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'^/Uh the Author's md 
' ^..kU^her's Compliw^nis. 







{de jure Earl of Landaff) 







Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson &^ Co. 
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh. 


It is perhaps worthy of note that in spite of 
Dante's great fame early in the fourteenth 
century, his Divma Commedia did not supply 
subjects to contemporary artists. Even the 
great painters of the Renaissance ignored 
it, and at the present time the tragedy of 
Francesca di Rimini is not found among 
the works exhibited in the National Gallery. 
Dante's treatment of the story has usually 
been regarded as entirely fanciful, and the 
narrative itself as mere legend and romance. 
It is, however, in its main features, historical, 
though the historian may find difficulty in 
determining with precision where it becomes 
necessary to disentangle fiction from fact. 
This I have endeavoured to do in the follow- 

vi Preface 

ing brief account of that pathetic tragedy 
which Dante has immortaUsed in the Inferno^ 
and which was destined to be re-enacted upon 
the dramatic and the lyric stage for all time. 

Of the contemporary representatives of the 
Polenta and Malatesta families, all that is 
known concerning them will be found in 
these pages. 

Whilst I have generally followed in the 
footsteps of Francesca's talented biographer, 
Monsieur C. Yriarte, I have also, to some 
extent, supplemented his account of her. 

Arnold Harris Mathew. 
Chelsfield, Kent. 



Preface v 


Origin of the Polenta and Malatesta 
Families i 

Political conditions — Establishment of the re- 
publics — The Condottieri — T heir foundation 
of dynasties. 

The Divine Comedy i6 

Francesca — The Hunchback — Paolo il Bello — 
The historical descriptiofis of the murderer 
and of the tragedy. 

Dante and Francesca . . . .35 

Contemporary witnesses — Boccaccio-and the legend 
— The relations between Paolo ajid Fran- 

viii Contents 



The Site of the Tragedy . . .71 

Was it at Rimini, Pesaro, or Sant' Arcangelo f 
— Exaffiination of the evidence as to each — 
The opinions of Tonini and Monsignor 
Marino Marini — Coftclusion. 



Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta — Datite is the 
reputed historiaji of the tragedy — His legend 
compared with authentic history. 




Political conditions — Establishfuent of the repttblics — The 
Condottieri — Their fou7idatio7i of dynasties. 

It would be interesting to attempt to throw 
some light upon the historic event which has 
aroused so much discussion, and upon which 
the famous episode of the fifth canto of the 
Inferno of Dante's " Divine Comedy " is based, 
viz. the murder of Francesca di Rimini and 
Paolo Malatesta by Giovanni, the husband of 
Francesca and brother of Paolo. All that has 
been done, hitherto, is, that a great many 
documents have been published by Italian 
scholars, the text of the old chronicles has 
been criticised, and statements which appeared 


2 Francesca di Rimini 

to be of much too well-established a kind to 
be subjected to the affront of analysis have 
been called in question. Now, what we want 
is to systematise all this material, to realise the 
actors, and to place them against their proper 
historical background, and — this is the most 
essential point — to trust only the most trust- 
worthy sources of information, so that we may 
be able to disentangle the thread of historical 
fact, and the individuaUty of each actor, from 
the legend that has crystallised round them ; 
for Dante's legend has, by virtue of his genius, 
become a more living thing than the historical 

The day of large historical compositions is 
over, and gone too is the old broad treatment 
of epochs, where the " philosophy of history " 
is emphasised by focussing the light on the 
highways and chief events, while the byways 
and individual actions are lost in obscurity. 
The modern method is, in the phrase of the 
day, to reconstruct a figure ; that is to say, by 
accumulating detail round a single point, a 

Polenta and Malatesta Families 3 

figure that had hitherto been but a " walking 
personage " in the crowded stage of history is 
brought into prominence. 

The proportion of the legendary to the 
historical element in Dante's episode is the 
problem we have to consider. At Sienna the 
Maremma is associated with Pia di Tolommei ; 
at Pisa J. J. Ampere wished actually to touch 
with his hand the ruined stonework of 
Ugolino's monument, in which Rossini saw 
the remains of the Hunger Tower; and how 
many have followed in the footsteps of 
Francesca and Paolo, and Giovanni Malatesta 
at Rimini, Pesaro, and San Arcangelo, to see 
if there are any records or monuments to 
their existence ! The history of these periods 
is extremely obscure, but there are a certain 
number of historical circumstances which are 
capable of documentary proof, and which make 
us realise the true nature of the event, and 
enable us to form some idea of what seems, 
at first sight, a legend, floating upon the 
stream of history, as those two "sad spirits," 

4 France sea di Rimini 

who will never be separated, float upon the 
'^ air malign " of the second circle of the 

If we consider the story in its relation to 
history, we find that both victims and their 
murderer belonged to those powerful and 
dominant families which, later, founded ruling 
dynasties in some of the cities of Northern 
Italy on the shores of the Adriatic. The 
Polentas and the Malatestas are already called 
"lords" of Rimini and Ravenna, and they 
become, later, lords in the full sense of the 
term. Our period is the second half of the 
thirteenth century, and the epoch of the dawn 
of the Italian republics ; but later an important 
change takes place, which, in course of time, 
tends to the formation of local dynasties. 
These dynasties hand down their power regu- 
larly for many centuries, and some of them, 
like the family of Montefeltro, Dukes of Urbino, 
the Polentas, and the Malatestas, will become 
famous in history. It is also the period of the 
dawn of municipal liberty, and we shall not 

Polenta and Malatesta Families 5 

fully understand the progress of events unless 
we realise how, upon the ruins of the Western 
Empire, new powers were set up, which were 
virtually independent, although they never 
denied the nominal temporal supremacy or 
suzerainty of the Pope, nor that of the 
Emperor who succeeded to Charlemagne's 
Empire of the West. 

The Political State of the Country at the 
time of the Assassination 

At the close of the ninth century, the 
breaking up of the Carolingian monarchy had 
brought in its train the division of Italy into 
an infinite number of petty powers, none of 
which were theoretically, but the majority of 
which were virtually, independent. This con- 
dition of anarchy was a step towards the 
setting up of the feudal system. Everywhere 
there were centres of power, which were, in 
themselves, the germs of authority; and, by a 
sort of political atavism, the new feudal divi- 

6 Frances ca di Rimini 

sions that arose — such as Duchies, Marquisates, 
and Counties — corresponded almost exactly to 
the territorial divisions of the old Roman 
provinces. At the head of these divisions 
were Dukes, Marquises, and Counts, while 
the secondary cities were governed by their 
deputies. The clergy were by no means ex- 
cluded from temporal power in cities, and, 
indeed, they often assumed both the civil 
and religious government of them ; — they were 
counts in their palaces, bishops or archbishops 
at the cathedral, and generals in the field, 
and were all-powerful in every sphere; while 
obedience was more readily tendered to a 
spiritual authority with an army at its back. 
The majority of these dukes^ marqujses, a^d 
coujits jvere oL Go-nian extraction, though 
jtal ian in langua ge, interests, and politics ; 
the bishops, on the other hand, were almost 
all of them Italians, but clerical or lay, each of 
the chiefs, in their several duchies, marquisates, 
and counties, had full governing powers, and 
formed the upper class of feudal society. Be- 

Polenta and Malatesta Families j 

neath them came their deputies in town and 
country, vass als m ore or less submissive, ac- 
cording to their power and importance, and 
holding the fortified castles within the cities, 
or the castelli in villages on the country side. 
Beneath them again stood an urban and a rural 
feudal nobility, the former with their palaces in 
the towns, the latter with their castles, which 
were often fortified, if they stood in a dan- 
gerous position, or were liable to attacks. The 
labouring class were serfs, but in the towns 
there was growing up a class, remarkable for 
its industry, moraUty, and feeling for personal 
dignity, which became known, later, as the 
Burgess, or middle class. From the time of 
the Romans this class had always had its own 
special governing body, called, by a very natural 
association of ideas, the consulate^ and from the 
eleventh century the Burgess class had its own 
municipal magistrates, the consuls. 

This im mense feuda l fabric, in Italy, owed 
allegiance — at any rate in theory — to a 
supreme head, the Emperor of the West, the 

8 Francesca di Rimini 

successor to Charlemagnej^ and the Emperor 
considered himself its suzerain. But there was 
a germ of weakness in this relation from the 
very beginning, owing to the fact that this 
authority was not always well defined, and that 
the EinpamiLwas a long way off, and theXope 
sometimes held him in check; and between 
the rival powers there had arisen various new 
centres of power. While the feudal hierarchy 
of dukes, marquises, and counts were each 
struggling to augment their powers at the ex- 
pense of the others, feudalism became dis- 
organised, armies wasted away in their disputes, 
and dukes, marquises, and counts disappeared, 
while the urban and provincial governors were 
only tolerated if their government had been 
clement to the lower classes. This was the 
cause of a very great change, by which the 
municipal authority, from its humble beginning 
of Consuls and Rectors, gradually grew to be a 
governing power able to keep that of the nobles 
in check. The overlordship of the King of the 
Romans, the Emperor of the West, still existed, 

Polenta and Malatesta Families 9 

but its strength had to be actually felt before 
this suzerainty was admitted. 

In their internal feuds, the nobles forgot the 
existence of the Emperor, until the day came 
when, being worsted by some neighbour on 
whose power they had had designs, they were 
reduced to appeal to their suzerain. As, after 
all, it was his concern, the Emperor either came 
in person or sent help. Again, if a duke or a 
count levied exactions from his vassals, they in 
their turn remembered the suzerainty they had 
thought so little of shortly before, complained 
to the Emperor, who again intervened, and sent 
sometimes a bishop, but more often specially 
deputed persons {missi)^ to act in the interests 
of the oppressed parties. In 1037 Conrad 
the Salic had given the feudal nobility of 
the principal duchies and counties protection 
against their immediate suzerain, whether duke 
or count, and armed with this, the nobihty now 
began to raise their heads, and set up castle 
against castle within the walls of the towns. 
Opposition was an easy matter, for the feudal 

lo France sea di Rimini 

nobility were united by a common bond, as were 
the intermediary and the lowest classes. Only 
the people who lived in the country, isolated in 
the valleys or on the mountain slopes, and 
scattered here and there on the plains, were 
bound to suffer in the struggle. The massing 
of troops in the towns soon became a source 
of danger to the feudal nobility and their 
suzerains, and as each party wanted a supporter 
in the bitter struggle which was to ensue, the 
feudal party leaned to the side of the Emperor, 
while the civic party inclined to that of the 
Pope. Such was the origin of that immense 
conflict which spread over Italy, and which 
brought in its train the deposition of popes 
and the excommunication of emperors — a 
struggle known to history as the war of the 
Guelfs and the Ghibellines. 

