The tu­mul­tuous life of Casanova, the ul­ti­mate ladies’ man

The Vene­tian lib­er­tine spent his days se­duc­ing hun­dreds of women, gam­bling and trav­el­ling the con­ti­nent

History Revealed - - FROM THE EDITOR -

For a man who spent 50 years in­dulging his vices and liv­ing off the gen­eros­ity of wealthy bene­fac­tors, the ar­che­typal ladies’ man Gi­a­como Casanova spent his re­tire­ment in rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity. Whiling away the time writ­ing his mem­oirs, Casanova died peace­fully in his sleep on 4 June 1798.


Born in 1725 to a dancer fa­ther and an ac­tress mother, Gi­a­como Giro­lamo Casanova was largely ne­glected by his par­ents. His mother was of­ten away on tour, and his fa­ther died when he was eight, so the sickly child had been left in the care of his su­per­sti­tious grand­mother – she once took him to see a witch in or­der to cure his per­sis­tent nose­bleeds.

Un­for­tu­nately for him, it was these nose­bleeds that would lead to the first of many ban­ish­ments from his hometown, when a doc­tor rec­om­mended send­ing him to the main­land for bet­ter air. Casanova would later claim this was his mother’s way of “get­ting rid of me”, but in the ap­palling con­di­tions at his new lodg­ings, he quickly learned a valu­able life skill – how to get out of sticky sit­u­a­tions.

Casanova found an es­cape in a kindly ab­bott named Gozzi, who took the him in and raised him for most of his teenage years. It was dur­ing this cru­cial bloom­ing pe­riod that he had his first sex­ual en­counter – the ab­bott’s younger sis­ter touched his gen­i­talia while in the bath, which in his own words “kin­dled… the first spark of a pas­sion which, af­ter­wards be­came in me the rul­ing one.”

Gozzi soon sent him off to study law, which he found in­ces­santly dull. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, his care­taker pulled some strings and got him a job in the church, a role he found equally bor­ing. Casanova’s real pas­sions were gam­bling and lust­ing, end­ing his re­li­gious ca­reer when he was caught up in a scan­dal. Think­ing the mil­i­tary would be his forte, he bought a com­mis­sion in the army and had a fan­ci­ful uni­form tai­lored, which he en­joyed parad­ing about the city in. But his pas­sions would be his down­fall here, too – he found his post bor­ing and lost his money play­ing cards.


Some­how, the man al­ways landed on his feet, and soon found a de­cent in­come as a vi­o­lin­ist with the help of one of his old pa­trons. Un­sur­pris­ingly, he held this oc­cu­pa­tion in con­tempt, and kept get­ting into trou­ble for con­stantly play­ing prac­ti­cal jokes. One of these jokes went so far he was forced to leave Venice, af­ter he dug up a corpse to spite an en­emy – who went into shock and never re­cov­ered.

Casanova then set­tled in France for a cou­ple of years. It was here where he joined the Freema­sons, an or­gan­i­sa­tion he val­ued for its wealthy and well­con­nected fra­ter­nity. How­ever, his mem­ber­ship of the exclusive so­ci­ety got him ar­rested on his re­turn to Venice in 1755, when he was branded an af­front to re­li­gion. Locked away in soli­tary con­fine­ment at the Doge’s Palace, it seemed that all was lost for the no­to­ri­ous Don Juan. But, with luck on his side once again, Casanova one day found an aban­doned iron bar. He whit­tled it into a spike, in­tend­ing to drill to the room be­low, which was tem­po­rar­ily out of use.

Alas, his plan was foiled when he was moved to a dif­fer­ent cell three days be­fore he planned to es­cape. The phi­lan­der­ing pris­oner soon hatched an­other plan, and

this time, he suc­ceeded, mak­ing a hole in the ceil­ing and es­cap­ing via the roof – and leav­ing a note that read, “I shall not die, but live”. To exit the palace for good, he changed clothes and con­vinced a guard he had been ac­ci­den­tally locked in overnight. Day­light streamed onto his face as he left the de­tested prison, leav­ing im­me­di­ately for Paris.


Con­tact­ing one of his old friends, now the For­eign Min­is­ter of France, Casanova got a job and put his charisma to use by work­ing as a fundraiser for the state’s cof­fers, pi­o­neer­ing the con­cept of a na­tional lottery. In this ca­pac­ity, he trav­elled all over Europe, from Bel­gium to Rus­sia, charm­ing his way into meet­ings with the high­est peo­ple in the land – il­lus­tri­ous fig­ures such as Cather­ine the Great and JeanJac­ques Rousseau.

But the great schmoozer was to be­gin his long and steady de­cline in Eng­land, af­ter the gov­ern­ment dis­missed his lottery idea. Lack­ing the abil­ity to speak English, he be­came dis­il­lu­sioned with his li­aisons with pros­ti­tutes be­cause he could not speak with them. None­the­less, he came home with a se­vere case of vene­real disease. By this point, Casanova’s rep­u­ta­tion pre­ceded him all over Europe, and he strug­gled to make ends meet. Now a mid­dle-aged man, his looks faded, and he grew grouch­ier by the day. In 1783, he was ex­pelled from Venice a fi­nal time for writ­ing a satire crit­i­cal of Vene­tian no­bil­ity.

Find­ing him­self in Bohemia, he set­tled in the com­pany of an old Ma­sonic pal, Count von Wald­stein, who of­fered him a well-pay­ing job as a li­brar­ian. Like most of his oc­cu­pa­tions, Casanova found it bor­ing, but it was to be his longes­theld po­si­tion. In his spare time, he wrote his 3,500 page au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Mean­while, Napoleon had de­stroyed the Repub­lic of Venice com­pletely, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for Casanova to re­turn home in his old age.

He died in 1798, and was buried near the Count’s home, but over time, the ex­act lo­ca­tion of his grave has been for­got­ten. How­ever, Casanova’s mem­oirs have im­mor­talised him as the stereo­typ­i­cal wom­an­iser, and his out­ra­geous ex­ploits en­sure his fame will never die.

Casanova tried to se­duce many a no­ble lady

Casanova spent his last years in the Duch­cov Cas­tle, Czech Repub­lic. His host was fre­quently ab­sent, leav­ing Casanova bored and friend­less

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