• Saturday, 16 December 2023

The Plot of Secretum 

Rome, July 1700. During this Holy Year, pilgrims from all of Europe are streaming into the city. In his magnificent villa, Cardinal Spada, the Vatican’s foreign minister, is holding a week-long wedding celebration for his nephew. The high-ranking guests include nearly all the curia, the nobility of Rome, representatives of the ruling houses of Europe – and Atto Melani, a secret agent of King Louis XIV of France. The main topic of conversation is the grave illness of the pope and the impending conclave with its diplomatic maneuvering. With his many talents and expertise, Melani is hoping to further the ambitions of the Sun King. 

Charles II, the Habsburg king of Spain, is also on his deathbed, leaving behind no heir. Kaiser Leopold of Austria and King Louis are each demanding control over the Spanish Empire. On this question of the Spanish succession, the Vatican is acting as mediator between the Bourbons and the Habsburgs. Against the backdrop of the festivities, a dramatic complot is developing, one that will put Atto Melani in danger as well …  Together with the gardener of Villa Spada (who is the narrator of the story), Melani sets in motion a grandiose conspiracy. His ingenious scheme extends to the world of the Roman mendicant sects with their secret language, to an uncanny villa on the outskirts of the city, where, curiously, verses from the Ship of Fools of Sebastian Brant can be heard – and on through the very heart of the zestful culture of the Baroque. A grandiose panorama unfolds, from the art of midwifery to horticulture, the hunt, politics, and the illusions of art. Subtle literary quotations hidden within a secret exchange of letters that are disclosures of unanticipated intrigues enrich the fabric of the story. Here is a dynamic historical thriller – opulent, intelligent, and all encompassing. 

The Historical Discovery 

Secretum contains a sensational historical discovery that has already had global impact: the last will and testament of Charles II, the last Spanish Habsburg, which in 1700 set a Bourbon on the throne, was a forgery. According to Monaldi & Sorti, “This means not only that the present king of Spain of the Bourbon Dynasty, Juan Carlos, has a forgery to thank for his position. As a result of this deception, European history experienced a dramatic change of course. This forged testament launched the fourteen-year War of the Spanish Succession, which would permanently change the face of the European continent and the consequences of which would reach as far as the French Revolution.” Monaldi & Sorti engaged two graphologists working for the Italian justice department to examine the testament. They independently arrived at the same conclusion: the signature at the bottom of the document was falsified.Even though Secretum has not yet appeared in Spanish, this discovery is being passionately discussed on the Internet, especially by critics of the monarchy. Even the communist party of Spain has remarked on this revelation from Secretum on its website. 

The Characters 

Abbot Atto Melani, once a celebrated castrato soprano, now an undercover agent in the service of King Louis XIV.The narrator, a gardener of the Villa Spada, who becomes entangled in the dark machinations of Atto Melani and later writes an account of those adventurous days of July in 1700 in Rome.Cloridia, the wife of the gardener, an experienced and sought-after midwife.Jean Buvat, bibliophile and scribe at the Paris library, and Atto Melani’s secretary.Sfasciamonti, a Roman sbirre, a corpulent officer of the law, and lover of crude oaths.Cesare Augusto, a white parrot.Maria Mancini, the married Madame Konnetabel Colonna and a niece of Cardinal Mazarin’s.The Cerretani, sects of swindling beggars, who practice their treacheries especially during that Holy Year in Rome.Giovanni Henrico Albicastro, appearing out of nowhere as the “Flying Dutchman,” who speaks in riddles while playing bewildering melodies on his violin.Cardinal Fabrizio Spada, the foreign minister of the Vatican, who has invited the illustrious series of guest of cardinals, nobility, and ambassadors to the week-long wedding feast he is giving for his nephew.Cardinal Francesco Albani, secretary of the papal briefs.Cardinal Spinola von San Cesareo, papal treasurer.Count von Lamberg, Austrian ambassador to Rome.Don Paschatio Melchiorri, chamberlain of the Villa Spada.Don Tibaldutio, house chaplain of the Villa Spada.Tranquillo Romaùli, hard of hearing and fond of speaking, the passionate head gardener of the Villa Spada.The name of the Teuschi makes everyone tremble. 

And in the Background … 

Cardinal Mazarin, guardian of Louis XIV and First Minister of France.Louis XIV, absolute monarch of France.Charles II, El Rey, king of Spain, who dies after a long illness on November 1, 1700.Pope Innocent XII, the victim of a political intrigue in the months before his death on September 27, 1700.Capitor, an insane prophet from Spain, a speaker of dark prophecies at the French court. The Gifts of Capitor are three priceless but fateful gifts for Cardinal Marazin, which can today be seen in a famous painting. … and many more.