Giacomo Casanova was an 18th-century Italian adventurer best remembered for his scandalous catalogue of exploits. His name has been immortalized as the byword for “lady-killer,” and one doesn’t achieve such infamy by being a serial monogamist. Casanova’s treatment of women certainly warrants criticism, but his scandals barely hold a candle to the long list of scams he waged against Europe’s ruling elite. Get ready to swoon over these scandalous facts about Casanova.
1. Born to Show and Tell About It
In 1725, a little Giacomo Casanova was born to a Venetian show business family. His mother was an actress, and his father was an actor-dancer. He was the oldest of six kids.
2. Who Needs Aspirin When You Have Magic?
Despite the vigor of his adult exploits, Casanova was a sickly child who suffered from chronic nosebleeds. According to his memoirs, his grandmother once reached out to a witch for a remedy. He recalls being led on a gondola to a “hovel,” where he was greeted by “an old woman sitting on a pallet, with a black cat in her arms.” For some reason, her remedies did not work.
3. You Never Forget Your First
According to his memoirs, Casanova had his first “romantic” (in his retelling at least) experience at the age of 11 with his tutor’s young sister, Bettina Gozzi. Both of them moved on, but Casanova would stay close to both her and her family for the rest of his life.
4. My Little Scholar
From an early age, Casanova displayed a high level of intelligence that won him admission to the University of Padua at the age of 12. In 1742, he graduated with a law degree at the age of 17. What did you do at that age?
5. Too Hot to Pray
Casanova was at first dead-set on a career in the church. Unfortunately, his lady-killer good looks mixed badly with his gambling addiction and put a stop to that vocational future. As a young abbé, he got into so much gambling debt that he wound up in debtors’ prison.
6. Rolling the Dice at God
After his clergy career went bust, a young Casanova tried his hand at the army. Unfortunately, he was too impatient to be promoted, and lost the majority of his pay in card games. Of course, this failure taught the 21-year-old Casanova his true calling: professional gambling.
7. A Stroke of Good Patronage
The spendthrift Casanova got his “big break” by saving a patrician from a stroke. The wealthy senator was riding with Casanova on a gondola when he suffered a cardiac arrest. Casanova followed the man to his palace, where he looked on the brink of death. Casanova demanded they remove the medical ointments the doctor had administered and wash the patrician’s chest with water. This worked! The senator was so impressed with Casanova’s quick thinking, he became his patron for the rest of his life.
8. The Death of the Party
Casanova could only commit so much scandal before he had to flee Venice. For one, he had a penchant for practical jokes, and in one misadventure Casanova dug up a corpse to prank a frenemy, which sent his victim into a coma. Less comedically, he was accused of rape. While he was eventually acquitted of all charges, Casanova had to flee to the city of Parma to outrun his messes.
9. Beauty, Brains, and Non-Stop Pleasure
A woman named “Henriette” was the “love” of Casanova’s life. Not much is known about her beyond Casanova’s written valuation of her as both incredibly beautiful, incredibly smart, and able to please him in every way 24/7.
10. A Miss and Yelp Review Goodbye
At the end of their three-month affair, Casanova’s highest-ranked lover Henriette slipped five-hundred louis into his pocket as her meager valuation of their relationship. He was heartbroken; while Casanova would write to her for years, the couple would never meet again.
11. Orange Is the Nouveau Noir
Casanova celebrated turning the big 3-0 by going to prison—and for the crime of “affront to religion and decency” no less! His dabbling in the Parisian freemasonry scene had landed him in hot water.
12. Five-Star Felony
During his trial in France, Casanova at least he got to stay in the “nicer” prison of “The Leads” in the Doge’s palace, which were reserved for criminals of high status. Unfortunately, this comfort was not the case for his actual sentencing…
13. Scratch That, This Sucks
On 12 September 1755, Casanova was sentenced without trial to five years in prison, where he was placed in solitary confinement for the first part of his stay. It was said he was put in “the worst of all the cells,” where he suffered from fleas.
14. Some Holes in This Plan
Casanova’s first prison break seemed like a mission made in heaven. After smuggling black marble and an iron bar back from the exercise yard and into his cell, he spent the better part of two weeks carving the bar into a spike. Knowing the wooden floor under his bed was directly above the Inquisitor’s room, he hacked a hole underneath and planned to make a breakout during a festival, when the room would be empty. His escape seemed assured.
Unfortunately, no good intention goes unpunished…
15. Hello Darkness, My Old Friend…
Only three days before what would’ve been the Great Escape, Casanova was put into a much nicer cell. One without the escape hole under the bed. Casanova protested, but was forced back into luxury. In his words, he could only sit catatonically at the stroke of ironically bad luck: “I sat in my armchair like a man in a stupor; motionless as a statue, I saw that I had wasted all the efforts I had made, and I could not repent of them.”
16. Two Fiends Are Better Than One
For his second and most successful escape, Casanova dug “up” instead. Teaming with a renegade priest named Father Balbi in the next cell, Casanova passed on the iron spike to Balbi, who punctured his own ceiling and then climbed through to make a hole in Casanova’s cell, too. Father Balbi and Casanova escaped from prison.
17. What Did I Almost Miss?
After escaping prison, Casanova arrived in Paris the same day that King Louis XV of France was almost killed by the notorious would-be assassin Robert-Francois Damiens. Although Casanova missed out on the stabbing, he was at least there to witness and write about Damiens’ subsequent execution.
18. May the Odds Be in My Favor
What’s a good business for a lucky man? The state lottery, of course! After escaping to Paris, Casanova became one of the first trustees of the first state lottery, which meant a little something more back then. In fact, he was also one of the best lottery ticket salesmen. Through his marketing genius, Casanova soon built up a great fortune.
