Sicilian Love: the countess goes to court

When Countess Giulia Trigona went to court, she meant to break up only with her husband, not with her lover too.
Breaking up with her lover was actually a damn good idea. Pity it came a bit too late. The extramarital affair of Countess Trigona and Baron Paternò had been an all-consuming whirlwind, witnessed by letters searing hot with desire, which lasted less than two years before its tragic end.

It all started on the night of 11th August 1909, when 28-year-old Countess Giulia Trigona and 26-year-old Baron Vincenzo Paternò met at a party. By then, Giulia had been married to count Romualdo Trigona for ten years and had given him two daughters, but she had been afflicted with a long illness and the count had started an affair with an actress in the last years. Overall, not the best premises to resist the temptation of a suave, dashing 26-year-old cavalry lieutenant like Baron Vincenzo. It was love at first sight or, as we say in Italian, a ‘lightning strike’. Both were incinerated.

They soon threw caution and prudence to the wind and became so brazen about their relationship that a scandal of national proportions exploded (unfortunately, Giulia was the first lady-in-waiting of Elena, Queen of Italy). But worse was to come.

Only one year after she’d first met her lover, Giulia asked her husband for a separation (divorce was legalised in Italy only in 1970). The count was furious. The scandal was not going to do his political career or their daughters’ future any good. He pulled strings and got Vincenzo transferred to Naples, but this didn’t stop the lovers, who carried on seeing each other and spending the little money they had in travel.

Vincenzo then recommended to Giulia his brother-in-law, solicitor Serrao, to help her navigate the legal proceedings against her husband. He hoped that Giulia would get enough money to bail him out of his debts. But the suggestion backfired on Vincenzo. In fact, Serrao knew well that Vincenzo was a keen gambler and helpfully advised Giulia to think about herself and her daughters (finally!) and put a legal clause to limit how much money she could withdraw every year, to stop it falling into Vincenzo’s hands.

As soon as Vincenzo heard about the arrangement, all hell broke loose. Blinded by his debts and his jealousy, he accused his brother-in-law of being Giulia’s lover and attacked him on the stairs of the royal palace, where Giulia was staying at the time. When Giulia tried to appease him, he attacked her too, tearing off the bracelet her had given her as a love token. With that bracelet, their relationship broke too.

He started hounding Giulia until, feeling sorry for him, she granted him one last rendezvous in a seedy hotel where they had been before. Serrao advised Giulia not to go, but she insisted that Vincenzo’s intentions were good and that it would be the last time and he would leave her in peace after that.

She certainly didn’t know that, on the way there, Vincenzo had stopped by a hunting shop to buy a knife. Shortly after making love one last time, he thrust the knife into her throat before shooting himself in the temple (which, unfortunately for him, he survived, and was subsequently condemned to life imprisonment).
It really was the last time they saw each other.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

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