signor nostro Papa fu dipinto su tutti i ponti e su tutte le porte di Roma, sospeso pel piede destro alla forca, quale traditore della Santa Madre Chiesa, Sforza Attendolo e teneva una zappa nella mano destra, e nella mano sinistra una scritta che diceva così: Io sono Sforza vilano de la Cotignola, traditore, che XII tradimenti ho facti alla Chiesa contro lo mio honore, promissioni, capitoli, pacti aio rocti” (By order of our Lord Pope is to be depicted on all the bridges and on all the gates of Rome, suspended by the right foot from a gallows, as a traitor (10) to the Holy Mother Church, Sforza Attendolo, holding a hoe in his right hand and in his left hand a sign saying: I am Sforza peasant of Cotignola, traitor, who twelve times have betrayed the Church against my honor: promises, compacts, agreements have I broken" [aio rocti = ho io rotti]) (11).

The reason why Sforza was called "vilano" [peasant], i.e. a farmer, is that farmers, not participating like city dwellers in political and social life, did not feel personally affected by the problems of the community. As their interest related exclusively to food and survival, they could change their attitude according to their own advantage, moving logically to their enemies, considered as such only by the political authorities, if it would put them in a more favorable position (12).


In 1553 the town of Montalcino was besieged by imperial troops and the Medici, commanded by the Spaniard Don Garcia de Toledo, Viceroy of Naples. Montalcino resisted, but with the subsequent capitulation of Siena, it had to submit to Cosimo I de Medici and become part of the Medici state. During the siege, there was hanged by one foot a Spanish spy who pretended to be with the besieged.


We find the description of the story in an ancient anonymous text entitled Assedio di Montalcino [Siege of Montalcino] (13): "On the 8 of the aforesaid [month], Signor Giordano [Orsino, commander of the City] advised by a spy who was with the enemy that attackers had pulled two guns to certain fortifications at the house of Niccolò dell'Oca, and kept about fifty soldiers on guard there, whence he estimated that it would be easy to take the artillery, he ordered, therefore, to come out of the gate of Moretto, and the gate of Cassero, and the gate of St. Martin, three hundred armed arquebusiers, with ropes and irons  to pull the aforesaid artillery. But just then, the place opened, the enemies, because of the duplicity and infidelity of the spy, commenced to give the alert, whereby there were beyond the aforementioned fortifications perhaps a thousand armed men: reinforced by artillery directed against the gate where our men had to get out, which they deployed so well, that they killed three of ours, and injured many of the rest. But not knowing or imagining the two-faced spy, we advanced in the direction of the fire, but were turned by an ambush of the enemy, necessitating that we draw back to the cover of the square, with much disadvantage; occurring there about twelve dead and many wounded and prisoners. And notwithstanding our disadvantage, we combatted with all valor sword to sword, and likewise the enemies themselves had more than a hundred dead, many of these brave soldiers. And this valor and boldness of ours gave much pause for thought to the enemy, who do not feel strong and safe inside their shelters. On the 12 of the aforesaid [month] .........  we got into our hands that spy of the Spanish nation, who was held in the enemy camp, who did the betrayal, as has been narrated on the eighth day above: so that, attached to the rope, he confessed immediately his duplicity. So that, by immediate order of Signor Giordano he was hung by one foot outside the bastion of S. Martin, where he received a fair wage for his betrayal".


Another personage depicted hanging by one foot was Duke Alessandro Fulvio Corgna. Papal Governor of Castiglione del Lago, during the siege of the city by the alliance that the Farnese family brought together, of the lords of Parma and Piacenza, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Modena, against the expansionist ambitions of Pope Urban VIII, after only four days of siege - which had resulted in just seven casualties among the besieged, but at least fifty among  the besiegers - worried for his life and his wealth he surrendered. After forcing his officers to sign the act of surrender June 29, 1643, he submitted as a vassal to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, then headed to Florence. Of course the Pope was angry at his cowardice, and excommunicated him on charges of high treason, sentencing him to death in absentia. In November of 1643 on the walls of the residence of the Corgna in Perugia, was affixed a canvas depicting Count Alessandro Fulvio upside down hanging by one foot. The inscription on the picture reads: "Fulvio Corgna of Perugia, excommunicate, rebel, traitor, for having given by his hand to the enemy Castiglione del Lago" (14).


Traitors in Venice


As we wrote above, those who were considered traitors were hung by one foot or depicted in this way if they had not yet been captured. The higher the office that they held, the more infamous was considered the treason.