The two heads of western Christendom, 
Henry IV. and Pope Gregory VII., who took 
opposite sides in a single-handed duel, gave 
an added intensity to the struggle by their 
action in the war of Investitures. The Em- 

Polenta and Malatesta Families 1 1 

peror had the support of the majority of the 
feudal chiefs, while the Pope had on his side 
the dukes and counts who had long since 
shaken off the imperial yoke. His principal 
support, however, lay in the higher class of 
the towns, and the wealthy ow^ners of palaces 
within the town walls, who were neither counts 
nor dukes. The quarrel between the Pope and 
the Emperor ended in a compromise, but the 
principal towns of Northern and Central Italy 
shook off the yoke of feudalism, and formed 
themselves into independent republics. In 
each of these republics the government was 
at first carried on by officers called consuls, 
who were always chosen from noble and 
influential families, or from those who had 
become enriched by commerce or industry. 
To control the power of the consuls, a council, 
and often a senate, was appointed, which was 
also a reminiscence of the ancient Roman 
forms of government. This state of things 
lasted for fifty years, and during this period 
the theoretical rights of the Emperor were not 

12 Francesca di Rimini 

disputed, though they were consistently ignored. 
Later, Frederick Barbarossa struggled for thirty 
years to bring the towns back to their feudal 
allegiance under the government of the feuda- 
tories he had appointed. Thus the Pope, the 
rival power, and the supporter of the autonomy 
of the towns under his authority, represented 
the cause of Italian liberty, while the Emperor 
stood for subjection to a foreign yoke. In 
1 1 83 the treaty which led to the Peace of 
Constance defined the rights of the Emperor 
and the Italian communes. The influence of 
Roman tradition, the needs and requirements 
of the day, had changed the condition of 
Northern Italy, and this was legally recognised, 
while, in return, the republics ratified certain 
conditions — homages, tributes, and obligations 
which they considered of little practical import, 
and which they would repudiate, if need be, 
at the earliest opportunity. Such was the 
origin of the Italian republics ; and we shall 
also indicate here the rise of the Imperial 
vicars, for while the Polentas are styled in 

Polenta and Mai ate st a Families i 3 

their genealogies consuls and rectors, the early 
Malatestas are given the title of Imperial 

Towards the close of the twelfth century the 
now enfranchised communes were constantly 
torn by party strife within their walls, and 
very frequently engaged in struggles with the 
neighbouring republics, which happened to 
be swayed by the opposing faction, whether 
Ghibelline or Guelf. About this time, on 
the death of the last king of Naples of the 
Norman race, the popes somewhat incon- 
sistently called the son of their old enemy 
Barbarossa, Henry VI., to the throne. The 
latter, who was at war with three successive 
popes, made a determined stand against the 
communes, and supported the feudal lords 
against their oppressed and revolting subjects, 
thus putting all his strength into the side of 
the scale of petty local tyrannies. The de- 
scendants of the early dukes and counts of 
German descent were exhausted, but during 
the gradual and painful birth of local liberties, 

14 Francesca di Rimini 

and in the slow transformation of the power 
of feudaUsm into the power of the communes, 
there had arisen certain active and powerful 
personalities, whose political talents were further 
enhanced by unquestioned military skill; the 
class, the Condottieri, to which both the Mala- 
testa and Polenta families belonged, began to 
take the place of the old feudal suzerains, 
and founded local dynasties, some of which 
were still in existence towards the sixteenth 

The palace of the Polentas at Ravenna is 
severe and prison-like. A tablet on its fagade 
tells us, "Questa casa fu un tempo dei Polentani 
che ebbero la gloria di accogliere ospitalmente 
Dante Alighieri." 

It is interesting to find that Dante's daugh- 
ter, Beatrice, lived for many years at Ravenna. 
An inscription on the convent of Santo Stefano 
states that she devoted herself to God, being 
" wroth with the world's wickedness, having 
seen her father through the evil dissension 
of citizens condemned to a perpetual exile, 

Polenta and Malatesta Families 1 5 

and to become a beggar for the bread of 

They will show you in the Pineta " Dante's 
walk " beside the canal under the stone-pines, 
" the gentle and windless shade " of which he 
writes. He doubtless knew the church of 
Santa Maria in Porto Fuori, and possibly 
watched the painting of the frescoes executed 
there about this time, but now faded to the 
colour of ashes and roses. The fresco re- 
presents an old woman, and one young and 
beautiful, looking out of a window, which, in 
spite of its archaic characteristics, aroused the 
enthusiasm of Arthur Symons : it is "Jthe^calm 
and eager face of Francesca da Rimini; the 
bright gold hair wreathed with green leaves, the 
long neck, the lon^ sensitive^ hands, the long 
straight line ^f nose and ioiekead^^and the 
-Y'ide eyes looking down frorn an open window 
as if for the first sight of Paolo." ^ 

^ " The Romance of the Italian Villas," E. Champney. 



Francesca — The Hunchback — Paolo il Bello — The histo- 
rical descriptions of the miirderer and of the tragedy. 

Turning a moment from history to fiction, 
let us take the account Dante gives in his 
" Divine Comedy " : i — 

And I began : " O Poet, willingly 

Speak would I to those two, wJw go together^ 
And seem upon the wind to be so lights 

And he to me : " ThouHt mark, when they shall be 
Nearer to us; and the?t do thou ijuplore them 
By love which leadeth the?n, and they will corned 

Soon as the wi?id in our directioji sways them, 
My voice uplift I : " O ye weary souls ! 
Come speak to us, if no one interdict it.^^ 

As turtle doves, called onward by desire, 

With open and steady wings to the sweet nest 
Fly through the air by their volition borne, 

So came they fro?n the land where Dido is, 

^ Inferno, canto v., lines 73-142 (Longfellow's 


T/ie Divine Comedy 17 

Approachifjg us athwart the ai?' ?nalign, 
So strong was the affectionate appeal, 

" O living creature, gracious and benignant. 
Who visiting goest through the purple air. 
Us, who have stained the world incarnadine. 

If were the King of the Universe oicr friend, 
We would pray unto him to give thee peace. 
Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse. 

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak, 

That will we hear, and we will speak to you. 
While silent is the wind, as it is 7iow. 

Sitteth the city, wherein I was born. 

Upon the seashore where the Po desce?ids 
To rest in peace with all his reti?iue. 

Love that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize. 
Seized this 7na?tfor the person beautiful 
That was tden from me, and still the ?node 
offends me. 

Love, that exejnpts no one beloved from loving. 
Seized me with pleasure and this 7na?i so strongly, 
That, as thou see^st, it doth not yet desert 7ne j 

Love has co7tducted us unto 07ie death ; 

Caina waileth hi7n who gue7iched our life / " 

As soon as I had hea7'd those souls tormented, 
I bowed 77iyface, and so long held it down 
Until the Poet said to me : " What thi7ikestf'' 

When 1 77iade answer, I began : '''■Alas ! 


1 8 Francesca di Rimini 

How many pleasant thoughts^ how much desire^ 
Condtictedl7iese~imJo'Vie''dd'lorOiis pass /''^ 

T/reWunTdlhTji'TI turnecfme, and I spak'e, 
And I bega7i : " Thine agonies^ Frajtcesca^ 
Sad and coinpassionate to weepiiig make 7ne. 

But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs ^ 
By what and iji what ?nanner Love conceded 
That you should know jmir dubious desires ? " 

A?td she to me : " There is no greater sorrow 
Than to be miiidful of the happy time 
In misery, a?td that thy Teacher knows. 

But, if to recog7tise the earliest root 
Of love i?i us thou hast so great desire, 
I will do even as he who weeps a7id speaks. 

07ie day we 7'eadi7ig were for our delight 
Of Launcelot, how Love did hi7n enthrall. 
Alo7ie we we7'e, and without any fear. 

Full 77iany a ti7ne our eyes together drew 

That readi7ig, a7td drove the colour fro7n our 

But 07te point 07ily was it that derca77ie us ! 

Whe7i as we read of the 7nuch-longed-for smile 
Being by such a noble lover kissed. 
This 07ie,juiko-Jii£r fro7n 77ie shall be divided. 

Kissed 7ne upon the lips all palpitati7ig. 
Galeottoti'as the bookji7td he who wrote it. 
That day no farther did we read therein.^'' 

The Divine Comedy 19 

Ajid all the while o?ie spirit uttered this^ 
The other 07ie did weep so, that for pity y 
I swoo7ied away as if I had been dyin^, 

A ltd fell, even as a dead body falls. 

Such is the episode of the fifth canto of the 
Inferno, and as Ampere has said, " There is 
nothing in all poetry simpler and yet more 
profound ; more pitiful, yet more restrained ; 
purer, and at the same time more passionate, 
than this story." What Dante has told us we 
may look upon as additional historic aljnatter, 
and not mere poetic fiction. At first the poet 
does not name the two; they are "sad spirits" 
floating in the air, yet, as he has implored in 
the name of " Love which leadeth them," the 
woman answers, and the mere relation of her 
birthplace, her love and her death, are enough 
to unveil her identity to Dante, who now calls 
her by her name, "Francesca"; for her story 
was widely known throughout Italy at the time 
he wrote, and Dante, as we shall see later on, 
had good cause to be made " sad and com- 
passionate to weeping" by her relation. 

20 France sea di Rimini 

Francesca was the daughter of Guido di 
Lamberto di Polenta, lord of Ravenna, who was 
known as il Minore to distinguish him from 
Guido il Vecchio. Polenta is the name of an 
ancient fortress in the territory of Ravenna, near 
Bertinoro, which gives its name to the family. 
Later on the Polenta family, which had become 
wealthy, made its home at Ravenna, and took 
its place among the urban feudal nobihty, who 
held the castelU within the city walls under their 
feudal lords. The first Polenta of whom his- 
tory makes mention is a certain Geremia who 
appears about 1169. A century later, Guido 
gives his daughter in marriage to Giovanni di 
Malatesta, son of Malatesta da Verucchio, lord 
of Rimini. The real title of Guido was that of 
Viscount of the Archbishopric, which shows 
that in the middle of the thirteenth century the 
lord of Ravenna was a prelate. Guido himself, 
a turbulent and ambilipiis_man_^. possessed of 
remarkable courage, often driven from Ravenna 
by party factions, and constantly at war with 
His neighbours the Counts of Bagnacavallo, was 

Ihe Divine Comedy 21 

an adherent of the Pope. When the Emperors 
of Germany were in power, he quitted Ravenna 
with his men, and took refuge in some fortress 
or town swayed by the Guelf faction to which 
he belonged. He did not actually become 
lord of Ravenna until the^Emperor, Rudolph 
of Hapsburg, ceded the city to Pope Gregory, 
whose rlglit to it he had previousl;^ disputed. 
Guido appears first as consul, then as rector ; 
in 1259 he is podesta at Cesena, and again in 
1264. At the battle of Trentola (13th June 
1275) he behaved with such gallantry in 
marching to occupy Cervia, that he was chosen 
to hold the highest power in Ravenna. His 
mission there was to drive out the faction of 
the Traversari, and from that time onwards his 
position was unquestioned. To_ this p eriod 
must be assigned the marriage of his daughter 
with a son of Malatesta da Verucchio of 
^IminiT Guido, who was considered a firm 
supporter of the Church, fought successfully 
against Montefeltro and the Ghibellines in 
1282, and the Pope, Martin IV., still further 

2 2 France sea di Rimini 

increased his possessions by conferring on him 
all the confiscated property of the rebels of 
Bertinoro. He retired from public life in 
1299, leaving the supremacy of his family 
assured, and his power to his son. But he kept 
his vote in council, it appears, for his signature 
is found appended to an Act dated 1306. 

