Some More Tips on the French Legal System

Benvenuto Cellini, while in France, had a model named Caterina “whom I maintain principally for the service of my profession, since I could not do without her,” he explained to his young steward “and whom I also, since I am a man, have employed for my carnal satisfaction.”

Benvenuto further explains to the steward that he does not wish to provide for other people’s children and still less would he endure such an insult, etc. etc. but does the young steward listen? Not a chance.

Now if Caterina is the model for the woman on that 58 million-dollar salt cellar, we would have to offer that as a mitigating circumstance.

Anyway Benvenuto catches Caterina with the steward and drives her and her mother out of the house “with violent blows, both kicks and thumps.”

“They meditated how to revenge themselves for this injury, and having consulted a Norman lawyer, he instructed them that she (Caterina) should assert that I had had intercourse with her after the Italian fashion: by which he meant contrary to nature, saying:

“‘At least when this Italian hears of this kind of accusation and understands how great is the danger he runs, he will immediately give you hundreds of ducats, in order that you may speak no more of it, recollecting the great penalty that they exact in France for this species of crime.'”

So Benvenuto is summoned to court again. He thinks of taking off and “leaving France to her own perdition,” but then he hears a voice that says, “‘Benvenuto, be yourself and have no fear.'”

So he resolves, “to fight this battle also and see for what end God had created me.”

So he arrives in court with a large well-armed retinue, and Caterina recounts the accusation, i.e. that Benvenuto had had intercourse with her in the Italian fashion.

Now I’ve been trying to keep these entries short, but I believe this passage has to be cited in its entirety because it addresses some questions of great historical importance and illustrates a sure-fire legal strategy for defendants in a position like Benvenuto’s:

“To this I replied that that was not the Italian fashion; rather it must be the French fashion, since she knew it and I did not: and that I would like her to describe exactly in what fashion I had had intercourse with her.

“This shameless wh___ wickedly stated openly and clearly the disgusting fashion that she meant. I made her repeat it three times in succession: and when she had said it, I cried in a loud voice:

“‘My Lord Judge! Lieutenant of the Most Christian King, I demand justice. For I know that the laws of the MCK ordain the stake for this crime, for both agent and patient. She confesses to the crime: but I know nothing whatsoever. Her bawd of a mother is here also, who for one crime or the other deserves the stake. I demand justice!’

“And I repeated these words so frequently and in a loud voice, always demanding the stake for her and her mother: telling the judge that if he did not put her in prison in my presence I would hasten to the King and tell him of the injustice that a lieutenant of his in criminal affairs was exercising toward me.

“At this great noise of mine, they began to lower their voices: thereupon I raised mine the more: the young wh___ along with her mother began to weep and I kept shouting to the judge ‘Fuoco! Fuoco! [To the stake! To the stake!]

“That great coward of a judge, when he saw that the matter had not come off in the fashion that he planned, began with many soft words to excuse the weak female sex.

“At this I thought that it seemed I had won a great battle, and muttering and threatening, I gladly went away: but I certainly would have paid five hundred scudi not have ever appeared there.”