An interesting passage on this subject is found in the work Raguagli Historici e Politici [Historical and Political Information], by Gregorio Leti (1630-1701): "It is certain, therefore, that those who are most obligated to the country, with many Honors, with Dignity, are the more bound to show their love more passionately, and put in its service their lives more than others. From that which is born by the laws in general, and customs in particular, condemning Traitors with more or less rigor of , according to how more or less they are advanced in the Above graced [Government or Head of Government]. For example, in the City of Venice if a Senator who is of Dignity, and the most Supreme Officers of the State, in the Body of the Senate, becomes a traitor, and this discovered, he is condemned by the Laws to the Gallows by the foot, being the most ignominious death. Another Noble, not yet admitted to participation in secret [deliberations], and not yet begun to enter the Senate, if found the traitor will simply have his throat cut, the ordinary custom. A simple Citizen will be condemned to the gallows, and foreigners to the whip & banned, except if there is (as also for the Citizen) perfidy, or it is felt that they have come to arouse sedition in the country. I saw a half century ago and more, in the middle of the Columns of San Marco in Venetia, hanged by the foot as a traitor, such a Lorenzo Cornaro. In short,  the more closed to the Graces & benefices of the Sovereign, the more punishment such traitors deserve, the consequence is clear that  this same degree should be noted in Love for the Homeland,  the one who receives more   from the Homeland in benefits and honors must make [his love] more known with his actions" (15).


In Venice, the place appointed to host the punishment for traitors was the space located between the two columns that are located in Piazza San Marco. They were built by the engineer-architect Nicola Barattieri, to whom the Doge had promised, if their placement was a success, to reward him with whatever he wanted most. His request, given the success of the operation, was quite bizarre: he asked in fact that the space between the two columns to be free for all the games then banned.


But let us continue with what Jules François Lecomte wrote in this regard: "The doge, rather than withdraw his word, preferred to tolerate the abuse, and the engineer enjoyed the privilege. He used it as he could to the severe displeasure of the senate, which saw itself forced to suffer next to the Palazzo Ducale an outrageous breach of the laws of the Republic. Passed down from generation to generation, sold from one to the other, this privilege lasted almost 400 years: respecting the word of the republican government and the faith given. But finally a member of the Senate imagined an original means for freeing the place from the privileged and their practices ... It was this: to consecrate the space between the two columns for the execution of the condemned. When gamblers saw over their heads the hanged dangling, of which there was no shortage in this time, they abandoned the site, and the privilege ceased to be the same. It is not known whether the one owning the privilege, his interests ruined, hanged himself in despair! Later, when the Council of Ten, especially in charge of persecuting and sending to death the guilty of the state, remained a long time without finding individuals worthy of the extreme torture, and since the people would not tolerate terror, they removed corpses from the hospitals and made them hang at the columns. This kind of death was reserved especially to the traitors of the state, or to those who had attempted to betray it, and finally to those only suspected. The Venetian people always looked at the space between the two columns as nefarious, and an old proverb saying: Guard yourself from being between the columns" (16).


Accused of delivering documents of a certain importance to the Spanish ambassador, the noble Antonio Foscarini family came to be judged a traitor, though innocent, and hung by one foot. So as not to stain the honor of a lady who lived in the house next to that of the ambassador, where Foscarini occasionally visited her in appropriate disguise so as not to be recognized given his sixty years, the nobleman did not object that that his disguise was interpreted as a subterfuge to avoid recognition in the delivery of documents to the Ambassador.


“I recall now in thought the event of a Venetian Senator, which would be a crime to pass over in silence. Among the most deserving and celebrated of the Senators at the beginning of the current century to have advanced some luster, there was one of the House of Foscarini, who really was a Cato, a Cicero in Zeal & eloquence of his Homeland. In this great splendor of his homeland after 35 years of glorious services rendered to the Republic, he was accused of being a traitor; three Inquisitors having been informed by three witnesses (who were false), he was arrested as a prisoner, and on the third day hung by the foot, as they do to a traitor, corresponding to an indictment alleged by three false Calumniators, who had conspired his death, to get each of them the 300 ducats promised to those who discovered betrayals, that is, that disguised almost every night he went to give secrets of the Republic to the ambassador of Spain, although in fact, nearly 60 years of age, he was paying a visit in disguise to one of the chief Ladies of Venice, who had her House adjoining the House of the Spanish Ambassador. The Witnesses, however, swore falsely of having seen him outside the House of said Ambassador so disguised, and in this disguise he was taken, and not to prejudice the honor of the Lady was silent and, as in things of this nature, they are content to look at surface indications without penetrating to the bone, the star of the Foscarini was brought down in such a way to the Gallows" (17).