Why Guido di Lamberto da Polenta married 
his daughter Francesca to Giovanni Malatesta, 
surnamed il Sciancato, son of his neighbour 
Malatesta da Verucchio, lord of Rimini, is a 
moot point. Luigi Tonini of Rimini, a dis- 
tinguished scholar and historian, who has 
collected and compared a great number of 
documents, and a mass of historical evidence 
relating to the marriage and the murder, has 
been unable to come to any conclusion as to 
the real object of the marriage. About this 
there are two theories. The first, which has the 
sanction of Muratori and Clementini, and is 
drawn from the chroniclers of the fourteenth 
century, is that Guido called in the aid of 
Malatesta da Verucchio, who was the most 

The Divine Comedy 23 

powerful Guelf chief of the province, in order 
to make himself supreme at Ravenna. Mala- 
testa, then Captain of the People at Bologna, 
sent his son Giovanni, and with his aid 
Guido won his victory over the Traversari. 
Francesca, by this theory, is the reward for 
Giovanni's services. The second theory, which 
entirely^contrjuiicts this, is that Malatesta was 
the leader of the opposite faction at Trentola, 
and that the marriage was a pledge of the re- 
conciliation of the two families. Boccaccio 
supports this theory; but, unfortunately, he is 
not a contemporary authority. It, has been 
obj ecte d that there never were a ny d ifferences 
between Gjiido and Malatesta, because both 
"belonged to the same party, the Guelfs. But, 
even in this case, local hostilities were always 
possible, and rivalry between neighbouring 
powers was frequent during the Middle Ages. 
Tonini, as we have said, comes to no definite 
conclusion, but he states that there is no trace 
of any hostility between the two houses in first- 
hand documents; while Litta, in his valuable 

24 France sea di Rimtni 

historical work on the genealogies of Italian 
families, says that " if the theory be true, and 
that it was a pledge of reconciliation, the mar- 
riage must have taken place after the battle 
of Trentola." In any case, whether it was a 
pledge for the future, or a reward for ^ast aid 
against the Traversari, there is no doubt about 
the marriage itself, which must have taken 
place between 1275 and 1276.^ There was 
indeed a second link between the two families, 
for we see by the will of Malatesta da Verucchio, 
father of Giovanni (quoted by Tonini), that 
Maddalena, Giovanni's sister, married Bernar- 
dino da Polenta, brother of Francesca. Unfor- 
tunately the will does not give the date of this 
second marriage, but it must be later, and 
must have taken place some time between 
Francesca's marriage and her death — probably 
between 1275 and 1280; for, according to 
Litta's genealogies, Bernardino is the youngest 

1 There is no reason why the authors of the libretto of 
the o^txQ. Frqngoise de Rimini (by Ambroise^Thonias) 
should have placed the action in 1 1 70. 

The Divine Comedy 25 

brother. History is silent on the subject of 
the wife of Guido di Polenta il Minore, Fran- 
cesca's mother. Francesca was the eldest 
daughter and one of the two legitimate chil- 
dren of a family of five, which included her 
brothers Guidaccio, Lamberto, and Bernar- 
dino, and her sister Samaritana. The Polenta 
family died out about 1447. The exact date 
of Francesca's birth is not given in any 
genealogy, but it must have been some time 
between 1255 and 1260. In the Polenta and 
Malatesta families the women usually married 
between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, and 
this was probably Francesca's age when she 
married in 1275, ^^^ ^^^ ^§^ is thus known 
within five years approximately. 

// Sciancato 

Our authority for the early facts about 
Giovanni Malatesta is the Codice Membranaceo, 
a collection of authentic documents prepared 
for the use of his family by Pandolfo Mala- 

26 France sea di Rimini 

testa, the original manuscript of which is still 
in existence in the Gambalunga Library at 

The whole Malatesta family — "a poisoned 
race_"— is a curious study. The first of the 
family named — after Hugo, the head of the 
race who appears in 1132 — is Giovanni, who 
lived at Penna Billi in the Montefeltrino, and 
who in 1 150 received the citizenship of Rimini. 
His son, who had the same name, was the 
man whose_evij. jind violent humours won for 
him the ominous surname of Malatesta. In 
1 1 97 the Malatesta appear as making amends 
for wrongs done to their " mother country." 
At this period they were lords of the castle 
of Verucchio. They gradually gathered force 
and following; for the city was constantly at 
war with its neighbours, or taking part in the 
eternal struggles between the Pope and the 
Emperor. In 1239 Ma]ajtesta^F(^c£^((9 mar- 
ried a daughter ^f^iejrgdegliOnesti, and his 
son, Malatesta da Verucchio, was the father of 
Giovanni it Scigncato. The name of Malatesta 

The Divine Comedy 27 

recalls the passage in the Inferno (canto xxvii.) 
in which Dante describes the lord of Rimini as 
" the old mastiff" — 

VerticcJiids ancieyit masiiff and the ficw 
Who made such bad disposal of Montagna^ 
Where they ay-e ivonty make wimbles of their 

Malatesta da Verucchio was born in 12 12, and 
married three times. He had eight children 
by these marriages, and by his second wife, 
.jConcordia, he had three sons, Giovanni, Paolo, 
and Malatestinp. Malatesta da Verucchio, at 
the time of the Polenta marriage, was the vir- 
tual master of Rimini, though he was not as 
yet officially recognised. Later on, however, 
the family founded a dynasty, and remained in 
power for many years, with the title of Vicars 
of Holy Church in the cities of Rimini, Pesaro, 
Fano, and Fossombrone. 

In 1275 ^^ marriage of Giovanni with 
FrancescaTdi Polenta took place. Giovanni 
was, as we said, the eldest son of Malatesta da 

28 France sea di Rimini 

Verucchio, and though the correct date of his 
birth is not given, that of the birth of his 
younger brother Paolo_(i252) is established 
by a legal document, and his age may be 
guessed from the date of his tenure of office 
as podesta. He was rugged and deformed 
in person, and lame from a malformation of 
the hip, whence his name of Giovanni il 
Sciancato (" John the hipped ") ; he was also 
known as Gianciotto and Lanciotto. A man 
of daring courage and swift decision, implacable 
in his hates, he had already, at the age of 
twenty, won a reputation as a soldier, and was 
considered as the natural successor to Mala- 
testa da Verucchio, who was, even at that 
time, aged, but who survived him, and lived to 
be a hundred years old. He took his share in 
the party warfare of the day, and when his 
father was busy with other schemes^ and unable 
to defend his own possessions, it was Giovanni 
who took the field, and very often succeeded in 
his enterprises. 

It was a common thing at this time to 

The Divine Comedy 29 

entrust a stranger — a soldier or politician — 
with the government of the towns of the Italian 
republics, under the title of podesta, and from 
1278 until 1304 Giovanni constantly appears 
as podesta at Forli, at Faenza, and at Pesaro ; 
and, confirmed in his tenure of office, he re- 
turned three times running to his post in the 
towns of the Romagna. From the fact that 
he was podesta in 1278^ we can guess his age, 
for no one was eligible for that office unless he 
was thi rty years old. Giovanni was therefore 
born in, if not before, 1248, and might be 
nearly thirty at the time of his marriage with 

In 1275 h^ proved so useful to Guido da 
Polenta in helping him to drive out the 
Traversari from Ravenna as to win in reward 
the hand of Francesca. We shall see, from 
the only records that we have, that Francesca 
was suspected, and proved to have deceived 
him, and died by his hand, about 1285. By 
Francesca he had one daughter, Concordia, to 
whom he had given his mother's name. She 

30 France sea di Rimwi 

appears in the will of the centenarian Mala- 
testa da Verucchio, who advises his grand- 
children not to trouble // Sciancaio about the 
dowry of Francesca di Polenta, the mother of 
Concordia. After the murder of Francesca, 
Giovanni married Zambrasina, daughter of 
Tibaldello dei Zambrasi di Faenza, the widow, 
in 1282, of Tino d' Ugolino Fantolini, who 
met his death at Forh. By his second wife, 
Giovanni had three sons, Tino, Guido, and 
Ramberto ; and two daughters, Margherita and 
Rengarduccia. In 1295 Giovanni was already 
established at Rimini, and was virtually master 
there during the lifetime of his father. In 
1294 he built the famous fortress known as 
the Rocca Malatestiana to overawe his new 
vassals, and in 1304 he died at Rimini and 
disappeared from history. It will be remem- 
bered that he is only indirectly and allusively 
mentioned by Dante in the line — 

Caino attende chi ci vita spense — 

•• The circle of Cain waits for him who quenched 

The Divine Comedy 3 i 

our life " ; the word Caino being an allusion to 
the relationship between him and Paolo. 

Paolo il Bello 

Paolo, the third actor in this drama, " This 
one who ne'er from me shall be divided," as 
Francesca says, was the younger brother of 
Giovanni, and son of the centenarian Mala- 
testa da Verucchio. He was known, from his 
beauty, as Paolo il Bello, and though by some 
years Giovanni's junior, he married earlier. 
When only seventeen years old he was married, 
in 1269, to Orabile Beatrice, daughter and 
heiress of Uberto, Count of Chiaggiolo, then 
only fifteen years of age. This county, which 
included Cusercolo, Valpondi, Segano, and 
other places of minor importance, was entirely 
dependent upon the suzerainty of the Church at 
Ravenna, and was included in the diocese of 
Sarsina. On the death of Uberto, on March 
15, 1203, Malatesta da Verucchio stepped into 
his place, thus depriving Orabile Beatrice of 

32 France sea di Rimi?n 

her rights. Her uncle by marriage, who hap- 
pened to be also a bitter enemy of the Mala- 
testas, Guido, Count of Montefeltro, a member 
of that noble house, afterwards famous in the 
annals of Pesaro and Urbino, loudly protested 
against the injustice of this. Accordingly, on 
28th August 1269, the difference was arranged 
by thejanion_jof Paolo and OrabUe, and the 
betrothal took place at Urbino, in the church 
of Santa Croce, where Orabile signed a docu- 
ment renouncing her claimJ;o her inheritance, 
thus leaving her father-in-law, Malatesta da 
Verucchio, in possession. He, on his side, 
agreed to give his daughter-in-law a dowry of 
6250 " Hre of Ravenna and Ancona." This 
deed gives the age of the bride as fifteen years. 
The original of the document, which is printed 
by the Count Battaghini, is in the Archivio 
BrandoHni at Forli. It is written in Latin, 
and is transcribed in the Appendix of the 
Selva Genealogica of Brancaleone at the Gam- 
balunga Library at Rimini; and Tonini also 
quotes it in extenso. The importance of 

The Divine Comedy 33 

the deed lies in the fact that it shows 
that the Malatesta marriages were made with 
political objects in view, like those of crowned 
heads. As in 1269 Paolo Malatesta, at the 
age of seventeen, marries the daughter of 
the Count of Chiaggiolo, to cover a high- 
handed act of usurpation on his father's part, 
so in 1275 Francesca di Polenta is _s_acrificed_ 
to Giovanni, who was lame and a rough soldier, 
in order to secure or strengthen an alliance 
with the Polenta family. As a natural result, 
Paolo's wife is forsaken for Francesca, while 
Francesca, discovered in a lo ve affa ir, or in 
open unfaithfulness with her brother-in-law, 
falls with her lover, by her husband's dagger. 

