Plot Summary by Lisa Hopkins
The novel is set in Italy during the struggles between Guelfs and Ghibelines, and centres on the historical character Castruccio Castracani, who as a child is exiled from his native city of Lucca by political upheavals. By the time he has reached early manhood, both his parents are dead, and he goes first to live with a pacifist friend of his father and then to the English court of Edward II, where he accidentally kills a man and decides to return to Italy as a soldier. He soon rises to become ruler of Lucca, but he is less successful in his personal life: his relationship with his childhood friend Euthanasia, Countess of Valperga, is threatened first by their political differences - Euthanasia sides with republican Florence - and then by Castruccio's affair with the impulsive, unbalanced prophetess Beatrice of Ferrara. Breaking first with Beatrice and then with Euthanasia, Castruccio degenerates into a tyrant, who eventually turns on and sacks the egalitarian community which Euthanasia has fostered in her castle of Valperga; Euthanasia herself is confined in Lucca, where she meets and befriends Beatrice, who has spent the intervening period incarcerated in a remote country house and subjected to hideous tortures. Prematurely aged by her ordeal, Beatrice dies; Euthanasia, rather against her principles, attempts to conspire against Castruccio, but is exiled to Sicily, and drowns en route. Castruccio himself, we are told, will die young, but of natural causes.
© 2001 Lisa Hopkins / Sheffield Hallam University