His innocence was discovered only later when a judge of the Council of Ten who had taken part in the accusatory court held a trial against one of three witnesses, accused of perjury: "Coincidentally his innocence was discovered through reading some time after of a trial in which was convicted with certainly a false witness, by one of the Council of 'Ten who had been a judge of Foscarini, who remembered immediately that this man also had been a witness in the criminal case of the said Foscarini, so that questioned he confessed, as greed for profit is great for those who reveal state crimes against the Republic, with others agreed to plotting in such manner in the extermination of the Senator. It was not within the power of the Republic to raise him to life other than metaphorically, and to restore him to honor along with all his noble family disfigured with shame, for which his relatives and  friends rose in a great noise on his account, so that the Republic reinstated his fame in the first decree of the following Council:


Announcement of the Council of Ten


BECAUSE of the providence of the Lord God by truly miraculous means unthinkable to human ingenuity, it is ordered that to the same authors and Ministers of falsehood, and machinated imposture against our beloved noble Knight Antonio Foscarini wt of the late Signor Nicolò, from which fraudulent depositions follow necessarily, by right and by justice the judgment against this Knight have afterward without impulse or excitement manifested themselves, and confessed fraud and deception committed by them who because of so much iniquity would have punishment to the last torture; it is suitable to the justice and piety of this council,  which has incumbent upon it above all things the peace, universal security and protection of the good honor and reputations, of the families, in accordance with this concept can be raised as much as possible those that are unduly burdened with a note of infamy according to which in other situations has been observed,


So: Going to the part of right consolation of the Noble men Nicolò, and Girolamo Foscarini, grandsons of aforenamed Knight, of Signore Alvise, distant from any wrong, and therefore worthy by right and by justice supported in their people, and by posterity as Divine Providence has miraculously willed,  that this Council has found in clear light the perfidy of those who unfairly testified and made imposture against the aforenamed Signor Foscarini, according to which it was understood by the writings, and trial records, and carefully examined by the same Council; thus remains attested by public decree, and manifesting the truth of the fact, and this family  truly worthy of commiseration is restored to the state of pristine honor and reputation, and the present part is read at the first Great Council by the intelligence of Antonio Padavin Ducal Notary" (18).


Among so many personages in Venice condemned for treason in the registry of capital sentences of the State Inquisitors (19) we read on September 23, 1617: "Signor Alessandero Spinoza Roman, 35 years old, by supreme order was strangled in prison, then hung by one foot on the gallows as a rebel and a traitor".


From the work Memorie recondite dall’anno 1601 al 1640 [Hidden memories of the years 1601 to 1640] by Vittorio Siri, we are made aware of a plot against the city of Venice in 1618. Of those sentenced to the same penalty, we report what is written concerning the conspirator Lorenzo Brular: "Interrogated, he was obstinate, and this had to be from loyalty to his Principal, but he said that he would say what he knew if his life was pardoned, otherwise he would say nothing. Finally led to his place, and their Excellencies, the State Inquisitors, considering that he was indeed resolved to die, ordered him to go to confession. because he had to die, and was executed the same night, strangled, and then in the morning in view of all was he placed at the gallows, hung by one foot. It was long debated, whether to save the life of Captain Lorenzo Brular, but many considerations had already been made that everyone stained in this matter should die, He was condemned to death, & his companions, who were both strangled, and buried in the night at Saints Gio. and Paul" (20).


In 1599 a man named Bembo was arrested on the very serious charge of "populating" [propalata instead of propagata, propagating] state secrets to the Grand Duke of Tuscany in exchange for money. He was bought by poverty: married twice, he probably had children to support. The investigators were in possession of conclusive writings and the unwary one confessed. On July 6, in the morning, the guards brought him up on a stage in the Piazza San Marco, between the pillars. He witnessed the execution of his accomplices - two from Bergamo, one from Verona, a young man from Vicenza, and an old man of 86 years – and then "he was put to death infamously in public": that is, was hanged and then hanged on the gallows by one foot (21).


In Vicenza we find "A traitor of Montecchio Precalcino is burned alive stuck on a skewer (year 1356), another traitor, such a Bonissolo da Barbiano, is also burned with the same fire, being hung over the fire by the feet on a gallows" (22) .