The date of the death of Paolo's wife, Orabile 
Beatrice, is uncertain. She bore her husband 
two children, one of them a son, named Uberto. 
This youth, who is said to have inherited his 
father's beauty and spirit, grew to manhood, 
when he indiscreetly announced his inten- 
tion of avenging the murder of his father. 
When Gianciotto heard of this resolve, his 


34 France sea di Rimini 

natural impulse was to compass the death of 
the young Uberto as promptly as possible, and 
this he is said to have done in a particularly 
perfidious and atrocious manner. He caused 
Uberto to be enticed to a banquet, where two 
of Gianciotto's bastard sons suddenly sprang 
upon him like tigers, and stabbed him to the 
heart with their stilettos. 



Contemporary xvihiesses — Boccaccj^^and^thjiJfgmd-— The 
relations between Paolo and Francesca. 

Taking the central fact of the murder as our 
starting-point, let us consider how it struck 
the imagination of the time, and its effect on 
those who, if not contemporary, were very 
nearly so; the direction that pubHc opinion 
took in the district where the murder took 
place; and what influenced Dante to make 
use of the incident. Did he merely take it 
as so mucE poetic material, or did he wish to 
brand a Guelf leader as a murderer, and what 
was the connection between him and the 
Polenta family ? 

If Francesca's guilt is once admitted, there is 
some justification for the action of her husband 
— an action which, even under our modern 
laws, carries with it no disgrace for the mur- 
derer. " Kill the woman " is the well-known 


36 France sea di 'Rimini 

remedy of a French dramatic author, and 
Giovanni did not hesitate to sacrifice two lives. 
But as no extenuating circumstances are even 
hinted at in the " Divine Comedy," we are in- 
clined to pity the two, who would appear in the 
simjple statements of any genealogy as_guilty, 
and that with every reason to check them, on 
the downward paths of passion. 

Dante was a contemporary. As he was 
born at Florence in 1265, he was ten years 
old at the time of Francesca's marriage, and 
he had grown to manhood, and had also written 
some poetry, when the murder took place. It 
is impossible that the poet, with his tempera- 
ment, and conscious of his own passion, which 
has become immortal, should have been in- 
different to *' the pity of" the story. He must 
have had full knowledge of it. He had friends 
at Pesaro, at Forli, and at Ravenna; he might 
have known Paolo Malatesta in 1282, at 
Florence, when Paolo was capitano del populo. 
The memory of Francesca must have been 
kept alive by a more personal and intimate 

Dante and France sea 37 

tie, for, after her history had become a popu- 
lar legend, "an old, unhappy, far-off thing," 
Dante, grief-stricken, and with his career as a 
soldier and ambassador ended, came to " eat 
the bread of exile" at Ravenna, in the very 
house where she was born, and which was 
then the home of Guido Novello da Polenta, 
lord of Ravenna, a poet like Dante, and a 
distinguished soldier, the son of Ostasio di 
Polenta, a grandson of Francesca's father, 
Guido il Minore. 

Dante's presence at Ravenna was not the 
result of accident, or of the caprice of the 
poet-prince; it was his second visit, and it is 
possible that here, in a place so nearly asso- 
ciated with her, he may have been able to 
gather together the threads of the unhappy 
story. A proof that his connection with the 
Polenta family j\vas no new one, is to be found 
in the dedication to Guido Novello, at the 
head of the canzone on the death of Henry 
VII. It has sometimes been stated that Dante 
wrote the episode of Paolo and Francesca in 

38 France sea di Rimini 

return for the hospitality of the Polentas, but, 
as a comparison of dates shows, it is a Polenta 
who proves his gratitude to Dante by offering 
him an unfailing and unflagging protection, 
which is an honour to his memory and to the 
town of Ravenna. 

Of the " Divine Comedy," the first five cantos 
were certainly written at Rome, about April 
1300. Dante was ambassador of the Floren- 
tine republic when Boniface VIII. proclaimed 
thefirst jubilee. It was here, and in a mood 
of religious contemplation, that he wrote the 
first cantos of the Inferno, and among them 
the fifth, which contains the episode. Writing 
thus, he was only separated by fifteen years 
from the event; and fifteen years are but a 
short space in the life of a story which has 
become immortal. 

From the year 1307 onwards, Dante wandered 
here and there in the Romagna, and it was not 
until 131 7 that he accepted the hospitality of 
Guido Novello, at whose court he remained 
until his death on 14th September 132 1. 

Dante and Franc esc a 39 

His country was his no longer; for he had 
made the " great renunciation " in the famous 
letter in which, with all the fire of a poet and 
a patriot, he refuses to stoop to pass under the 
low gateway, to re-enter Florence. Guido's 
hospitality was prompted by two motives — 
family feeling, and the respect of a poet for 
the greatest poet of the day; for Dante, by 
idealising the frailty of Francesca in his poem, 
had thrown a veil of pity upon her story and 
her sin. On Dante's death, Guido paid him 
the last honours. He had the body carried to 
San Pier Maggiore (later San Francesco) by 
the first citizens of Ravenna, he ordered public 
mourning for him, and read a funeral oration 
of his own composition, in which he praised 
Dante for having used Italian instead of Latin 
in his poems. He publicly placed the poet's 
laurel on Dante's tomb, and was about to 
raise a monument to him which should be 
worthy of his memory, when he was forced, 
by political troubles, to leave his dominions. 
It was Bembo, Praetor of Ravenna for Venice, 

40 Francesca di Rimini 

and father of the famous cardinal, who at last 
provided a final resting-place for the poet's re- 
mains, and commissioned one of the greatest 
artists in Venice in the fifteenth century, Pietro 
Lombardi (1483), to design his tomb.^ 

The Evidence of Contemporary or 
Early Writers 

Let us now consider the value of the various 
authorities which may aid us in the task of 
separating the actual from the legendary story. 
As, however, we are still in the " dark ages " 
of history, and do not know the real truth 
about the more important events of the day, 
it may be doubted whether we can hope to 
reconstruct, with any semblance of truth, a 
minor episode in the history of a little town 
on the shores of the Adriatic, at the close of 

^ Signer Gasparo Martinetti Cardoni of Ravenna had 
published a book, Dante Alighieri in Ravenna, memorie 
storiche con documenti, containing documents relating to 
Dante's stay in Ravenna, and the singular fate of his 

Dante and France sea 41 

the thirteenth century. Before consulting the 
historians proper, let us first sift the evidence 
of the chroniclers, or those still earlier commen- 
tators, who attempted to explain the text of the 
"Divine Comedy" soon after its appearance. 
The first of these in point of date are Dante's 
sons Pietro and Giacopo Alighieri. Ten years 
after the death of his father, Giacopo thought it 
his duty to finish the Paradiso^ but he gave 
up the task, and contented himself with writ- 
ing a Latin commentary upon it. Next came 
Giacopo della Lena, Gradenigo, and the first 
of the public commentators, Giovanni Boc- 
caccio, who in 1373 filled the Cathedra Dantesca 
at Florence. Giacopo Alighieri^s commentary 
throws no light on the subject, while Giacopo 
della Lena's, which is copied almost word for 
word by Gradenigo, will be quoted later on. 
B occa ccio's commentary^ on the other hand, is 
^by^ar the most important ; the authority of his 
name makes his evidence of interest, and It Is 
very probable that his account gives the real 

42 France sea di Rimim 

Boccaccio and the Legend 

In 1373, fifty years after the death of Dante, 
and during a lull in the political storms of 
the day, there arose a sudden and enthusi- 
astic cult for him ; Florence decided to pay 
an annual sum of one hundred florins to a 
lecto r publi cus^ whose duty it was to explain 
the jtext of „ Dante. Boccaccio was the first 
to fill the chair. The Provvizione of the 
Republic is dated 12 th August, and on 
3rd October Boccaccio gave a lecture in the 
hall of a monastery near San Stefano, not 
far from the Ponte Vecchio ; he continued 
his lectures until his death in 1375, and the 
year before it his commentaries appeared, 
and have often been reprinted since then. 
Pisa followed suit; then Bologna, where the 
famous Benvenuto da Imola was appointed 
lecturer; and in 1398 Piacenza, where Galeazzo 
Visconti filled the chair. All Italy, indeed, 
was bent on doing honour to the poet's 

Dante and Franc esc a 43 

memory, and the commentators became so 
numerous that the elucidation ot Dante's text 
brought with it '' no hght, but rather dark- 
ness visible." This commentating and lec- 
turing still goes on ; and the bibliography of 
Dante fills several volumes. 

The farther we go from the thirteenth cen- 
tury, the more difficult it becomes to throw 
new light upon the question. Some important 
pieces of evidence had been discovered from 
manuscripts, monastic registers, legal docu- 
ments, &c., but all the best historians, from 
Guicciardini, Rossi, Clementini, Marco Bat- 
taglia, and a host of others, down to those 
of a more recent period, used the same 
materials, until modern writers introduced 
the principle of working only from original 
and first-hand documents, for which they 
have searched religious houses, palaces, public 
repositories, and municipal buildings. Two 
modern scholars, Lmgi Tonini, the historian 
of Rimini, and Monsignor Marino Marini, 
the historian of Sant' Arcangelo, prefect of 

44 Francesca di Rimini 

the archives of the Vatican, working on this 
system, have collected a certain number of 
documents from local sources, but without 
attempting to work them up into a complete 
picture. The former, whose history of Rimini 
was unfortunately never finished, was per- 
suaded that the murder took place at Rimini, 
while the latter is in favour of Sant' Arcangelo. 
We will consider their theories later on, but 
let us first take Boccaccio's commentary, which 
is what he delivered as a lecture in Florence 
in 1373. It was translated from his com- 
mentary by Leigh Hunt, in " Stories from 
the Italian Poets," Appendix II. : — 

" You must know that this lady, Madonna 
Francesca, was daughter of Messer Guido 
the Elder, lord of Ravenna and of Cervia, 
and that a long and grievous war having been 
waged between him and the lords Malatesta of 
Rimini, a treaty of peace by certain mediators 
was at length concluded between them ; the 
which, to the end that it might be the more 
firmly established, it pleased both parties to 

Dante and France sea 45 

desire to fortify, by relationship ; and the 
matter of this relationship was so discoursed, 
that the said Messer Guido agreed to give 
his young and fair daughter in marriage to 
Gianciotto, the son of Messer Malatesta. 
Now, this being made known to certain of 
the friends of Messer Guido, one of them 
said to him : * Take care what you do ; for 
if you contrive not matters discreetly, such 
relationship will beget scandal. You know 
what manner of person your daughter is, 
and of how lofty a spirit ; and if she see 
Gianciotto before the bond is tied, neither 
you nor any one else will have power to 
persuade her to marry him ; therefore, if it 
so please you, it seems to me that it would 
be good to conduct the matter thus : namely, 
that Gianciotto should not come hither him- 
self to marry her, but that a brother of his 
should come and espouse her in his name.' 
" Gianciotto was a man of great spirit, and 
hoped, after his father's death, to become lord 
of Rimini; in the contemplation of which 

