Roman Murder Mystery by Derek Parker tells the true story of a murder case that was the talk of Rome in the late 17th century. In 1698, a middle-aged nobleman, Guido Franceschini, was executed for murdering his 18-year-old wife, Pompilia, and her parents, with the help of hired assassins. He claimed that Pompilia had committed adultery with a priest, and he was defending his honor. Many people, especially men, supported him because they believed a man had the right to kill his adulterous wife. But people sympathized with the murdered young woman as well. The case is full of intriguing twists and turns: we don’t know whether or not the adultery actually took place. Were the love letters Pompilia sent to the priest real, or did her husband forge them? Pompilia’s parents, who were murdered with her, might not have been her parents after all. When they were trying to get the marriage dissolved, her mother claimed Pompilia was actually the daughter of a poor widow who couldn’t afford to take care of her. And what happened to Pompilia’s baby, and who was the father, her husband or the priest?
Although it’s nonfiction, this book reads like a novel, and it was hard to put down. It’s also full of fascinating details of life in 17th century Rome. Although it was the most sensational trial in Rome at the time, the case was largely forgotten until the 19th century, when the poet Robert Browning found a book about it at a bookseller’s stall in Florence. It inspired him to write his book-length poem The Ring and the Book.
Roman Murder Mystery is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.
Browning's The Ring and the Book (2001 edition) can be checked out from the Hatcher Graduate Library. Other editions are available from Hatcher, the Buhr Shelving Facility, and online via HathiTrust.