Traitors in Florence


Cosimo di Giovanni de' Medici the Elder or pater patriae (1389-1464) in 1433, declared “magnate”, i.e. tyrant, was imprisoned under the pressure of a revolt led by the families of the Strozzi and Albizi. Cosimo bought his freedom with various bribes and went into exile. The following year, after the Albizi were becoming increasingly unpopular, the new Signoria, of a pro-Medici inclination, summoned the parliament, which decreed the revocation of the sentence of exile of de’ Medici. So Cosimo in October of that year returned triumphantly to Florence. He acted shrewdly in not reserving for himself any office but investing the highest authority to men loyal to him. Although it appeared that the Republic had been formally retained, in fact it had been emptied of substance. Cosimo succeeded in exiling many of his enemies and impeding many, who were deprived of the right of accessing public office. After the exiles came the hangings. Once killed, the traitors were portrayed life-size, hanging by one foot on the facade of the Palazzo del Podesta.


Another figure considered a traitor to his country, even if the action on his part made most of the Florentines happy, was Lorenzo (Lorenzino) di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, also called Lorenzaccio (1514-1548), who in 1527 murdered Duke Alessandro de’ Medici, for reasons of heredity. The two had been friends for a long time, companions in licentious excesses and in frequenting brothels. On the evening of January 5, while Alessandro was resting in the apartments of Lorenzo, the latter together with an assassin named Scoronconcolo, managed to kill him after a violent struggle. For this reason, Alessandro’s successor, Cosimo I, condemned him in absentia.


But let us get to what Abbot Giuseppe Maria Mecatti wrote about this in his Storia Cronologica della Città di Firenze [Chronological History of the City of Florence]: "On the 24th of April was banned publicly rebel Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici with a reward of four thousand Florins to those who would kill him, and give to the killer and the heirs of his line, a hundred gold Florins per year, and more could put ten Banditi in his election (23) with other privileges and exemptions: and to those who gave him alive, the reward and every other gift doubled. Lorenzo instead acquired eternal glory, painted in the fortress as traitor with his head downwards, hung by one foot; and as a traitor to the Fatherland, there was cut off from the roof to the foundations sixteen brachia of his house, made into a small street, which was called the Street of the Traitor" (24).


On the occasion of the struggles for the government of the city of Florence between the Medici family and its opponents, it must be remembered that Gherardo Corsini, at times alternated between the pro-Medici and anti-Medici factions; but especially his son Alessandro (1486-1552) who carried out for the Medici important political tasks. After being sentenced on October 1, 1529 to pay 30 gold florins as a fine for an insulting letter sent to the Rectors of the City, on October 14 he "was exiled for rebellion", fleeing from Florence to Rome, where he was kindly received by Clement VII (Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici). From there he was sent to defend Pistoia, but because at that time he made many enemies, the Pope was forced to recall him. Despite this failure, he received as a reward from the Pope the title of Count Palatine and in 1533 Commissioner of Pisa. The Florentines, however, soon realized his betrayal, and since he had taken an active part against the homeland, they had  "painted on the facade of the palace of the Podesta, in cloak and hood, hung by one foot, and with a sign that pointed to his crime" (25). Of course, they become traitors to one faction, but loyal men to another.


A traitor to Rome


Famous was the revolt of Cola di Rienzo (Nicola di Lorenzo Gabrini, 1313-1354), who tried to restore the commune to the city of Rome. torn by conflicts between popes and barons. Appointed tribune ('the last of the tribunes of the people' he liked to call himself), he was later killed by the people themselves for introducing new tolls. Power had gone to his head: he was converted into a tyrant, while his evanescent mind testified to strange forms of insanity. When the people went after him to kill him he tried to escape disguised as a beggar, but he was recognized by the bracelets that had not been removed (Erano 'naorati: non pareva opera de riballo). Brought to the place dedicated to judgment, none of those present dared to touch him (Nullo uomo era ardito toccarelo) until one of the people grasped in his hands a rapier and jabbed him in the belly (impuinao mano ad uno stocco e deoli nello ventre). His body was dragged to San Marcello, opposite the house of the Colonna, and left hanging there for two days and one night. On the third day, his body was burned at the Museum of Augustus, in Ripetta (always the territory of the Colonna).