46 Francesca di Rimini 

event, albeit he was rude in appearance and a 
cripple {Sciancato)^ Messer Guido desired him 
for a son-in-law above any one of his brothers. 
Discerning, therefore, the reasonableness of 
what his friend counselled, he secretly disposed 
matters according to his device ; and a day 
being appointed, Paolo, a brother of Gian- 
ciotto, came to Ravenna with full authority 
to espouse Madonna Francesca. Paolo was a 
handsome man, very pleasant, and of a courteous 
breeding ; and passing with other gentlemen 
over the courtyard of the palace of Messer 
Guido, a damsel who knew him pointed him 
out to Madonna P'rancesca, through an open- 
ing in the casement, saying, ' That is he that 
is to be your husband ; ' and so indeed the 
poor lady believed, and incontinently placed in 
him her whole affection ; and the ceremony of 
the marriage having been thus brought about 
{e faito pot artificiosamenie il contralto delle 
sponsalizie) and the lady conveyed to Rimini, 
she became not aware of the deceit, till the 
morning ensuing the marriage, when she beheld 

Dante and Francesca 47 

Gianciotto rise from her side ; the which dis- 
covery moved her to such disdain, that she 
became not a whit the less rooted in her love 
for Paolo. Nevertheless, that it grew to be 
unlawful I never heard, except in what is 
written by this author (Dante), and possibly 
it might have so become ; albeit I take what 
he says to have been an invention, framed on 
the possibility, rather than anything which he 
knew of his own knowledge. Be this as it 
may, Paolo and Madonna Francesca living in 
the same house, and Gianciotto being gone 
into a certain neighbouring district as gover- 
nor, they fell into great companionship with 
one another, suspecting nothing ; but a servant 
of Gianciotto's, noting it, went to his master 
and told him how matters looked ; with the 
which, Gianciotto being fiercely moved, secretly 
returned to Rimini; and seeing Paolo enter 
the room of Madonna Francesca, the while he 
himself was arriving, went straight to the door, 
and, finding it locked inside, called to his lady 
to come out ; for Madonna Francesca and 

48 Francesca di Rimini 

Paolo having descried him, Paolo thought to 
escape suddenly through an opening in the 
wall, by means of which there was a descent 
into another room; and therefore, thinking to 
conceal his fault either wholly or in part, he 
threw himself into the opening, telling the lady 
to go and open the door. But his hope did 
not turn out as he expected ; for the hem of a 
mantle which he had on, caught upon a nail, 
and the lady opening the door meantime, in 
the belief that all would be well, by reason of 
Paolo's not being there, Gianciotto caught 
sight of Paolo as he was detained by the hem 
of the mantle, and straightway ran with his 
dagger in his hand to kill him ; whereupon the 
lady, to prevent it, ran between them ; but 
Gianciotto, having lifted the dagger, and put 
the whole force of his arm into the blow, there 
came to pass what he had not desired — 
namely, that he struck the dagger into the 
bosom of the lady before it could reach Paolo ; 
by which accident, being as one who loved 
the lady better than himself, he withdrew the 

Dante and France sea 49 

dagger and again struck at Paolo, and slew 
him ; and so leaving them both dead, he 
hastily went his way, and betook him to his 
wonted affairs ; and the next morning the two 
lovers, with many tears, were buried together in 
the same grave." 

It is Leigh Hunt, the translator of this 
passage, who speaks of the episode of Fran- 
cesca as standing in the Inferno " like a Hly in 
the mouth of Tartarus." 

Boccaccio's account, though not contempo- 
rary, and the work of a raconteur, a past-master 
in the art of skilful presentation of facts and 
the sketchings of plots, is an historical docu- 
ment dating from 1 373, of the highest value and 
importance. It has, however, been severely 
criticised by some authorities, and a vindica- 
tion of it is perhaps not unnecessary. 

Though a poet, Boccaccio is supposed to 
be accurate and reliable, and in this par- 
ticular case there are many circumstances in 
his favour, such as his early date, the authority 
of his name, and a statement he makes in the 


50 France sea di Rimini 

first chapter of his Commentaries, which proves 
that while preparing his lectures he had taken 
trouble to investigate facts about Dante, before 
writing or pubUcly commenting upon him. 
He says that he had wished to speak of the 
event " with a brave man, Ser Piero di Messer 
Gardino da Ravenna, who had been one of 
Dante's most intimate friends and servants in 
this town." 

If, then, we have not the exact truth, we 
have something very like it ; at the very least, 
Boccaccio, in explaining the episode in the 
fifth canto of the Inferno in a public lecture, 
must have echoed local traditions faithfully. 
It should be noticed, however, that there is 
a misstatement contained in the very first line, 
for Francesca was not the daughter of Guido 
il Vecchio, but of Guido il Minore ; but the 
real relationships have only been established 
recently, by the patient researches of modern 
genealogists. Boccaccio gives no proofs, but he 
is decided in his view of the understanding 
between Paolo and Francesca : though a poet 

Dante and France sea 51 

and a raconteur himself, he almost accuses Dante 
of having exaggerated "by an invention " the 
degree of Francesca's guilt. He is very ex- 
plicit upon the circumstances of the marriage, 
and states that the deformed Gianciotto was 
substituted for his brother, Paolo il Bello, by a 
trick, in the dark. He briefly indicates the high 
spirit of the young girl, the unprepossessing 
appearance and deformity of the husband, and 
by the contrast of the beauty and amiability of 
Paolo, the natural result of such an ill-assorted 
marriage is hinted at. The trickery used is 
an added provocation, and is quite in keeping 
with the times. It corresponds, too, with what 
we have already said of the habit of those nobles 
of forming political alliances, without any con- 
sideration for the feelings of their children. 

In a writer who usually has no objection to a 
risky situation, Boccaccio is curiously cautious 
and restrained in his account. He does not 
accuse Francesca, and he even suspects Dante 
of having made her fault greater than it really 
was. He takes her part from the moment 

52 France sea di Rimini 

that the lady showed her from the window 
"her husband that was to be." E cosi si credea 
la buona femmina. Di che Madonna Francesca 
incontanente in lui puose I'anitno et Pamor suo. 
She incontinently placed in him her whole 
affection ; he is young and handsome, her 
ideal takes actual shape, and the buona fem- 
mina vows her love to the man she had seen. 
The deceit, which has not been disproved by 
any documentary evidence, is also clearly 
stated by Boccaccio. The author of Chiose 
sopra Dante (which was once attributed to 
Boccaccio), and the historians Rossi and 
Clementina, state that Francesca was first 
betrothed to Paolo. This, however, is im- 
possible, since Paolo was married six years 
before his elder brother. ^ We may conclude 
from Boccaccio's story that a substitution did 
take place, and that if we take his account 

^ Though the authors of the libretto of Fran^oise de 
Rimini did not choose to follow history in their fiction, 
they have adopted this theory. The story Boccaccio tells 
would have made a far finer drama. 

Dante and France sea 53 

quite literally, Giovanni introduced himself by 
night, when the lady was conveyed to Rimini. 
" The morning ensuing the marriage," when it 
was light, he must have risen from her side — 
there is no doubt about the meaning of the text : 
Non s^avvide primo dello inganno, che assa vide 
la maiina seguente al di delle nozze, levar da lato 
a se Gianciotto. 

Boccaccio's account is consistent : he admits 
the deceit, and shows the natural consequences 
of it. The " discovery moved her to such dis- 
dain, that she became not a whit the less 
rooted in her love for Paolo." He admits 
that they " fell into great companionship " — 
dimestichezza ; but, as we have seen, when it 
comes to the point of telling us how far the 
lovers went, he refuses to do so, and says 
that he is inclined to believe that Dante's 
account is "an invention framed on a pos- 
sibility rather than on anything he knew of 
his own knowledge " — Piuttosto fizion formata 
sopra quello^ che era possibUe ad essere avenufOt 
che io non credo, que /aidore sapesse che cost fosse. 

54 Francesca di 'Rimini 

We may notice, by the way, an expression 
used in the account of the servant who de- 
nounces them — cib che delle bisogne sapeva. 
Perhaps this is only an ordinary use of the 
word {le bisogne = m2itteYs, affairs), but only 
those who have studied fourteenth-century 
ItaHan can tell if there is any analogy in 
meaning between this word and la besongne, 
as Montaigne understood it. 

In continuing Boccaccio's account, we may 
notice the rock upon which two distinguished 
historians have spUt. Gianciotto had " gone 
into a certain neighbouring district as gover- 
nor [podesta) ; the two lovers saw each other 
freely, the servant betrayed them, and the 
husband secretly returned to Rimini." Now, 
if Boccaccio's evidence is accepted as trust- 
worthy, it is impossible to see why Mon- 
signor Marini, prefect of the archives of the 
Vatican, in his Osservazione critiche intorno 
a Francesca da Rimini^ should have tried to 
prove that the murder did not take place at 
Rimini, but at Sant' Arcangelo, a small place 

Dante and Frances ca 55 

about six miles from Rimini ; which many 
persons have visited, to see if there were any 
ruins of a fortress or palace ot the thirteenth 
century, which might have belonged to the 
Malatesta family, and where the murder might 
have taken place. 

Let us continue our examination of Boc- 
caccio's story. The two lovers are discovered 
together, and they are killed ; but Boccaccio 
states quite clearly that the death of Francesca 
is the result of an accident. Gianciotto was 
about to strike his brother, but Francesca 
tried to ward off the blow, " into which he 
had put the whole force of his arm " — avveva 
gia alzato il braccio con lo stocco in mano^ e 
tutto si gravava sopra il colpo. Before it could 
reach Paolo, the dagger struck into the bosom 
of Francesca : prima passb lo stocco il petto 
delta donna, che egli aggiitgnesse a Paolo, and 
Gianciotto is heart-broken, " being as one 
who loved the lady better than himself." He 
withdraws his dagger, and strikes and kills his 
brother. Thus in Boccaccio's version there 

56 France sea di Rimini 

are many extenuating circumstances for the 
murder. The first fatal blow is an accident, 
as Boccaccio says, and the second is struck 
after the death of Gianciotto's first victim, 
whom he passionately loved. He leaves the 
two lying dead, and returns to his office — 
an important point, for he was podesta, and 
as podesta he was prevented by law, and 
by the custom of the time, from taking his 
wife with him to the place where he held 
office. He must have thus left his post to 
revenge himself, or to ascertain the lovers' 
guilt — if they were indeed guilty. The bodies 
are taken up, and with many tears — con molti 
lacrime — are buried in the same grave. This 
last circumstance is curious, and though only 
a minor detail, it is possible to draw conclu- 
sions from it. The burial of the lovers in the 
same grave is a point upon which every one 
is agreed, and we might even quote a curious 
document in support of it, which has been 
considered by some as conclusive. That such 
a burial was possible in the case of these 

Dante and France sea 57 

two lovers — who were each^ we must remem- 
ber, married — there must have been a strong 
feeling of sympathy for them in the town, 
and pity for their death. We may wonder, 
though love — even guilty love, when atoned 
for by such a death — would naturally create a 
profound feeling of pity in a nation so emo- 
tional, ardent, and passionate as the Itahan, 
how it was possible that the Malatesta family 
could have allowed the glorification of an 
offence for which there was so little excuse, 
in the very town they dominated, and in the 
very scene of the wrong-doing. It was cer- 
tainly treating Orabile Beatrice, Paolo's lawful 
wife, with very scant consideration. 

