Sicilian Love: the tragic story of the Baroness of Carini

Laura Lanza was born on 7th October 1529. This was her first mistake.

Her second mistake was to be the daughter of Cesare Lanza, an arrogant and violent Sicilian aristocrat who was used to always getting things his way.

Her third mistake was falling in love with Ludovico Vernagallo instead of Ludovico’s cousin, Vincenzo La Grua, whom her father had decided should be her husband.

Pointless were the lavish wedding celebrations which lasted an entire month: they weren’t enough to force Cupid to shoot at the hearts of the fourteen-year-old bride, Laura, and the sixteen-year-old groom, Vincenzo. The birth of the couple’s eight children didn’t do the trick either: Vincenzo threw himself into the family’s business, under the hawk-eyed control of his formidable father-in-law, and Laura continued to love Ludovico.

At least, Ludovico never married. Instead, he took advantage of Vincenzo’s frequent absences from home to slip into Laura’s bed and keep her company as often as possible, with the aid of a rope ladder straight to her balcony. Laura and Ludovico spent so many days and nights together that they soon became gossip of the town of Carini.

Vincenzo didn’t seem to know or care but, unfortunately, some stupid idiot told Laura’s father.

Hot-headed and proud, Cesare’s parenting style fell fairly and squarely into the padre-padrone (father-owner) – XVI century Sicily’s equivalent of “helicopter parenting”. Could he (literally) just live and let live? Oh, no, no, no.

Laura was dishonouring the family’s name and he was going to do something about it.

First, he placed armed guards all around the family home to stop the lovers getting away. Second, he went to his son-in-law and told him that his wife fare le corna (literally “putting horns on his head”, i.e. cheating with another man). It was Vincenzo’s job to re-establish the family’s honour – and his own.

Third, he organised for him and Vincenzo to surprise the lovers in bed together. Which they did very easily.

Apparently, Vincenzo didn’t have the heart to do the deed, so Cesare took the matter into his own hands and murdered his daughter and her lover. Nice.

Some say that Laura and Ludovico’s relationship had been known and tolerated by Vincenzo (who also had lovers) for years. But that, when their first-born son died at 15, Vincenzo couldn’t tolerate the idea of his possessions and title going to another one of their children, whose paternity he doubted. This explanation fits in well with the fact that, when Vincenzo was absolved by the court (honour killings were allowed), he immediately remarried and disinherited all Laura’s children. Poor kids.

Both Cesare and Vincenzo might have had an economic interest in suddenly ‘discovering’ the affair. A Roman law from 18 a.C., the Lex Iulia de Adulteriis Coercendis (great name!), established that half the adulterous woman’s dowry (in Laura’s case, a hefty sum,) should be returned to her father, and half the adulterous man’s possessions was to be confiscated. Both man and woman were to be held captive in an island – a different one each.

It appears that Cesare had a huge debt with wealthy Ludovico. Ops, he’s not alive anymore. What a shame.

The law also allowed the father of the woman to kill his daughter and her lover, but only if he caught them in the act within his own home or that of his son-in-law. Also, he should kill them on the spot and not spare either of them. Otherwise, it would be considered homicide. The husband, on the other hand, was not allowed to kill the wife but only the lover, and only if he was of a lower social class. If the lover was a nobleman, he should not be killed but held him captive. If the husband didn’t do anything about the adultery, didn’t divorce the wife and deal with the lover, he could be accused of exploiting prostitution. Nice.

The inhabitants of Carini say that they sometimes see the ghost of their unfortunate baroness float around the town and that, on the anniversary of her death, a blood handprint appears on the wall of her bedroom.

Photo by Daniele Riggi on Unsplash


Antonino Cangemi, D’amore in Sicilia, 2015, Dario Flaccovio Editore

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. theelephantmum says:

    Fantastic read, looking forward to hearing more stories 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pamela Harbutt says:

    Thank you for that gorey love story. SM. You told it like a live storyteller in the room with me. X

    Liked by 1 person

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