flirting with secular perversions

Don Carlo Gesualdo was a 16th century nobleman and composer of madrigals. At the time his music was considered almost heretical and obscene which brought him to the attention of some pesky clergymen.


The Vatican issued an edict that Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, “although divinely talented and of regal family lineage was apparently flirting with secular perversions and a lurid internal conflict setting decency and morality at the feet of carnal desires.”


Nowadays Gesualdo’s vocal compositions have faded from musical memory. What did not fade however were the notorious scandals, the incestuous affairs, the fits of rage, the orgies and the suggestion that young Gesualdo would routinely murder those who sought to depose him or, who in some way, failed to meet with his satisfaction.


In 1586, Carlo and his cousin Donna Maria were married. This marriage was her third and his first, and apparently prospered initially with the newly-weds living more like lovers than a wedded couple. They were sexual exhibitionists and their loud, often flamboyant sexing became the topic of numerous rumors and local folklore.

oops.. wrong Donn(y) Mari(e)

However, although a fun recreational hobby, Gesualdo’s first love was not of women nor of sex, but rather of music; regardless of his highly debatable talent, or lack thereof. Eventually, it became evident to Donna Maria that her husband was simply too interested in composing and she sought romantic compensation from others.


Upon hearing of her duplicity, Gesualdo decided to personally end her affair with Fabrizio, the Duke of Andria. He and his men surprised the couple in bed together and stabbed the Duke 27 times, once for each month that had been the approximate length of the affair. Lady Donna Maria’s fatal wounds were confined “almost exclusively to those parts of her body which she ought to have kept honest.”

Fabio NOT Fabrizio

The local governor was so fearful of Gesualdo’s potential for murderous rage and psychotic mania that he declared a jurisdictional ‘misstep’ in the circumstances surrounding the Gesualdo affair and immediately cleared Don Carlo of all charges. Much to everybody’s surprise, the prince then married again in 1595.

Almost immediately, upon returning from an extended honeymoon with his new bride, his life erupted in salacious and unsettling rumors. There were accusations that Gesualdo had taken a male lover in Ferrara, that he routinely beat his wife Lenora, and, most notably, that amidst all of this turmoil and violence, Lenora and her brother were engaged in a constant incestuous love affair.

From this time on until his death, Gesualdo’s behaviour became increasingly bizarre. He resorted to flagellation, employing teams of young men to beat him three times a day, ‘during which he was wont to smile joyfully’. He even made it into medical textbooks: ‘The prince was unable to go to stool without having been previously flogged by a valet kept expressly for this purpose‘.

Towards the end of his life, Gesualdo became more and more restless. He spoke often of his past murderous tendencies to anyone who would listen, or who was brave enough to be alone with him in closed quarters. On September 8th, 1613, Don Carlo Gesualdo, who had been living in a self-imposed exile was found dead. When questioned about the circumstances by which his wife  found her husband, Lenora responded only with what was recorded as being “maniacal laughter.”

Lenora Claire NOT Laughing Lenora

Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 8:02 am  Comments (36)  
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  1. “Unable to go to stool without……. flogging” Either I don’t know what going to stool means or I don’t know what flogging means…unless it was psychosomatic…why would that make it any easier to…???

    I love the outfit the girl on the right is wearing in the last image.

    • Simple Scott. He liked to have the shit beat out of him.

  2. Well he would appear to be an anal retentive 😉

    And yes, nice bustle…..

  3. Madrigals, flaggelation, flamoyant sexing and incest – it’s all part of the Gimcrack Salad! I’ll have mine undressed, thanks.

  4. Our salad special always includes extra peppery arugula. Are you sure you don’t want a dash of dressing? There’s just a pinch of cayenne in it

  5. “flamboyant sexing

    why yes. i think i’ll have two…

    • Coming right up ma’am

  6. The Vatican?! Weren’t those the same idiots who almost executed Galileo for proving the earth revolved around the sun? What a bunch of tight-asses. [Very clever Donny/Marie tie-in, BTW.]

    • Hey thanks UB, that one just fell into my lap 🙂

  7. Musicians tend to have such a way with women – but this guy’s “way” was a bit over the top. As were his other passions…

  8. I had been aware only of the jealous murder of his unfaithful wife, not all the other oddities. Glad to have gotten the full story… I think. Certainly makes Percy Grainger seem quite benign and tame.

    • Yes, in comparison Percy was a bit of a pussy 😉

  9. Boy, they never told us this stuff in music history!

    What amazes me is that after he stabbed his wife and her lover to death that he was able to convince another woman to marry him at all. Seems like it was a rather dangerous job, being his wife.

    I’ll tell you, those 16th century people were busy busy busy! Must have had to find ways to amuse themselves since they had no TV or internet. . .

  10. That photo of Achille Deveria (?): I suppose, before the invention of the Ladyshave, that was the way the aristocracy got the lawn mowed…..

    • Achille was the painter, I don’t think it’s a self-portrait…. 😉

  11. Just goes to show what composing madrigals will do to a guy. Happens every time.

    The Secular Perversions — there’s a great name for a band if I ever heard one.

  12. Wow, Gesualdo had killer constipation. No wonder he was a bit mental.

    • He needed a dynamite enema. Hey, there’s another good name for a band

  13. I think that’s the late daredevil, Evel Knievel, with Donnie and Marie.

  14. I am deeply intrigued by Lenora Claire.

    • Oh me too Nick. She leads a lavish life

  15. Secular perversions are the sexiest perversions. And the feet of carnal desire always has sexy boots on.

  16. What a little biotch he was. The picture of Fabio is hilarious!

  17. Hey, the Vatican has given the thumbs up on the Beatles, so I am sure Gesualdo is now in the clear

  18. Everything was going so well until I read that last comment.

    • Poor Malach, don’t shoot the messenger will you queenie?

  19. i try to avoid people like that.
    i prefer shyness and honesty to
    demonstrative sex and murder.
    but its a fascinating story, nurse myra.
    nobody tells a story like you do.
    i love your sense of humor.

  20. “…..were the notorious scandals, the incestuous affairs, the fits of rage, the orgies and the suggestion that young Gesualdo would routinely murder those who sought to depose him…..”

    Ahh a man with character….i would have loved to have met him!

    • Sabrina, I am seriously worried about your attraction to murderers

      • LOL!!!! I thought Manson was foxy!!

  21. Sounds like he would have ENJOYED a visit from the Spanish Inquisition.

    • Yes, it’d probably take care of that impacted bowel problem

  22. Who knew the people of the 16th century led such ‘exciting’ lives…

  23. Hmm it looks loke the Madrigal and roll lifestyle was far more extreme than anything Rock and Roll can come up with…

  24. Maniacal laughter is always a great response. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!

  25. jesus christ!!!!!!!


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