There is yet another witness to be called 
and examined, the evidence of the dead, which 
Dante has put into the mouth of Francesca. 
Dante wished to know 

" at the time of those sweet sighs ^ 
By what and in what manner Love C07iceded^ 
That you should know your dubious desires. ^^ 

The spirit who tells the story of the kiss 

58 Francesca at Rimini 

lets fall that saddest of utterances, which 
Alfred de Musset thought a blasphemy, and 
which he did not expect to hear from Fran- 
cesca's lips : — 

Daiite^ pourquoi dis-tu quHl 71! est pire juisere 
Quhin souvenir heureiix dans les jours de douleur? 
Quel chag7'in fa dicte cette parole ainere, 
Cette offense au 7nalheur ? 

She tells him : — 

" Sitteth the city wherein I was born 
Upon the seashore whei'e the Po descends 
To rest in peace with all his retifiue^^ 

And all who have seen the mouths of the 
Po, a very retinue of rivers and rivulets — 
the Tesseno, the Adda, the Oho, the Mincio, 
the Trebbia, the Barmida, and the Taro — 
losing themselves in the sand where they 
enter the sea, have recognised Ravenna. She 
confesses her love, and the strictest can find 
nothing to object to in her short relation, 
which is perfect and complete in its way, 
and one that artists for many centuries have 

Dante and France sea 59 

tried to paint, without ever succeeding in 
attaining Dante's poetic level : — 

" One day we reading lu ere for our delight 

Of Launcclot^ Jww Love did him enthrall. 

Moved we were^ aiid without any fear. 
Full many a time our eyes together drew 

That 7'eading^ and drove the colour from our 
faces J 

But one point only was it that dercame us. 
Whe7i as we read of the micch-longedfor smile 

Being by such a noble lover kissed, 

This one^ who ne^erfrom me shall be divided^ 
Kissed me upon the lips all palpitating. 

Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it. 

That day no farther did we read thereinP 

That book, of which one passage only " over- 
came " them, is "The Romance of Launcelot 
of the Lake, Knight of the Round Table," an 
old French classic. There was, at one time, 
a great deal of mistaken ingenuity lavished 
on the verse — 

" Galeotto fu il libro e chi lo scrisseP 

The meaning is, however, quite unmistakable, 

6o France sea di Rimini 

and this is the passage which overcame the 
two lovers : — 

« < Why should I cause myself to be entreated? ' 
quoth she. ' / ant even more willing than you,^ 
Then the three went apart, and seemed to 
take counsel together. Then the Queen saw 
that the knight dared to no more, and took 
him by the chin, and gave him a long kiss in 
the presence of Gallehaut." The passage — 

" Galeoitofu it libra e chi lo scrisse" — 

is explained by what we know of the plot of 
the story. It is Gallehaut who pushes the 
Queen into the arms of Launcelot ; it is Galle- 
haut who, by saying that that knight's valiant 
deeds were only undertaken to please the 
Queen, with whom Launcelot is passionately 
in love, makes himself the medium and go- 
between in their love-affairs ; and asks that 
the Queen should give her knight a kiss, as a 
reward for his service. The go-between, in the 
case of Francesca and Paolo, is " The Romance 
of Launcelot of the Lake," whose most moving 

Dante and Francesca 6i 

passage they read, as they sat together, and 
so the Romance, and " he who wrote it," was 
to them another Gallehaut. 

It is interesting to find that before 1300 
the old French chivalric romances were widely 
known in Italy, where they were read in 
Provencal, in French, and in Latin. It is 
impossible to say whether the lovers were 
actually reading when Gianciotto surprised 
them, but the fact that Dante places the book 
in their hands is a proof of the far-reaching 
influences of the earliest French literature upon 
the other side of the Alps. It is most un- 
likely that Dante's account is purely fictional, 
and one is inchned to beUeve that there must 
have been some account, some well-authenti- 
cated tradition, on which his version is based. 

The lips of the lovers meet, and the curtain 
falls upon them, with that line of supreme 
reserve — 

" That day no farther did we read therein." 

This reserve, however, does not satisfy every one. 

62 France sea di Kimini 

and many chroniclers and commentators prefer 
to believe that it was not at this psychological 
moment, but somewhat later, that Gianciotto 
knocked loudly at the door of the Gattolo. 

The Relations between Paolo and Francesca 

Our personal conviction, for reasons already 
stated, is that Boccaccio's commentary is the 
most trustworthy authority on the subject. 
His evidence, as we have seen, has been 
questioned, not only by a few Italian, but 
by some French commentators, and by some 
modern historians. To take their criticisms 
one by one, it has been denied that there 
was any hostility or actual strife between the 
Malatesta and Polenta families at this time. 
This is really only a minor point, for the 
marriage might equally well have been the 
result of an offensive and defensive alliance, 
or of the gratitude of Guido da Polenta to 
Malatesta da Verucchio for his services in 
helping him to drive out the Traversari from 
Ravenna. In the second place, Monsignor 

Dante and France sea 63 

Marino Marini thought that Rimini was not 
the scene of the murder. He was thus 
obUged to set aside Boccaccio, who clearly 
states that Gianciotto was podesta at a neigh- 
bouring town, and that he had to rehirn to 
Rimini to find out the truth and discover 
the offenders. Fauriel, who was the first 
professor ^ of foreign literature at the Univer- 
sity of Paris, and who lectured on the " Divine 
Comedy," represented Boccaccio's story as the 
work of a writer of romances, who had the 
knack of disposing and touching up his origi- 
nals in the most effective and life-like manner. 
He does not, however, give any good reason 
for this opinion of his, and we are thus led 
to inquire if there is any evidence more con- 
clusive than Dante's or Boccaccio's, before or 
after their day. The chroniclers who mention 
the story, however, are not contemporary, but 
belong to the period immediately following. 
The Latin chronicle of Marco Battaglia, pub- 
lished by Muratori under the title of Anonymi 
1 Founded 1531. 

64 France sea di Rimini 

Itali Historia^ and whose date is from 1354 to 
1385, records the murder incidentally as fol- 
lows : Paulus autem fuit tnortims per fratrem 
suumjoannein Zoctum ex causa luxurice commissce 
cum Francisca Guidonis filia di Polenta^ uxore 
fratris germani Fault, cum qua Faulus passus 
est mortem. This is evidence that the murder 
really happened, but does not throw any light 
upon the details. 

The original manuscript commentary by 
Jacobus Gradenigo de Venetiis, with illumi- 
nated miniatures, once in the possession of 
Cardinal Garampi and now in the Gambalunga 
Library at Rimini, is a copy, almost word for 
word, of another and earlier commentary, that 
of Giacopo della Lena, published by Vandelin. 
The handwriting of the manuscript shows that 
it was written towards the end of the fourteenth 
century, between 1389 and 1399. It is thus 
later in date than Boccaccio, but Giacopo della 
Lena is earlier. Gradenigo — and therefore 
Della Lena — go much further than Boccaccio 
in their statements. Before commenting on the 

Dante and France sea 65 

passage, they treat the event as if it were an 
Istorietta or a Novella. The somewhat outspoken 
ItaUan of the old chronicles, which is a little 
difficult to translate on that account, runs as 
follows : " Giovanni, son of Messer Malatesta 
Vecchio of Rimini, had to wife Francesca, 
daughter of Messer Guido da Polenta, Lord 
of Ravenna. This Francesca '■ giaceva^ with 
Paolo, her husband's brother, and her own 
brother-in-law, and though corrected many 
times by her husband, neither she nor her love 
would make an end. So that, at last, it came 
to pass that Giovanni found them in the act 
{suso il peccato)^ and spitted them upon a 
sword, so that they died in one another's 
arms." This is certainly the fullest account we 
have, and those who wish for the details of 
what happened when " The Romance of Lance- 
lot of the Lake " fell to the ground, ought to be 
satisfied. We must remember, however, that 
the manuscript of Gradenigo was written about 
a century after the events. 

There are other documents which might be 


66 France sea di Rimini 

quoted, but there are none earlier than this. 
There is Fra Giovanni da Serravalle, who in 
141 6 wrote a Latin commentary by order of 
the Fathers of the Council of Constance ; and 
though Gradenigo is explicit enough, Serra- 
valle's Latin may be found more convincing. 
He describes the already often-quoted episode, 
mentions the " Lancelot," and after an allusion 
to its most moving passage, expresses himself 
as follows : Hoc lecto Paulus Franciscam in- 
tuitus fuit et in tali intuitu palluerunt ambo et 
rubuerunt tandem habuerunt rent simul. Unus 
ex f ami Ha Ganschiatti {Gianciottd^ hoc vidit^ et 
revelavit domino suo^ qui posuit se in insidiiSy 
et breviter ambos unum super alium amplexatos 
interfecit ! 

A point to be noticed is that in Boccaccio and 
in the commentators, Giovanni enters and takes 
his revenge at once ; here, on the other hand, 
some time elapses between the sin and its 
punishment. A paragraph from the fifteenth- 
century Cronica Pesarese, by Tommaso Diplova- 
tazio, places the event first at Pesaro, then at 

Dante and Franc esc a 67 

Rimini, and describes it in these words : 
Hoc anno (1296) ferunt Joannem Sancatum 
potestatem et capitaneum Pisauri dominam 
Franciscam filiam domini Guidonis de Polenta 
Ravennce Domini, ejus uxorem, gladio con- 
fodisse inventam in adulterio cum Paulo Bello 
fraire dicti Joannis. 

Diplovatazio will be considered later, when 
we discuss the place, and the date of the 
murder, for the date he gives is not a possible 

Next comes Baldo di Branchi, whose chron- 
icle, written in Italian, is dated 1454. His 
account, translated, is as follows : " In this 
month (September 1287) a strange thing 
happened in the house of Malatesta. The 
aforesaid Malatesta had some years ago mar- 
ried his son Giovanni to a noble lady of 
Ravenna, by name Francesca, who was a very 
beautiful person, and it is said for some years 
past lei e Paolo usanno insieme. Gianciotto, 
who discovered them in the act (suso il fatto), 
slew them both." 