From the Vita di Cola di Rienzo [Life of Cola di Rienzo], anonymously written in Roman vernacular in the fourteenth century, we report the story from the time of his murder:

“One came with a rope and tied both his feet. They threw him [dierolo] on the ground, dragging him, stabbed him: they pierced him like a sieve [criviello]. They all would make fun of him, it seemed to them a way to earn an indulgence [pardon, that is, the forgiveness of sins]. In this way he was dragged to the church of San Marcello; he was hung by the feet from a balcony [mignaniello]. He had no head, the bones of the skull [coccie] were left along the road by which he had been dragged. He had so many wounds that he looked like a sieve, and there was no part [of the body] without injury. The entrails (mazze) came outside, fat; he was horribly fat, white as bloodied milk, his fatness was such that he looked like a huge buffalo or a slaughtered cow. He stayed there hanging two days and one night. The boys [zitielli] hit him with stones [prete]. On the third day, by order of Giugurta and Sciarretta Colonna, he was dragged to the place of the Mausoleum of Augustus. There gathered all the Jews [Iudiei] in a great crowd: all were present. They made a fire of dry thistles: in that fire of thistles he was put. He was fat: so fat that he burned easily. The Jews stayed there, very busy, hardworking [afforosi], with sleeves rolled up [affoiciti],  stoking the thistles so that they burned. Thus that body was burned and was reduced to dust: not even scraps remained.This death was Cola di Rienzo, who became august tribune of Rome, and wanted to be champion of the Romans” (26). Cola was hung by one foot because he had betrayed the people in its deepest expectations (27). 


A Traitor in Naples


Marco Antonio Brancaccio (ca.1570-ca.1650), born with a warrior spirit, fought for the Spanish, the Venetians and the French, and took an active part in the revolt of Masaniello in 1647. After the latter's death in October of that year he was elected by the people 'field marshal' on the orders of the chief of the people Francesco Toraldo. The latter on October 21 was killed by the same people on suspicion of treason. It is likely that Brancaccio aspired to Taraldo’s position and took an active part in the slander, procuring from it the trial. The people, after beheading Toraldo and putting his head on a pike, brought his body to the market where they stripped it naked and hung by one foot. Earlier they gouged out his heart and sent it to his wife, who had retired for the occasion to a convent, in a silver bowl (28). Brancaccio, fearing that the uncontrollable fluctuations of the feelings of the people could reserve for him the same fate as Masaniello (29) and Toraldo, gave up the post of chief in favor of Gennaro Annese. On several occasions Brancaccio was in turn considered a traitor by the Spanish who, over time, confiscated all his goods (30).


Traitors in Palermo


On the occasion of the revolt against the Spanish tyranny of Palermo in 1647, led by Giuseppe D'Alesi, soaked in blood, several people were killed first and then hung by one foot together with a scroll that denounced them as traitors to the homeland. Of the many, we report what happened to three of them:


"On Tuesday, 17 of the aforesaid [December, 1647]. This morning appeared, and in the aforesaid way as Serletti dell'Albamonte, Santo da Patti of Messina, a man of the pen, principal chief and model of the aforesaid infamous men, hung by one foot. He had on his breast the inscription of the same continence as the other two, namely: Santo da Patti traitor to God, to His Majesty and to the homeland."


"Friday, 10 of the aforesaid [April 1648]. This morning, habitually passing so quietly, piously and so sadly for the death of the Saviour of the world, passed also well the sad spectacle that follows. There appeared in the octagon plane, commonly known as the Quattro Cantoniere, the aforesaid Dr. D. Pietro Milana, strangled the previous night, hung by both feet to a gallows, with this epitaph to his chest: D. Pietro Milana, as a traitor to God, His Holy Majesty's, and to the most faithful homeland."


"Saturday, 23 of the aforesaid [April 1648]. Last night was strangled the priest D. Gabriele Platanella of the land of Bivona, degraded by four abbots by order of the archbishop of Palermo. He appeared hung by one foot in the middle of the octagon, with the following epitaph: D. Gabriele Platanella, of the land of Bivona, is condemned to death, confessed convicted of having given this most faithful city and this kingdom to the protection of the king of France, with remission and forgiveness of the Sicilian Vespers, spending falsely the name of the public. And for such, makes such payments" (31).


Giuseppe D'Alesi fled by a secret passage leading out of the city sewers. To his misfortune, one tunnel was too narrow for him because of his large size. Failing to pass through, he returned back but emerged at the steps of Santa Maria della Volta, right in the midst of his enemies. We leave it to the reader to imagine his end.


