The Child of Death

The Reign of Blood by Alexander Dumas

Alessandro Dumas based his

Un Regno Insanguinato on a true story from Larino.

A Paraphrase of the Dumas Story.

A young man named Giuseppe Maggio Palmieri traveled to Naples in 1778 to complete his studies as a surgeon.  He was in love with a young girl from Larino called Luisa Angiolina Ferri.

While Giuseppe was away the Count of Molise became infatuated with the young woman.  The Count arranged a magnificent feast and he invited Luisa.  He had arranged with his brother to abduct the girl and to take her to his castle.  She escaped and sought refuge in the Bishop's palace beside Larino's gothic cathedral.

Guiseppe returned to Larino the following day and he arranged with a priest, who was a friend of the family, to perform a wedding service.

When the Count discovered the secret marriage he was full of anger.   He vowed that the Bishop's palace would be a prison and he set guards to watch the doorways by day and by night.  The Count set a value of ten thousand ducati if the girl could be captured alive.  The husband, if he were proven dead, was worth five thousand.

Guiseppe tired of his enforced imprisonment and he decided to confront the tyrant.

The Count had the habit of going for a carriage ride near the Fountain of San Pardo.  Guiseppe halted the carriage.  The Count was furious.   "What do you want with me?" he snarled.

"I am Guiseppe Maggio Palmieri, and I want your life".

After a struggle the Count was shot and fell lifeless without so much as a cry.

The Count's young brother, a desperate man of ill reputation, continued to keep Guiseppe and his wife trapped in the Bishop's Palace.  In time, Angiolina was pregnant and their situation became more desperate.  Fortunately they were supplied with food by their many friends in the town.

*The archway at the bottom left is the entrance to the Bishop's Palace.

After several months, on the 26 of May, Larino was filled with preparations for the festival of the Patron Saint, San Pardo.

(Here, in Italian, is Dumas' description of the procession.):  In quel giorno aveva luogo una grande processione; i contadini ornavano i loro carri di ghirlande e di fiori, di drappi e banderuole di tutti i colori; essi vi attaccanvano dei buoi dalle corna dorate e li bardavano con nastri variopinti.  Questi carri seguono la processione che part in giro per la citta il busto del Santo protettore, accompagnator da tutta la popolazione di Larino e dei villaggi vicini, che canta inni di lode al Santo.

(English translation) In this day there is a great procession; the farmpeople decorate their carts with garlands of flowers and ribbons of every colour, these they attach to the bulls which pull the carts.  The carts follow a procession around the town led by a bust of the town's Saint accompanied by the entire population of Larino and nearby villages as they sing the praises of their San Pardo.

The procession, to enter the Cathedral, had to pass the Bishop's Palace where the young married couple were seeking refuge.  At that moment when the procession was stopped in a large piazza accompanied by joyous singing, Angiolina, thinking she was secure, imprudently went to the window.

At precisely that moment the Count's brother recognized her.  A shot rang out.  Angiolina fell to the floor of the room.  Her husband was with her almost immediately.  He recognized that his young wife was dead.  In the midst of his grief his first thought was for the baby.  "The mother is dead, but the son will live to save us".

The Window and balcony, recently restored, may have been the place where the unlucky young mother was sighted and shot.  In some versions of the story she is shot by a gun, in others it was a cross bow.

Giuseppe, covered with blood, emerged from the Bishop's Palace with his tiny son.  With a pistol in his hand he killed three of his tormentors, disappeared down the narrow streets of Larino to the Biferno, and from there they escaped to Manfredonia and, ultimately, to Trieste.

The son was raised to carried out acts of vengeance to all of those who held arbitrary power over the people.  Giuseppe and his son had become rebels and anti-monarchist.

  The story which Dumas used for his novel was based on fact.  At some time, much earlier, in the similar location, a noble woman had been felled by a single gun shot.  Her child was delivered alive as she succumbed to her wound.  What is interesting is that Dumas knew of the layout of the town (the Cathedral, the Bishop's Palace, the Piazza, and the Fountain of San Pardo).  His description of the procession could apply to the present day.  It's another fascinating saga that is part of Larino, the Miracle of the Molise.

It would have been in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale that the Count's men would have lain in wait for Angiolina.  This area is beautifully preserved.   In fact, it houses a collection of rare books and a handsome new museum.  You enter the Palazzo from the street, mount some monumental (and lengthy stairs), climb past the Caribinieri's Office (the Police Station) and walk into this sunlit court where bees buzz around the stone pavement. The structure was severely damaged in the recent earthquake.  Currently (in 2007) reconstruction work is taking place.  The exterior has been painted in vivid colours true to the Palazzo's past.

Here is the actual account on which Dumas based his minor novel. 

Isabella Sorella, the wife of Raimondo of Raimond,  aroused the desire of the Duke of Larino.  Her husband accosted the Duke when he returned in his carriage from Campomarino near the convent of the Cappuccini.  The Duke was accompanied by forty guards to defend against the brigands who infested the countryside.   The Duke was felled by two shots from a musket.  The murderers, to escape the revenge of the guards, rushed with their relatives and scores of their friends to seek refuge in the cathedral in the Tower of the Bishop. 

Imprudently, Isabella looked from a window to the piazza.  A guard, waiting below, fired a shot which struck her in the face.  She was in her ninth month of pregnancy.  Dr. Antonio Palma immediately conducted a caesarian operation.  However, the baby - though delivered alive - survived for only three hours.

Raimond's friend (and the man who had assisted him in the killing of the Duke) was arrested while he was saying mass and the hapless Abate Cornacchielli was hanged at the doorway of the church.  Raimondo was killed in a confessional where he had sought refuge

Such are the liberties of the writer of romances.  There is some debate about the source of the fatal shot.  It could have been from the top of this tower which possesses a commanding view of the Piazza Duomo.   Interestingly, the bell tower facing the cathedral was eventually purchased by the Palma family.  It is now owned by Anna Maria Galuppi Gardner the daughter of Eduardo Galuppi and Teresa Mangifesta.

(The source for the original story is Brevi Cenni Storici sulla Citta di Larino, published by the Lions Club of Larino in 1986.  The book was published, in the first instance, in 1925).  Alexander Dumas was the author of The Man in the Iron Mask and The Three Musketeers. Dumas was in Italy because of his fascination with Garibaldi and his famous "red shirts".  It is likely that Dumas actually visited Larino and the site of this incredible story in 1860.)

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The Secrets of the CONSTRUCTION of Larino's Cathedral