68 France sea di Rimini 

Teofilo Betti, whose unpublished Dellie ose 
Pesarese is later, has a delightful description of 
the scene, but in spite of the refinement of his 
language, his morality is none of the strictest : 
Ogmmo sa eke furono ambedue trafitti da 
Giovanni il quale li sorprese nella piic interessante 
e deliziosa operazione che la natura inspira ai 
mortali. This Teofilo Betti, who throws such 
a poetical light upon their sin, gives first 
Rimini, then Pesaro, as the scene of the event. 
He names the Gattolo of the Malatestas, or 
the Tingoli palace in the market-place at 
Rimini, and at Pesaro, the building where the 
" Salara " is to-day ; but in both cases he 
merely echoes the traditions current in his 

We have quoted the more important chron- 
iclers from the thirteenth to the fifteenth 
century. Those of the sixteenth and the fol- 
lowing centuries, and the national historians, 
have only worked up the old chroniclers, and 
have repeated what the others have said, be- 
cause they have all had access to the sources 

Dante and France sea 69 

we have quoted. It has been the work of 
writers of to-day, and their immediate pre- 
decessors, to throw new light upon the actual 
scene and date of the event, by searching 
through the documents of the Archivio NotariUy 
the papal briefs, the documents relative to the 
emancipation of minors, wills, " provisions " or 
decisions of the rectors, consuls, and podestas 
of Rimini, Pesaro, and Sant' Arcangelo. But 
though they have succeeded in gaining more 
precise information as to *' place " and " time," 
they have not superseded or disproved the 
accounts of the chroniclers. Boccaccio had 
said that Giovanni was podesta, and the place 
where he held office has been discovered ; the 
date of his absence has been verified, in order 
to find out that of his return ; the murder was 
an established fact, and the scene of it has 
been discovered. The ages of the husband, 
the wife, and the lover have been inquired 
into; whether Paolo was married and had 
any children ; whether Francesca, too, left 
any descendants; whether Paolo was older or 

70 France sea di 'Rimini 

younger than his brother, and why, in this 
latter case, was he married before his elder 
brother ? All questions that seem of little 
interest or importance — and are so to a poet 
— but which are interesting to the historian, 
and give an air of reality to the story. Such 
a question was at the bottom of the violent 
discussion between Tonini and Monsignor 
Marino Marini, who were both agreed upon 
the main facts, but differed upon the questions 
of time and place. 



IP^as it at Rimini, Pesaro, or Sant' Arcangdo? — 
Examination of the evidence as to each — The 
opinions of Tonini and Monsignor Marino Marini 
— Conclusion. 

After sifting the evidence of chroniclers and 
commentators upon Dante, the next thing is 
to see if there are at Ravenna or Rimini any 
of those mute witnesses to history, such as 
monuments or inscriptions, contemporary with 
the Polenta and Malatesta families. 

Francesca has told us that she was born 
** by the sea-shore " — su la marina; and her 
ancestors must have lived in the seigneurial 
palace, or castle, of Ravenna. In the very 
year of her marriage, 1275, her father is in- 
vested by the Pope, and the Polenta family 

begin their reign, which lasts until 1441 — 

72 France sea di Rimini 

in all more than a century and a half of 

Both at Ravenna and Rimini, which are 
places where the water-marks of successive 
invasions, and the history of the first cen- 
turies of the Christian era, are written in in- 
delible characters, we find traces of the visits 
of every sovereign, from Augustus to the last 
of the papal legates, in buildings or inscrip- 
tions. The five bas-reliefs of the Apotheosis 
of Augustus, with Caesar and Livia in San 
Vitale, the Port of Classis, the mires of 
Caesarea are all eloquent of the Roman period, 
and its four centuries of prosperity. The 
Arch of Augustus at Rimini, and the pedestal 
of Julius Caesar, are full of associations with 
the emperors, and, from the military harbour 
of Classis, where Strabo tells us two hundred 
and fifty ships of war rode at anchor, the 
Roman fleet could, at a word from the master, 
set sail for Epirus, Macedonia, Achaia, the 
Propontis, Crete, and their colonies in the 

The Site of the Tragedy 73 

Upon the partition of the world by the 
Romans, the West fell to the lot of Honorius, 
and Ravenna was chosen as a refuge against 
the Barbarians, on account of its strong posi- 
tion on the marshes, which defended its ap- 
proach. We find traces of its phase as the 
residence of the Roman emperors, and as the 
capital of Italy when the Peninsula fell into the 
hands of the Barbarians, in the tomb of Galla 
Placidia, sister of Honorius and daughter of 
the Emperor Theodosius, who became the 
wife of a Barbarian king, and in the tombs 
of Honorius, of Constantius, and of Valen- 
tinian HI., which are still standing, and in 
good preservation. When the Barbarians got 
the upper hand, Ravenna became the chief 
place of residence of Theodoric, king of the 
Ostrogoths. His tomb, surmounted by an 
enormous monolith, which suggests Egypt and 
the monuments of the Pharaohs, is still to be 
seen, and in the Piazza Maggiore was his 
Portico with his anagram curiously carved 
upon it; and the outposts, as it were, of his 

74 Francesca di Rimim 

palace, can be traced a few steps from the 
Basilica of Sant' Apollinare Nuovo. On the 
entry of Belisarius into Ravenna, the Bar- 
barians were worsted, and the Byzantine period 
succeeds the Gothic. The wonderful Basilicas 
are a testimony to the two centuries of Byzan- 
tine rule. Here the epitaphs of the Exarchs 
may be read on their tombs, and on the walls 
of San Vitale, which shine with brilliant 
mosaics, representing great personages of the 
Byzantine Court — the Emperor Justinian 
followed by the Archbishop Maximilian, and 
opposite to him Theodora, surrounded by her 
court ladies in brilliant costumes, the actress, 
and Empress of the East, drawn from the 
scum of the circus, a fit Empress of the 
Lower Empire, as she appeared to the artists 
in mosaic of the sixth century, a brilliant, 
painted, tricked-out wanton. 

The Lombards and Charlemagne left no 
monuments, but marks of their passage in the 
destruction and ruin they left behind them ; 
and if we remember the spoils which Charle- 

The Site of the Tragedy 75 

magne carried off from Ravenna, to enrich Aix- 
la-Chapelle, this period will not seem without 
its distinguishing note. 

The period between the Lombards and the 
rule of the Polenta is one of darkness and dis- 
order, during which Otho the Great, the Holy 
Roman Emperor, was crowned at Pavia, with 
the famous iron crown which is still preserved 
among the treasures of Monza ; and the struggle 
in which the imperial power was exchanged for 
the feudal, lasted for two centuries and a half. 

It is a period of storm and stress, in which 
the arts of peace had no breathing-space ; but 
we may find in the church of Sant' ApoUinare 
in Classe, a monument of the date, erected in 
commemoration of the repentance of Otho 
III., the young emperor whose short life was 
stained by so many crimes — he was only 
twenty years of age — who came here barefoot, 
humbled and penitent, after having put John 
XVI. to the torture and treacherously exe- 
cuted Crescentius, whom he had besieged in 
the Mole of Hadrian. 

76 France sea di Rimini 

Although, when the feudal power rose upon 
the ashes of the Western Empire, the Imperial 
vicars became the virtual masters of Ravenna, 
not a stone, contemporary with their earliest 
period, survives to bear witness to their rule. 
We can see the corroded box, now in the 
museum at Ravenna, which for many centuries 
held the bones of Dante ; we can kneel before 
the tomb of Braccioforte, and admire the light 
and graceful facades and the magnificent clois- 
ters of the palaces built by the Proveditore of 
Venice; and read the inscription near San 
Vitale, that tells of the murder of Cardinal 
Alidosio by the Duke of Urbino, in the pre- 
sence of the Pope, his uncle ; we may make 
a pilgrimage to the Colonna dei Frances!, that 
marks the spot where Gaston de Foix, the hero 
only twenty years old, fell, in the hour of his 
triumph, laurel-crowned; even papal legates, 
Lord Byron, the Gambas, the Countess Guic- 
cioli, names which recur so often in the anec- 
dotal history of more recent times, have left 
their memories, but not a single ray of light is 

The Site of the Tragedy jj 
thrown by the monuments contemporaneous 
with the Polentas upon the subject of our 
inquiry. It is a singular thing that there 
should be such a blank in the record, and that 
the Polentas, who are, historically, such vivid 
personalities, should be the only people who 
have not left their stamp upon the city where 
they ruled for more than a hundred and fifty 

We have been more successful in fixing the 
actual date of the murder. The evidence rests 
upon a single stone, which is a proof of the 
occasional importance of such seemingly unim- 
portant " documents " in an historical inquiry. 
In 1856 there was discovered in the fortress of 
Pesaro a fragment of the older portion of the 
building, bearing the following inscription : 
Anno Domini : Millesimo C C° : lxxxv : In- 
dictione XIII : Temporibus : Domini Honorii 
Papce IIII : Esistente : Potestafe Johanne : 
Nato : Magnifici viri : Domini Malatesice. 

Now, in 1285 Honorius IV. was Pope; 
the dates are in harmony, and the inscription 

yS France sea di Rimini 

proves conclusively that in 1285 Giovanni il 
Sciancato was podesta at Pesaro. There is no 
doubt that it was from Pesaro that he hastened 
to surprise Paolo and Francesca. It is possible, 
of course, that he had been podesta for some 
time, and that he had filled the office several 
times over, but this record is against Mon- 
signor Marino Marini's theory ; for if Giovanni 
was podesta at Pesaro at the time of the 
murder, it would have been impossible for his 
wife to have been with him, just as it is im- 
possible for an admiral or a captain of a ship 
to have his wife on board during his naval 
expeditions. The law is quite clear on this 
point, and even if there were no law, the 
custom was invariable in Italy. 

Brunetto Latini, Dante's schoolmaster, de- 
fines the necessary qualifications of a podesta, 
in his Tesoro. The podesta had to be a 
stranger, not a citizen of the town in which 
he was to hold office; and a man of noble 
family and a distinguished and successful 
soldier was usually chosen. He had to be at 

The Site of the Tragedy 79 

least thirty years of age, and to belong to the 
party in power in the district. He was not 
allowed to bring his wife with him, and, at the 
same time, he was obliged to keep up a little 
court, with his notaries, lawyers, registrars, and 
his military following of knights, squires, and 
pages. Unless the town had in its service 
some famous condottiere, the podestk took 
over the command of the army, and became 
the political and miUtary head of the State. 
The name survives in most of the towns 
of Northern Italy, and in all the Venetian 
colonies on the Adriatic, but the office to-day 
is by no means important, and corresponds to 
that of a syndic or mayor (Podesta-syndaco). 
Some of these early podestas were chosen for 
life, and the palaces where they resided, in 
the thirteenth century, remain as memorials of 
the political conditions of the time. Rugged, 
strengthened with iron, massive blocks of 
masonry, they still look impregnable in many 
cases, and able to endure the longest sieges ; 
and most of them have done so. The Bar- 

8o France sea di Rimini 

gello at Florence is a curious example of this 
kind of architecture, which was closely in 
sympathy with the needs and manners of the 
day ; and most of the towns on the coast of 
the Adriatic have interesting ruins of such 
buildings, too often disfigured by a mistaken 
policy of restoration. 

We may assume that it was in 1285, when 
Giovanni was podesta at Pesaro, that he hur- 
ried back to Rimini to surprise Francesca 
and Paolo. This is in agreement with Boc- 
caccio's statement, but not with Monsignor 
Marino Marini's theory. In the thirteenth 
century a disagreement between the bishops 
of Sant' Arcangelo and the republic of Rimini 
resulted in a war between the two towns ; and 
he believes that the Malatestas attacked Poggio 
di Sant' Arcangelo, and that Giovanni and 
Paolo Malatesta held the fortress in 1288 and 
1289. If, he thinks, they had continued to 
occupy it for so long a period, Giovanni would 
have had his wife with him, and the discovery 
and the murder would have taken place at 

The Site of the Tragedy 8 i 

Sant' Arcangelo. Although Monsignor Marino 
Marini's work must always claim our respect, 
and Clementini is on his side, it is impossible 
to agree with his conclusions. The date of 
the murder is placed so late as 1288 or 1289, 
when Giovanni is no longer podesta ; and what 
is more, it is certain that during those years he 
was fighting round Sant' Arcangelo. Monsignor 
Marino Marini passes over the single fact 
that is firmly established — viz. that Giovanni 
was podest^ at Pesaro in 1285. We do not 
agree with those who think the murder took 
place at Pesaro. That theory passes over 
the custom, or the law, which prevented 
podestas from living with their families in 
the towns they ruled, and it also passes over 
Boccaccio's torud a Rimini — a statement which 
is supported by many of the documents which 
have been quoted, and which seems to be a 
true one. 

