San Domenico Maggiore Square in Naples, Palazzo Sansevero, 1590: this is the scene and the time of the cruelest crimes took place in Naples, caused by a love story between two beautiful young, Maria d’Avalos and Fabrizio Carafa.
Maria d’Avalos came from one of the noblest families of the kingdom. An ancestor of Maria, Ferrante d’Avalos, had married the famous poetess Vittoria Colonna. His father Carlo had even been baptized by emperor Charles V.
Maria d’Avalos was married in third marriage with Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa. Her two previous husbands were Federico Carafa who died in 1578, with whom he had a child, and Alfonso Gioeni who died in 1586.
Her third husband Carlo Gesualdo, with whom she had a son, belonged to one of the most powerful family in the kingdom. He was a nephew of Carlo Borromeo, the future saint, also he was the nephew of Pope Pius IV.
Carlo Gesualdo, not particularly attractive, was versed in literary studies and had a particular preference for music. He played several instruments and dabbled in musical composition and madrigals.
Maria and Carlo lived in a building opposite the church of San Domenico Maggiore, which was later inhabited by Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, famous scholar and alchemist of ‘700. It is now known as the Palazzo Sansevero.
Fabrizio Carafa, Duke d’Andria, was married to Maria Carafa, very religious woman and devoted to her family, with whom he had four children; the couple lived in the family palace in S. Marcellino Square.
Maria d’Avalos, beautiful, young and thirsty of love, could not be satisfied with her husband, ugly, scholar, musician but not particularly gifted in performance amorous. She met at a dance the beautiful and fiery Fabrizio Carafa, not inclined to marital fidelity. It was inevitable that the two, dancing, were in amorous state.
Soon, after a few “casual” meeting at parties, the sympathy between the two young began to turn in love. Finally, the two arranged a love meeting; Maria feigned an illness while walking in the Chiaia street. She found a welcome house friends who stood nearby; Fabrizio was waiting in that house.
This was followed by other meetings, and the passion and love took over the initial caution of the two lovers. Now their love story were known from everybody, subtle allusions in the noble salons and gossip of the people told about the love of Maria d’Avalos with her handsome Fabrizio and their loving performances. These meetings, passing the time, were more and more bold and occurred even in the room of Maria in the Palace of her family.
It was inevitable that sooner or later the husband of Maria, Carlo Gesualdo, because of gossip that also came to his ears, had to suspect the affair. He did not want to believe what was being reported because he was deeply in love with his wife, and he was sure to reciprocate the same love.
However he concocted a stratagem to verify the truth of what was told. He pretended to organize a hunting party to Astroni wood, near Naples, telling his wife that definitely would accommodated for the night at an inn near the Astroni, because of the prolongation of the hunting. That inn had already housed him in the past for the considerable distance among Astroni and his house.
The fixed afternoon he left for the hunt, but instead of going in the resort of Astroni, he hid in a friend’s house, near Palazzo Sansevero. There he waited up late at night.
That night Maria brought her lover into her house and she welcomed him in her bedroom with the help of her maid. She recommended her maid to stand guard in the next room. The maid fell asleep against her will.
Carlo Gesualdo went home at midnight. He met his factotum Bardotti before entering which had already been put on notice by the Prince. They, armed with blunderbuss and halberd, entered the palace without being heard, and they went into the room of Maria d’Avalos who was surprised in the bed together with Fabrizio Carafa.
Prince was blinded by jealousy and he struck with a musket shot his wife’s lover who was killed with hits of halberd by Bardotti. Then Carlo Gesualdo killed his wife with a dagger and halberd. Right after they were looking for the maid to get her to do the same fate. But she was quickly hidden under the bed of the little son of the Prince. They did not make a thorough search, not to wake the baby. Bardotti also harbored some sympathy for the maid so that she was saved.
The next morning the viceregal prosecutor intervened for investigation of the case, where the Prince showed his unexpected return as not premeditated, but due to a mishap, and thus the crime was listed as honor killing, not starting legal proceedings against the Prince and his factotum that the investigation proved stranger to crime.
In the days following the Prince exposed the naked bodies of the two killed on the staircase to access the palace, where the people could see the consequences of the offense to the prince.
The pressures put on Carlo Gesualdo by Neapolitan nobility, concerned about the scandal and revenge of the families of origin of the two lovers, obtained that the bodies were collected by their relatives for a proper burial. Nobility did not claimed for the murder of the two lovers which was considered justified for the offense suffered, but to treat made to corpses.
Carlo Gesualdo took refuge in his castle at Gesualdo village, near Avellino, fearing for revenge of Giulio Carafa, nephew Fabrizio Carafa. Later he remarried Eleonora d’Este in Ferrara, virtuous woman and passionate music, with whom he had a son who died at age of three.
The Prince cultivated his passion for music, meeting in Gesualdo the most famous musicians of the time. He is still considered one of the greatest madrigalist of his era. The theater of Avellino was called Carlo Gesualdo in his honor.
He died in 1615 and he was buried in the church of the Gesù Nuovo, because he did not want to be buried in San Domenico Maggiore, where rested the remains of his first wife Maria d’Avalos.