Veronica Franco
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"When we too are armed and trained, we can convince men that we have hands, feet, and a heart like yours; and although we may be delicate and soft, some men who are delicate are also strong; and others, coarse and harsh, are cowards. Women have not yet realized this, for if they should decide to do so, they would be able to fight you until death; and to prove that I speak the truth, amongst so many women, I will be the first to act, setting an example for them to follow."
—Veronica Franco

Basic Information

Veronica Franco lived in Venice in the 16th Century. (1546 to 1591)

Early in life she had a bad marriage to a wealthy doctor. Very little is known about that relationship, other than it didn't last long.

After that marriage ended, she became a Cortigiana Onesta, which is to say that she was an educated Courtesan who moved in upper-class social circles. From age 20 on she supported herself primarily by being a companion to noblemen, and even had a brief liaison with Henry III of France. It's important to understand that sexuality was only a part of being a Cortigiana Onesto, the profession also required intellectual and social skills, and knowledge of topics such as politics, history, and art. Veronica was in fact an accomplished poet and author. She wrote and published two volumes of poetry, and edited numerous anthologies and books of letters. She engaged in lyrical "duels" with several male poets of Venice. All the while, she was listed in Il Catalogo di tutte le principale et piu honorate cortigiane di Venezia, a catalog of prominent prostitutes in Venice. According to the catalog, her fees were handled by (paid to) her mother. Her mother had been a Courtesan herself in her younger years, and served as trainer, coach and (I infer) pimp.

Veronica Franco founded a charity for the orphans of courtesans, and herself raised her orphaned nephews, as well as her own children. She gave birth to 6 children, but given the state of medicine in the 16th Century, it's perhaps not surprising that 3 of them died in infancy. She tried to convince the city to establish a charity and home for poor women, of which she herself would have been the director, but was unsuccessful.

In 1575, the Black Plague hit Venice, and Veronica Franco had to briefly flee the city. Most of her wealth was lost in the looting that happened while she was gone.

She returned in 1577, and was promptly arrested by the Inquisition. They charged her with Witchcraft. She denied the charges quite vocally, using her poetic and oratorial talents to good effect. The trial ended in her acquittal.


4. Film: Dangerous Beauty - Veronica Franco is the main character of this movie of mixed historical accuracy. The film's got beautiful sets, beautiful costumes, and beautiful naked bodies, but it is otherwise a forgettable Hollywood chick flick with a sappy "I am Spartacus" ending. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars - watchable, but not amazing. The real story was no doubt more interesting.
5. Nonfiction: The Honest Courtesan by Margaret F. Rosenthal. I haven't read it, but she's listed as a reference on Wikipedia and in the credits of Dangerous Beauty

Game and Story Use

  • In a game set in Venice in the 16th Century, Veronica Franco would make a very colorful NPC. As the quote at the top of the page shows, she's a fierce feminist (despite being a courtesan).
    • In some similar place of courtly politics and intrigue, Veronica could serve as inspiration or characterization for a PC or NPC, such as a mentor, rival, or love interest.
    • Since so little is known about her failed marriage, the doctor might make a neat PC, with Veronica as his back story. "My ex-wife is now a famous and powerful courtesan in Venice." Can you call on favors from her, or will she make your life hell if you show up in court?
  • Also serves as a cautionary tale and characterization of the Inquisition. Back in the day, the church was quite fond of accusing powerful women of witchcraft.
    • Perhaps a former lover of a PC or NPC makes false accusations of witchcraft. "She seduced me with her black magic!" The PCs have to save their friend from the Spanish Inquisition.
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