There is another argument, which, though 
independent of documentary proof, is probably 
more conclusive. It is that though Francesca 

82 France sea di Rimini 

was born at Ravenna, she is universally known 
as Francesca of Rimini, for it was at Rimini 
that she lived, and paid the penalty of her 
weakness, or her sin, and at Rimini that she 
was buried. 

Then, too, if we sum up the accounts of 
the chroniclers and historians, we see that 
the majority tacitly suppose that the scene 
is laid at Rimini ; they do not even think of 
suggesting any other theory. This negative 
kind of proof can be drawn from the accounts 
of Marco Battaglia, Benvenuto da Imola, Fra 
Giovanni da Serravalle, and Baldo di Branchi; 
while Giacopo della Lena, Gradenigo, and 
Boccaccio mention it as the place. Later 
again, when Silvio Pellico wrote his Francesca 
di Rimini he had no hesitation in placing the 
scene of his tragedy in the city of the Mala- 
testas, and the same might be said of Count 
Odoardo Fabri and Lord Byron, if he had 
carried out his unfinished sketch which we 
read of in his letters to Murray. Francesca 
w^as Francesca da Ravenna; she is, and always 

The Site of the Tragedy 83 

will be, Francesca di Rimini, a living portion 
of Rimini's history or legend, and eternally 
associated with its memories, whatever new 
documents may be discovered in record-offices 
and hbraries. 

Another theory, which has the authority of 
the Croiiica Pesarese, states : Aliqui dictmt fuisse 
Arimini in donio magna quo est in capite Platece 
magnce. We do not believe, however, that the 
large house at the entrance of the Piazza 
Maggiore belongs to this period. The build- 
ing, which is called the " house of Julius 
Caesar " from the pedestal, a little pillar set 
up by Sigismondo Malatesta to commemorate 
Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, bears an in- 
scription claiming that Caesar stood on it 
to harangue his troops, and was restored in 
1560. The house passed, through the Tingoli 
and the Ruffo families, into the possession of 
Count Carlo Graziani Cisterni, and must have 
been built on the site of the earlier house the 
chronicler mentions. 

It is a curious thing that the middle class, 

84 France sea di 'Rimini 

which is indifferent to the methods of exact 
inquiry, is in favour of this theory. There 
is also a tradition that the sons of Malatesta 
da Verucchio Hved, during their father's Hfe- 
time, in a house near the old Porta di Sant' 
Andrea. This house, however, which belonged 
in the eighteenth century to the Graziani 
family, is much too modern. All this shows 
how difficult it is to come to a definite con- 
clusion, but I am inclined to agree, with 
Tonini, that the Gattolo di San Colomba 
at Rimini, which stood on the site of the 
fortress known to-day as the Avanzi della 
Rocca, was probably the scene of the tragedy. 
In its present state it is impossible, owing to 
the alterations that have been made, to dis- 
cover the remains of the earlier building.^ 

In conclusion, here is a curious extract 
from a book printed at Rimini in 1 581, by 

^ The Castel Malatesta, or fortress, is now muti- 
lated or disfigured by unsightly barracks. The rose 
and elephant are still traceable on its walls, with the 
date 1445. 

The Site oj the Tragedy 85 

Simbeni, entitled // Vermicello della Seta. 
The author is Giovanni Andrea Consucci da 
Sascorbaro, and it is quoted by Tonini : — 

'' A few days ago, in the church of Sant' 
Agostino, there were found in a marble tomb 
Paolo Malatesta and Francesca, daughter of 
Guido da Polenta, lord of Ravenna, who 
were put to death by Lancelotto, the son of 
Malatesta, lord of Rimini and brother of the 
said Paolo. These two were discovered in 
adultery, and slain by a blow with a dagger, 
as Petrarch says in the ' Triumph of Love.' 
Their clothes were of silk, and though enclosed 
for so many years in the tomb, they were found 
in a perfect state of preservation." 

It is impossible to say what Sascorbaro's 
story is based on. Certainly Boccaccio and 
most of the chroniclers say that the bodies of 
the two lovers were buried in the same grave, 
and Sascorbaro's story — which we give for what 
it is worth — is in agreement with their accounts. 
However this may be, Rimini believes firmly 
in its legend, and in the Gambalunga Palace, 

86 France sea di Rimini 

on the walls of the town library may be seen, 
in a frame, a piece of silk woven with gold, 
which is believed by the ordinary visitor to be 
a genuine relic of the garments of Francesca 
and Paolo. 



Sigisinondo Pandolfo Malatesta — Dante is the reputed 
historian of the tragedy — His legend compared with 
authentic history. 

From this mass of doubtful and conflicting 

evidence a few facts stand out clearly and 

prominently, and give some air of relief to 

so far-off an historical event. At first there 

was a school which saw in Francesca a sacrifice 

to paternal ambition, and poets and painters, 

sculptors and musicians, represented her as a 

creature full of youth, grace, and beauty, who, 

after the cruel deception which substituted 

Giovanni il Sciancato for Paolo il Bello, fell 

an easy victim to the man who had gone 

through the ceremony of marriage with her. 

Later on, a reaction set in, on the dis- 

88 France sea di Rimini 

covery of some new materials, and this was 
strengthened by the opinions of the first 
people who took the trouble to work on the 
subject. A cynical poet went so far as to 
suggest that, at the time of her death, 

^^ N^ avail plus loiil-a-fail la fraicheur da matin" ; 

and another school arose who saw in her a 
married woman, who was no longer young, 
yet in love with a mere boy — a not uncommon 

The truth really lies between the two. 

Francesca was beautiful, and both proud 
and "of lofty spirit," for Dante, who is so 
sparing of details, gives proof of the energy 
of her character. It is she who answers 
him, while Paolo can only weep, and she who 
brands her husband with the name of Cain. 
Francesca must have been about eighteen 
years old when she married in 1275, and at 
her death she was about twenty-eight. There 
is no reason to doubt that she was married 

Resume of Historical Evidence 89 

to Giovanni by proxy, and that from the very 
first she loved Paolo with a love that, in 
the end, cost them both their lives ten years 
later. We may assume that her intimacy 
with Paolo was of long standing, and upon 
her death she left behind her a daughter, 
Concordia, whom Giovanni had named after 
his mother. 

Giovanni was more than thirty when he 
married her — since he had already held office 
as podesta ; his physical peculiarities have 
been described, and his character lives in the 
pages of the chroniclers of the fourteenth cen- 
tury. In spite of being " rude in appearance 
and limping," he was a soldier who had won a 
reputation in the country round, and a shrewd 
politician. When he suspects his wife, he 
watches her, and strikes her down : the next 
day he marries Zambrasina. 

A later and a true-blooded Malatesta, faith- 
ful to the family type, is Sigismondo, the son 
of Pandolfo, who was the great-grand-nephew 
of Giovanni, and the most famous represen- 

go France sea di Rimini 

tative of his race. He poisoned two of his 
wives, and remained the devoted lover, till his 
death, of his mistress, Isotta of Rimini (after- 
wards his third wife), who was celebrated by 
the poets of the fifteenth century. 

Paolo is Paolo il Bello; and even in the 
legal documents and papal briefs of the day, 
he is so entitled. There is, however, a stain 
upon the history of his love, for six years 
before he saw Francesca he had married 
Orabile Beatrice, and by her in the first year 
of their marriage he had a son, Uberto di 
Paolo; and not long afterwards a daughter, 

Paolo has the reputation of a beautiful but 
insipid person, whose "only art was love." It 
was said of him that " he loved the amuse- 
ments of peace better than the toils of war," 
and Benvenuto da Imola, one of the earliest 
commentators on Dante, has given him a bad 
character. Francesca, by a strange incon- 
sistency that has been observed before in 
history, must have been won by his horseman- 

Resume of Historical Evidence 9 1 

ship, his white skin, and his curly hair; it is 
evident that he was attractive to women. But, 
in common justice, we must admit that if he 
was not a soldier like il Sciancafo, Scepione 
Ammirato, an historian in the pay of the early 
Medici, has proved that Paolo took some 
share in political life, and that in 1283 he 
was capitano del popolo at Florence. It is true 
that, on the ist of February of the same year, 
he states that he has serious business which 
calls him to Rimini, and asks for leave, which 
is given him {licenza di andarsene a casa). 
Some who wish to " point the moral " have 
chosen to conclude that it was not his wife 
Orabile he was anxious to rejoin, but his 
brother's wife, who was far more dear to him. 
It has been supposed that he is to be met with 
again in history, skirmishing round the Poggio 
di Sant' Arcangelo, but in first-hand documents 
there is no sign of him from the (conjectured) 
date of the murder, while his brother can be 
traced as late as 1304. 

When he made his first and fateful appear- 

92 France sea di Rimini 

ance, Paolo is twenty-three — he was born in 
1252; — he is surrounded by an atmosphere 
of love until his death, at the age of thirty- 

Anything beyond these few facts is con- 
jectural; and it is impossible to reconstruct, 
in all its details, a minor episode which hap- 
pened so long ago as 1285. But there seems 
to be no doubt, from the evidence of the 
chroniclers, that these few facts are established 
on a firm footing. 

In conclusion, we shall not insist upon their 
guilt, for human nature is generous in its judg- 
ments on such historic frailties, and it is per- 
haps absurd to take what is largely legend or 
tradition too seriously. However, we prefer 
Boccaccio's account, even as a subject for an 
opera, to the fiction about which Ambroise 
Thomas wrote his Fran^oise di Rimini. In 
the historical account there were all the neces- 
sary elements, war and love, dramatic possi- 
bilities and background, everything that goes 

Resume of Historical Evidence 9 3 

to make a successful and varied play. But 
poets, so long as they are men of genius, have 
their licence, and it is idle to criticise their 
methods pedantically. 

But when all is said it is useless to file our 
evidence, and search all possible sources of 
information to discover whether the real Fran- 
cesca, the Francesca of history, was " more 
sinned against than sinning," for Dante has 
superseded history. We ought not to pin his 
airy creations down to earth, nor be disap- 
pointed at not finding the actual tomb of 
Juliet or Romeo's balcony. In spite of the 
claims of history and historic truth, art remains 
supreme, and it is useless to call back these 
ghosts from beyond the grave, " in their habit as 
they lived," for the poets have already snatched 
them from the earth, and given them to us in 
another guise. If certain facts, which it seems 
impossible to doubt, have given offence to 
some, they may console themselves by think- 
ing that it is the poet's privilege to infuse a 
breath of life into his fictions, and it is this 

94 France sea di 'Rimini 

new creation that lives on to all eternity, 
while every detail that we would add only 
detracts from the vividness, the reality, the 
wonderful life-in-death of the " two sad spirits 


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