Usually when we think of seduction as a method of spying, we think of female seductresses like Mata Hari or Belle Boyd, but sex is a tool that has been used, although less famously by, male spies, as well.
On April 2, 1725, in Venice, Italy an Italian actress by the name of Zanetta Farussi gave birth to a boy. She and her husband, Gaetano Casanova, named the boy Giacamo. Thanks to his parents’ successful careers, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Siengalt had a comfortable childhood and received a good education. He was a very bright and promising student.
When young Casanova was nine, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Padua, Italy. He didn’t like the dormitory life and convinced one of the teachers, a priest named Abbe Gozzi, to take him home to live with Gozzi’s extended family. According to Casanova, Gozzi’s younger sister, Bettina, seduced him and frequently fondled him. Apparently, Bettina was at least as good a teacher as her brother, and she helped Casanova discover his true calling in life.
At age twelve, armed with his new skills, Casanova entered the University of Padua. At seventeen, he graduated with a law degree, though he said he would have preferred medicine. According to Casanova, the more outlandishly you performed as a doctor, the more you could charge your patients, whereas, in Italian courts, you had to at least appear to be competent in your profession.
Anatomical theater at the University of Padua
While studying law, Casanova took it upon himself to study chemistry and medicine, and he developed a reputation as a skilled amateur physician. Along with sex, law, and medicine, Casanova developed a less benign habit while in Padua. He became a compulsive gambler.
Thanks to his law degree, Casanova received an appointment as a catholic priest of sorts. At the time, there were levels of vows depending on the intended church career path, and Casanova’s vows were not stringent.
Casanova continued to travel to Padua for advanced studies. He demonstrated a skill for ingratiating himself with powerful patrons, and in Venice, he befriended the powerful Senator Alvise Malipiero. The friendship served Casanova well until he developed an interest in the senator’s young fiance. The incident is instructive because it demonstrates Casanova’s ability to establish trust with powerful men, along with his better-known ability to seduce women. It also shows carelessness.
Venice was a conservative place at the time, but the city fathers encouraged Venice’s reputation as an eighteenth century “Vegas” of sorts. What happened in Venice stayed in Venice. Wealthy tourists flocked there to enjoy the opportunity to behave more carelessly and licentiously than they would at home. Casanova had plenty of opportunities for female company. His choice to risk loosing the tremendous benefits afforded him by his friendship with the senator in exchange for an affair with one of so many available women speaks to his gambling addiction. The man loved risk.
What happens in Venice . . .
Casanova left Venice and declined his mother’s help in landing employment with powerful people. He preferred to make his own conquests.
In Rome, he befriended the powerful Cardinal Acquaviva and became the Cardinal’s personal scribe. He was well-liked in the Vatican and gained access to the pope himself.
Some sort of sex scandal arose, and Casanova ended up taking the blame. The Cardinal politely convinced Casanova to leave the service of the church, and they supposedly parted as friends. It is possible that the entire matter was a ruse to provide cover for Casanova and that Casanova remained in contact with the Vatican and acted as an agent of the Vatican. Unless the Vatican opens it’s records to the public we shall never know.
Casanova returned to Venice and purchased a commission as a major in the Venetian Army. Casanova took leave of his regiment to make an unexplained trip to Constantinople for his old friend Cardinal Acquaviva. At age twenty-one Casanova sold away his commission and took up work as a violinist.
Giacamo happened to be riding in a gondola with a Nobleman and senator of Venice from the wealthy and powerful Bragadin family when the senator suffered a stroke. He rendered first aid by bleeding the senator and accompanied him to his palace. The palace doctor decided to treat the senator with a mercury salve, but Giacomo realized that the mercury would kill the senator and had the attendants remove the balm. He took over treatment of the senator himself. The senator recovered, and Casanova acquired yet another useful alliance with powerful people. He became the family legal council, and spent most of his time gambling and attending parties in search of his next seduction conquest.
In Parma in 1749, Casanova fell in love with a woman named Henrietta. Henrietta apparently enjoyed Casanova’s company, but did not think he was “marriage material.” In his memoirs, Casanova describes her as his true love.
Casanova set out on a tour of France. In Lyon, he joined the Freemasons, thereby gaining entree to yet more powerful groups. He stayed in Paris for two years studying French and adding to his reputation for affairs with powerful women. Then, he traveled to Dresden to visit his mother and wrote a well-received play while there.
