Habitual OffendersA True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in Seventeenth-Century Italy

Habitual OffendersA True Tale of Nuns, Prostitutes, and Murderers in Seventeenth-Century Italy

Craig A. Monson

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226335339

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book reconstructs the case of two reformed prostitute nuns (“convertite”) who fled their convent in Bologna, Italy, in 1644 and whose garroted corpses were discovered in a cellar fifteen months later. The investigation of the crime in Bologna and Rome, at Pope Innocent X’s behest, was intended to implicate his enemy, sometime Bolognese papal legate, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who eventually fled to France. This detailed micro-history of crime and punishment in seventeenth-century Italy examines life strategies among marginal figures (prostitutes, nuns, maidservants, mercenary soldiers, bandits) and “new men” attempting to succeed at the papal court without benefit of exalted birth. It illuminates investigative strategies and papal justice, from extrajudicial evidence gathering, to apprehending perpetrators, to witness interrogations and confrontations, to uses of torture. It recreates the lives of the fugitive nuns against the realities of female poverty and prostitution in seventeenth-century Bologna and puts faces on the least reputable of convent women, who rarely appear in scholarship on female monasticism, though most Catholic cities had convents of convertite.