A Traitor to Savoy


During the war that involved most of the European states against the expansionist ambitions of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy was against the French. The history that we narrate refers to a legal secretary of the Duke, whose name was Gian Giacomo Trucchi da Savignano. Since the Duke had asked him to buy a certain amount of grain that Trucchi had paid for in advance at his own expense of three lire and a half per measure, one time he requested reimbursement and saw returned to him much less than he had spent. In addition, because he had personally provisioned several spies to obtain information about the enemy, something for which one expects to be thanked, not only did he have no such satisfaction, but was not even reimbursed. Later, as some French 'raiders' had devastated his estates, he asked the Governor of Pinerolo to agree to soldiers in defense of his possessions. Since the Governor refused, Trucchi felt of a mind to go to the enemy, and therefore gave himself to the French. With a certain Matteo Musso, head of several disgruntled with the Marquis de Monforte, along with his son Stephen whom he had sent personally to the French king to communicate his loyalty, he agreed with his new allies to open the doors of Savignano and incite the peasants of Mondovi to rebellion. But the betrayal was exposed by the Duke, and Trucchi and Mussi were taken to prison in Turin. At the same time troops were sent against the Marquis de Monforte.


The whole event was described by Domenico Carutti in the Storia del Regno di Vittorio Amedeo II [History of the Kingdom of Vittorio Amedeo II], from which we summarize at length what happened to the unfortunate traitors: "The trial of Trucchi and Musso was conducted by the great Chancellor, a first President of the Senate, and the Auditor general of war; evidence of betrayal abounded, and the sentence was soon to descend on the heads of the guilty. They were strangled, the bodies left hanging by one foot from the gallows for twenty-four hours, then the heads separated from the body and shown in Mondovi; the houses of the conspirators in Savigliano knocked down with prohibition on rebuilding them. But most of the sentence was the horrible torture that preceded it. The judges wanted to know accomplices; Gian Giacomo Trucchi, 54 years of age, was subjected to the most atrocious torments, collared and recollared, tempted with dice and tried with all the cruel inquisitorial instruments of the times, asked for mercy from the great Chancellor, pleading with him that he was being made to accuse some innocent soul to escape pain; praying to God, reciting verses from the Psalms, screaming in agony, but resisted the torment, and uttered no name, so that more victims would not perish. This brave silence does not absolve the traitor who sold his country to the enemy, but it saves him from contempt "(32).


A French Traitor


During tragic St. Bartholomew’s Eve (23 to 24 August 1572) plotted by the court of Catherine de’ Medici and unleashed by the party of the duke of Guise, on the occasion of the celebrations of the marriage of the Catholic Marguerite de Valois, sister of King Charles IX, and the Protestant Henry of Bourbon (the future King Henry IV), was assassinated Gaspard II de Coligny (1519-1572), Admiral of France, who had converted to Calvinism and become a political and military leader of the Huguenots. After his killing, "the body of the Admiral was condemned to be pulled behind a horse through the City, then to be hung by one foot as a traitor on the public gallows of Monfalcone, with a calf’s tail tied to his rear; where stood with incredible pleasure of all the people, who ran to see that body whose effigy or statue they had first seen earlier" (33).


A Traitor of the time of the Holy Roman Empire of the East


The transition from the lineage of the Comneni to that of the Angeli on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire of the East was not without bloodshed. When Alexius Comnenus II came to power at 15 years of age, he began to show a great inclination towards the Latin West (he had married a daughter of the King of France), and this promoted hope for a new Crusade to liberate Palestine from the infidels. This the Greeks did not much like and abruptly called to Constantinople Andronicus, a close relative of the Emperor. To thank the Greeks for having called him he strangled Alexius and once taking power drove out all the Latins carrying out horrible atrocities against them. But after a few years, Angelo Isaccio treated him even worse than he had treated his relative. Taking his throne, Isaac, "had done in his presence loading him down with iron chains, then pulling out his beard; breaking almost all his teeth by the force of blows that were given the cheeks, and in addition, having his right hand severed, and an eye gouged out, then exposing him to the derision of the people, leading him through the City on a mangy camel, throwing its dung into his face and his sides pierced with skewers, after which a woman of the most vile dregs of the people poured over his head a cauldron of boiling water: he was finally hung by the feet on a public gallows and in that state his thighs were pierced with swords, and the torn parts of shame were the first to give him the last death blow. In all these torments the unhappy Prince always had in his mouth these words: Lord God have mercy on me, and receive my poor soul into your hands" (34). 



1L’Historia d’Italia [The History of Italy], written by Guicciardini between 1537 and 1540, was published for the first time in Florence in 1561. In it he narrates Italian history from the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492 to that of Clement VII in 1534.

2 - M. Francesco Guicciardini, L’Historia d’Italia [The History of Italy], Florence, Lorenzo Appresso Torrent, 1561, p. 205.

3 - From our investigations it appears that this comment, which was later reported by other editors of the work, was included for the first time by Thomaso Porchacchi in the edition edited by him: Venezia, Appresso Pietro Maria Bertano, 1616, p. 122.