He traveled to Prague and Vienna but did not care for their stricter moral standards and returned to Venice. Giacomo grew brazen in his affairs and managed to amass too many enemies. He was put on trial for being a Freemason and sentenced to five years in prison. After about six months, he managed to escape and fled to Paris.
In Paris, Casanova quickly ingratiated himself in high society and enjoyed affairs with a variety of wealthy socialites. He gained the favor of the French court by organizing a state lottery system, and in the process made tremendous commissions.
He also presented himself to members of high society as a skilled alchemist, and he was in high demand as an alchemist and adviser to powerful Frenchmen. The French government sent him to Dunkirk as a spy. He then accepted a mission to the Netherlands, where he succeeded in selling bonds to finance the French involvement in the Seven Years War.
He used his pay from these endeavors to open a silk factory but made the fatal mistake of employing young females. Any business endeavor that placed Casanova, twenty young women, and an abundance of silk all in the same location was bound to end in disaster. It did. He ignored his business, and the enterprise was soon reduced to his personal harem. He borrowed heavily and ended up in trouble yet again.
Casanova was imprisoned for his debt but released after a few days because of the intervention of one of his powerful French conquests, the Marquise d’Urfe. Giacomo sold his possessions and volunteered for another financial mission to Holland for the French government, but he failed in his assigned task of selling bonds to Dutch banks.
He then traveled to Stuttgart, Germany and gambled away what remained of his fortune. He was imprisoned again for debt, and again he managed to escape and fled to Switzerland, where he supposedly considered giving up his sex addiction in favor of a monastic life. He visited a monastery and returned to his inn to contemplate his future. Upon returning to the inn he discovered an attractive young woman and his monastic plans went by the wayside.
In an attempt to recover from the rigors of his few minutes of monastic lifestyle, he went on a bit of a recuperative tour through Italy and France, renewing old friendships and completing more sexual conquests.
In 1760, Pope Clement XIII knighted Casanova in the Order of the Golden Spurs. It was not publicly explained why the Pope bestowed this high honor on Casanova. Could it be that while he was in the sporadic employ of the French government, he was actually acting as a spy for the Vatican? It is not likely that the 18th century Catholic Church would award high honors to a man based on his sexual conquests.
Casanova returned to Paris and went to the same well one too many times. He got financing from the Marquise d’Urfe to arrange for occult powers to convert her into a young man. Eventually she looked in the mirror enough times to realize that she was being duped. She finally abandoned her role as one of his many guardian angels.
In 1763, Giacomo traveled to England to try to sell the British government on the idea of a state lottery. The English were likely forewarned of his Vatican connection, and the government politely ignored him. However, his reputation and his inability to speak English did not seem to slow him down much in his social life.
Casanova eventually fell ill to what were likely multiple venereal diseases and left England. Then, his venereal diseases apparently in remission, he went on another wild tour of Europe, traveling from Belgium to Hanover to Moscow and back to Warsaw. He met with Catherine the Great and was unable to bed her or sell her his lottery scheme. He was expelled from Warsaw for fighting a duel over a young Italian actress. Giacomo’s reputation began to weigh on him and he was finding European aristocracy more resistant to his charms. He traveled to Spain to attempt to harvest “new fields” but he had little luck there.
Although officially exiled from Venice, he went to work for the Doges as a spy. In 1774, the Doges granted him safe passage to and in Venice again, and he continued to spy for them.
Giacomo had always used his spare time to write and publish, and now that his life slowed down a bit in Venice, he translated the Iliad to Italian and published it.
He heard that his first lover, Bettina, was ill, and he traveled to Padua to see her one last time. She died in his arms.
In 1779, he fell in love with a kindhearted seamstress, and she became his live-in lover. He complained of boredom, but his publishing pace increased.
In 1785, Giacomo became the librarian for the Count Von Waldstein of Bohemia. The isolation and boredom of that position allowed him to focus on writing his memoir, which remained unpublished until 1822. In 1797, he was contemplating a return to Venice, but Venice vanished before he could make the trip. Napoleon had annexed it.
On June 4, 1798, at the age of 73, Giacomo Casanova spoke his last words. “I lived as a philosopher and died as a Christian.”