The tumultuous life of Casanova, the ultimate ladies’ man
The Venetian libertine spent his days seducing hundreds of women, gambling and travelling the continent
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.
IGNITING THE SPARK
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