4 - Jacopo Ranieri, Diario di cose seguite in Bologna dalli 20 settembre 1533 fino li 25 dicembre 1549 [Diary of things followed in Bologna from September 20, 1533, to December 25, 1549], Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria [University Library], ms. 615, March 12, 1532, c. 40r.

5 - Romano Molesti, Economisti e Accademici  nel Settecento Veneto. Una visione organica dell’economia [Economists and Academicians in the eighteenth century Veneto. An organic vision of the economy], Milan, Franco Angeli, 2006, p. 106.

6 - D'Antonio di Paolo Masini, Bologna Perlustrata [Bologna patrolled], Erede di Antonio Benacci, 1666, p. 420.

7 - Salvatore Muzzi, Annali della città di Bologna: Dalla sua origine al 1796 [Annals of the city of Bologna: From its origin to 1796] Tomo [Volume] II, Bologna, Pe’ Tipi di San Tommaso d’Aquino, 1840, p. 582.

8 - Ibid, pp. 594-595.

9 - Salvatore Muzzi, op. cit., Vol III, 1841, pp. 484-485.

10 -  Nicola Ratti in his work Della Famiglia Sforza [On the Sforza family], Rome, 1795, Part I, felt that actually Sforza had remained on good terms with the Pope because he went to the stipend of King Ladislaus after being discharged from the Pope (p. 10), and that “Simili voci ingiuriose allo Sforza di Villan da Cotignola, di Generale preso all’Aratro furono messe fuori dalla facione Braccesca perpetua nemica, e rivale della Sforzesca buonamente credute e riportate dall’Alberti, dal Loschi, dall’Astolfo, ed altri Autori di men fino criterio” ["Similar insulting voices about Sforza - Peasant of Cotignola, General taken from the plow, were put out by the Braccesca Faction, perpetual enemy and rival of the Sforza, well believed and reported by Alberti,  Loschi, Astolfo, and other Authors judged of less than fine mind"] (p. 11).
11Diario Romano by Antonio di Pietro, Anno Domini 1412, in Ludovico Antonio Muratori “Rerum Italicarum Scrptores”, Tomo XXIV, Milano, Ex Tip. Societatis Palatinae,  1738, col. 1031-1032.Also, but not complete, in  Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Annali d’Italia [Annals of Italy], Milano, 1744, Anno, 1412, p. 62. [The translation here of the sign is that of Mandell Creighton, A History of the Papacy During the Period of the Reformation (London, 1882), pp. 243-244, as cited by Ross Caldwell at]
12 -  For information on the significance of "peasant" and the hoe, see the essay Ruzante the Peasant. 
13 - Appendice all’Archivio Storico Italiano. Tomo VIII [Appendix to the Italian Historical Archive. Volume VIII], No. 25, Firenze, Gio. Pietro Vieusseux, 1850, pp. 367-368.

14 - See: Maria Gabrielli Donati Guerrieri, Lo Stato di Castiglione del Lago e i della Corgna ]The State of Castiglione del Lago and della Corgna], 1972, p. 283 and Lorenzo Giommarelli, Castiglione del Lago e la guerra di Castro. Storia di un affresco. [Castiglione del Lago and the War of Castro. History of a fresco], online at the link

15 - Gregorio Leti, Raguagli Historici, e Politici òvero Compendio delle Virtù Heroiche soprà la Fedeltà de’ Cittadini, & Amore verso la Patria [Raguagli Historici, and Political oe Compendium of Heroic Virtues on the Loyalty of Citizens, & Love for the Homeland], Amsterdam, Appresso Teodoro Boeteman, 1700. Part Two, Raguaglio I, pp. 45-46. The first edition was printed in Amsterdam, in 1699.

16 - Jules François Lecomte, Venezia, o colpo d’occhio letterario, artistico, storico, poetico e pittorico sui monumenti e curiosità di questa città [Venice, or a Glance  at the literary, artistic, historical, poetic and pictorial monuments and curiosities of this city], First Italian Edition, Venezia Gio. Cecchini, 1848, p. 116.

17 - Gregorio Leti, op. cit., p. 219-220.

18 - Vittorio Siri, Memorie Recondite. Dall’Anno 1619 fino al 1625 [Hidden Memories. From the year 1619 until 1625], Lyon, Anisson and Posuel, 1679, pp. 381-382.

19 - b. 1256.

20 - Vol IV, Paris, Appresso Sebastiano Mabre - Cramoisy, 1677, pp. 464-465.

