Courtesan of all Courtesan's  

ClareandShane 51M/54F
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5/1/2006 12:44 am
Courtesan of all Courtesan's

Veronica Franco (1546-1591) was a poet and courtesan in sixteenth-century Venice. The daughter of a "cortigiana," or courtesan, she married a physician at an early age. The marriage ended badly. In order to support herself, Franco turned to one of the few routes to a comfortable living for Venetian women at the time. She quickly rose through the ranks to consort with some of the leading notables of her day. She even had a brief liaison with King Henri III of France. Franco was listed as one of the foremost courtesans of Venice in Il Catalogo di tutte le principale et piu honorate cortigiane di Venezia, the "catalog."

An educated woman, Veronica Franco wrote two volumes of poetry: Terze rime in 1575 and Lettere familiari a diversi in 1580. She published books of letters and collected the works of other leading writers into anthologies. Successful in her two lines of work, Franco also founded a charity for courtesans and their children.

In 1575, during the Black Death, Veronica Franco was forced to leave Venice and lost much of her wealth when her house and possessions were looted. On her return in 1577, she defended herself with dignity in an Inquisition for witchcraft trial. The charges were dropped. There is evidence that Venetian nobility helped in her acquittal. Her later life is largely obscure, though surviving records suggest reasonable prosperity (reference needed as at least one External Link says otherwise).

The life and times of Veronica Franco were portrayed in the 1998 movie, "Dangerous Beauty."

In 1565, when she was about 20 years old, Veronica Franco was listed in Il Catalogo di tutte le principale et piu honorate cortigiane di Venezia, which gave the names, addresses, and fees of Venice's most prominent prostitutes; her mother was listed as the person to whom the fee should be paid. From extant records, we know that by the time she was 18, Franco had been briefly married and had given birth to her first child; she would eventually have six children, three of whom died in infancy.

As one of the piu honorate cortigiane in a wealthy and cosmopolitan city, Franco lived well for much of her working life, but without the automatic protection accorded to "respectable" women. She had to make her own way. She studied and she sought patrons among the learned. By the 1570s, she was part of one of the more prestigious literary circles of the city, participating in discussions and contributing to and editing anthologies of poetry.

In 1575 Franco's own volume was published, Terze rime, containing 18 capitoli (verse epistles) by her and 7 by men writing in her praise. That same year saw the start of plague in Venice, which lasted two years, causing Franco to leave the city for a while and to lose many of her possessions. In 1577 she unsuccessfully proposed to the city council that it establish a home for poor women, of which she would become administrator. By then she was raising not only her own children but also nephews who had been orphaned by the plague.

In 1580, Franco published her Lettere familiari a diversi, "letters written in my youth," which included 50 letters, as well as two sonnets addressed to King Henri III of France, who had visited her six years before. We have little information for the period after 1580. Records suggest that she was less prosperous in her later years but not living in poverty; however, no more writing of hers appeared.

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