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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