On this day, 11th September 1599, the beautiful Roman noblewoman Beatrice Cenci was beheaded on the Sant’Angelo bridge in Rome along with her mother while her twelve year old half brother, Bernardino, terrified and trembling with fear watched. Their elder brother, Giacomo had already been brutally executed on the same spot earlier in the day and his mother and sister had to lift their skirts as they stepped over the blood that still splattered the cobbles.
Their crime? Patricide. Beatrice’s father, Francesco was a real piece of work who behind the doors of their beautiful Palazzo physically and emotionally abused his wife and sons and sexually molested the young Beatrice, who tried in vain to seek help and protection from the Roman authorities. Sadly her efforts were ignored as her father’s aristocratic standing was such that no one wanted to offend him.
In the end, Beatrice, her mother and brothers decided to take matters into their own hands and murdered Francesco by first beating him around the head and then throwing him off a balcony in the hopes that it would be seen as a suicide.
The Cenci family were quickly arrested and sentenced to death, although public opinion was such that the execution was initially postponed as everyone knew why Beatrice and her family had felt driven to violence. Sadly however the Pope at the time, Clement VIII ordered that the executions go ahead anyway and so it was that Beatrice, just twenty two years of age found herself being taken from her cell in the Castello Sant’Angelo and driven to the scaffold.
You can read more about Beatrice and her sad story, as well as the numerous works of art and literature that her story inspired here.