Friday, July 8, 2016

Craig A. Monson's "Habitual Offenders"

Craig A. Monson is Paul Tietjens Professor Emeritus of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. His recent books include Nuns Behaving Badly: Tales of Music, Magic, Art, and Arson in the Convents of Italy (2010), Divas in the Convent: Nuns, Music, and Defiance in Seventeenth-Century Italy (2012), and the co-edited essay collection, Music in Print and Beyond: Hildegard von Bingen to The Beatles (2013).

Monson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Habitual Offenders: A True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in Seventeenth-Century Italy, and reported the following:
From page 99:
.... Pamphili followed up with a perhaps equally unwelcome letter to Bologna’s novice archbishop, Niccolò Albergati-Ludovisi. “The enormous crime committed last year cannot be unknown to Your Eminence, which is to say, the flight from the Convertite of the two sisters whose cadavers were lately discovered, displaying manifest evidence of violent death. His Holiness commands that you issue uncompromising imperatives to your ministers to proceed as diligently as possible with the investigation previously undertaken by that tribunal, in order to discover the criminals.”

By July 16 sbirri had tracked down Giulia Santi. Authorities brought the middle-aged spinster not to the archiepiscopal court, as one might expect given Cardinal Pamphili’s orders, but to face the assistant auditor at the Torrone.

“Did you know Count Alessandro Maria Pepoli?”

“I knew him very well, indeed,” Donna Giulia answered, probably with a hint of pride, throughout the time when he was the premier cavalier of this city. For three years before his death I was the woman in charge of his household.”

“Where did the count and his family live?”

“Count Alessandro Maria had his home in the palace of the Lords Pepoli on strada Castiglione. His whole family lived in rooms near Count Roderigo and Count Francesco Pepoli.”

Half a dozen branches of the Pepoli clan shared the massive edifice on strada Castiglione (fig. 5, E; fig. 18; 44.492541° N, 11.346336° E). Since the early 1300s, when the family effectively ruled Bologna, the palace had expanded to include a hodgepodge of large courtyards and more modest corticelle, a maze of passageways, grand staircases and narrow spiral ones, and eventually more than two hundred bedrooms....
It might seem surprising that on July 1, 1645 papal nephew Cardinal Camillo Pamphili would respond so quickly to a letter of June 25, within a day of receiving it. (Some readers may be surprised that the letter from Bologna could reach Rome in the same time it takes today for USPS Retail Ground™.) But Pope Innocent X jumped at this opportunity to implicate his enemy, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who, as Bolognese papal legate, allegedly “tolerated and consented to such wicked and lewd acts to please his intimate familiars.” The pursuit of papal justice masks the means to papal revenge, and a mundane crime against persons of no consequence becomes a matter with international political implications.

Nothing could have been farther from Giulia Santi’s mind, however, when constables brought her before the court on July 16. Her testimony represents the first major break in the case: she had observed the fugitive nuns as they were spirited into hiding within Palazzo Pepoli by “the premier cavalier of this city.” Donna Giulia sends investigators off in pursuit of other household servants, who, it turns out, have observed much, much more. Hence, the chapter title, “Pas devant les Domestiques.”

Giulia Santi’s colleagues are no ordinary housemaids. Two sister servants, one a key witness, have long shared the count’s table—to the consternation of other Counts Pepoli, not to mention other servants. They have also shared his bed (sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both together) and have borne him a string of illegitimate children in that same bed. The more resourceful sister has even convinced the count to settle his estate upon her daughters rather than his natural half-brother. The brother, naturally, murders the count. One sister escapes by leaping out a window amidst a hail of harquebus fire; the other is stabbed in the chest but manages to flee to a convent. All this, before the discovery of the nuns’ bodies, buried in the wine cellar of the sisters’ aunt.

Perhaps “Pas devant les Domestiques” might have served as the title for the book, in fact. The narrative unfolds as much through the eyes, in the words, and in the acts of people of “a very ordinary sort” as through Great Men such as Pamphili, Barberini, and other princelings of the church.
Learn more about the book and author at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Nuns Behaving Badly.

--Marshal Zeringue