21 - Melania G. Mazzucco, Jacomo Tintoretto & i suoi figli. Storia di una famiglia veneziana [Jacomo Tintoretto & his children. The story of a Venetian family], Rizzoli, 2009, p. 565.

22 - Conforto da Costoza, Annalium patriae fragmenta ab anno MCCCLXXI usque ad annum MCCCLXXXVII, Voce ‘Giustizie’, Parte prima, Volume 11. In “Rerum Italicarum Scrptores”, Vol. 13, S. Lapi, 1728, Reprint Carlo Stainer,

23 - On the practice of 'Liberal Banditi' (freeing prisoners) as a reward, see the essay Tarot and Inquisitors.

24 - Edition of reference: Napoli,  Stamperia Simoniana, 1755, Parte Seconda, p. 31.

25 - Luigi Passerini, Genealogia e Storia della famiglia Corsini [Genealogy and History of the Corsini family], Firenze, M. Cellini e C,, 1858, p. 117.

26 - Anonymous, Vita di Cola di Rienzo, Cap. XXVII: ‘Como missore Nicola de Rienzi tornao in Roma e reassonse lo dominio con moite alegrezze e como fu occiso per lo puopolo de Roma crudamente’, [Life of Cola di Rienzo, Chapter XXVII: ‘How Messer Nicola de Rienzi returned to Rome and reassumed the domain with much joy and how he was cruelly killed by the people of Rome’, XIVth century].

27 - To Cola di Rienzo, the composer Richard Wagner dedicated the opera 'Rienzi, Last of the Tribunes'.

28 - “I motivi di quell’esecuzione sommaria sono stati variamente interpretati: la volontà del Toraldo di mantenere la dinamica della rivolta nel solco del lealismo spagnolo; l’aspirazione del luogotenente Marcantonio Brancaccio a farsi eleggere Generalissimo del Popolo; il rifiuto, opposto dal Toraldo ai ribelli, di divenire il responsabile primario di trasformazioni istituzionali e politiche” ["The reasons for that summary execution have been variously interpreted: the desire of Toraldo to maintain the momentum of the uprising in the wake of Spanish loyalty; aspiration of lieutenant Marcantonio Brancaccio to get elected Generalissimo of the People, the refusal,  regarding Toraldo to the rebels, to become the primary responsibility of institutional and political transformations"] in Aurelio Musi, La Rivolta di Masaniello nella scena politica barocca, [The Revolt of Masaniello in the Baroque political scene], II Edizione, Napoli, Guida, 2002, p. 154.,

29 - Masaniello, accused of madness due to increasingly despotic and extravagant behavior, was betrayed by a part of the rioters themselves and murdered. He was twenty years old.

30 - On the death of Toraldo and the role of Brancaccio see: Deputazione Napoletana di Storia Patria (a cura di), Archivio Storico per le Province Napoletane [Neapolitan Deputation of the History of the Homeland (ed.), Historical Archive for the Neapolitan Provinces], Vol 2. Presso gli editori Detken & Rocholl e F. Giannini [From the press of editors Detken & Rocholl and F. Giannini], 1877, p. 61.

31 - Gioacchino di Marzo, Diari della Città di Palermo dal sec. XVI al XIX, pubblicati sui manoscritti della biblioteca comunale, Biblioteca Storica Letteraria di Sicilia, Vol. III, [Journals of the City of Palermo from the Sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, published in the manuscripts of the library, Literary Historical Library of Sicily], Palermo, Luigi Pedone Lauriel, 1869. Martedì [Tuesday], 17: p. 236 – Venerdì santo [Friday], 10: p. 282 -  Sabato [Saturday], 23: p. 307.

32 - Domenico Carutti, Storia del Regno di Vittorio Amedeo II [History of the Kingdom of Vittorio Amedeo], Torino, Tipografia Paravia e Compagnia, 1856, pp. 130-131. The story was also narrated by Luigi Cibrario, Storia di Torino [History of Turin], Torino, Vol. II, 1846, and by Carlo Denina, Storia dell’Italia Occidentale [History of Western Italy], Torino, Libro XIII, Cap. 9 [Book XIII, Chapter 9].

33 - Camillo Capilupi, Lo Stratagema di Carlo IX. Re di Francia, contro gli Ugonotti rebelli di Dio e suoi [The Stratagems of Charles IX, King of France, against the Huguenots, rebels of God and him], Roma, 1572, p. 44.

34 - Pierre Gaultruche, L’Historia Santa, Tomo III [The  Holy History, i.e. History of the Saints, Volume III], sl - Š.D., pp. 22-23.


Copyright   1997 Andrea Vitali