19. Scheming Is Believing
To make ends meet in Paris, the young Casanova also played at being an occultist and con artist. He swindled many powerful elites with his apparent “gift” for numerology. His memoirs are very upfront about his lack of belief, once stating that “deceiving a fool is an exploit worthy of an intelligent man.”
20. Among the Stars
Casanova also claimed to be a powerful alchemist. Since the search for the philosopher’s stone was all the rage among elites in the 18th century, this made Casanova a very popular man. He was able to cross paths with famous French folk like philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and royal mistress Madame de Pompadour.
21. Gunshots Equal Ka-Ching!
To help increase French state funds for the Seven Years’ War, the government asked the now very popular Casanova to sell state bonds in Amsterdam. Not only did he succeed for his adopted country, but he also became personally wealthy enough to start a silk factory. Who says war is a lost cause?
22. Girls Are a Diamond’s Best Friend
The Seven Years’ War was good business for Casanova, but he couldn’t keep up with his own spending. Led by the codpiece again—as well as bad borrowing habits—Casanova wasted the majority of his new-found fortune on affairs with what he called his “harem” of female workers.
23. Worshipping With All His Parts
On the run in Switzerland for unpaid debts in 1760, Casanova considered giving up his sex-addled chaos trip of a life and become a monk. A nice visit to an Einsiedeln monastery caused him to deeply reevaluate his choices. He walked back to his hotel to seriously think this career change over…only to come across a new “object of desire,” and then immediately go on a year-long sex tour from Marseille to Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Modena, and Turin. As one does.
24. Somebody Has Watched Tom Hanks’s Big Too Many times
In the early 1760s, Casanova found himself back in Paris to commit his most famous con: trick the Marquise d’Urfé into thinking he could magically transform her into a young man. Shockingly (I know!), this plan only lasted for a little bit until the aristocrat caught on.
25. Cross the Channel, Keep the Scam
The scam with the Marquise d’Urfé wasn’t a total bust. Casanova sold the loot he had stolen from her to fund his next venture: promote the state lottery to King George III of England.
26. The English Dub Is Always Worse
Casanova, however, did not speak English, which presented a problem when attempting to charm women on the British Isles. To overcome the language barrier and still get it on in the bedroom, he put out an ad in the paper seeking to “rent” his apartment to the “right” lady. His favorite candidate was a “Mistress Pauline.” As a reward for his lusty schemes, Casanova left England with a venereal disease and yet another empty bank account.
27. One Hit Wonder
Casanova was never able to repeat the lottery scheme that made him big in France. While he met with Catherine the Great of Russia, she rejected his national plans from the onset. Smart lady.
28. All of Me or Nothing
In 1766, Casanova almost lost his left hand in a duel against Colonel Franciszek Ksawery Branicki over the heart (and I assume other body parts) of an Italian actress. Doctors insisted that he amputate the appendage to avoid infection, but Casanova refused.
29. Old Man Yells at Cloud
In his final years, Casanova survived on the patronage of a young count who was even more eccentric than Casanova. Unlike Casanova’s other patrons, this new playboy did not faun over his older protégé. Instead, the count treated the legendary lover as more of a testy oddity from a bygone era than an exciting friend. By this point, it’s said old Casanova had no real friends other than his pet fox terriers.
30. Two out of Three Pleased Ain’t Bad
Casanova lost his virginity at age 17 to two sisters, Nanetta and Marta Savorgnan. In fact, everyone in this scandalous triad was a virgin. He had at least one bad review of this experience: Marta would end up joining a convent and praying for the redemption of Casanova’s soul. Good luck with that, girl.
31. More Than Meets the Codpiece
Casanova once fell in lust for a young man who turned out to be a woman in disguise. The supposed castrato—which is basically a young male opera singer who castrates himself to remain high-voiced—went by the name of “Bellino.” In truth, Bellino was a young actress who cross-dressed to advance her career. Although Casanova calls her Teresa Lanti in his memoirs, her exact identity is still a mystery.
32. Rock Me, Amadeus
Casanova lived in Prague at the same time as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. According to Casanova himself in his memoirs, he met with the composer and gave him notes on his opera, Don Giovanni—a show about a sexual libertine who shares a striking similarity to Casanova…
33. Everyone Exits
They say you can never really come home again. This was true for Casanova’s final homecoming to Venice after years of exile. Although he was at first heralded like a celebrity for his exploits, his mother soon passed away and, even more painfully (for him), so did the woman who first introduced him to “intimacy,” Bettina Gozzi. Having stayed friends with Casanova from the beginning to the end, Gozzi died in his arms.
34. Where’s His Netflix Detective Show?
In the late 1770s, Casanova was on the payroll of the very same Inquisitors who once put him into prison. In the years since his return, the authorities had been pretty chill about the escape thing. They eventually hired the now aging Casanova to help them as a spy.
35. No One Likes a Class Clown
All good things come to an end: Casanova was eventually kicked out of from his home state of Venice after making fun of the nobility in 1783.
36. It Took You Long Enough to Come
It took a long time for Casanova’s 12-part memoirs to become public. The original manuscript survived even bombings in World War II, and was not published in its entirety in the original French until 1960.
37. The More the Messier
In his memoirs, Casanova claims he had a kind of ménage à trois with two nuns. After impregnating Caterina Capretta, he continued to hook up with her even after she was sent to a nunnery. During this time, he also began an affair with another nun at the convent, Marina Morosini. Casanova and Morosini even put on a “show” for the latter’s other male lover, who was watching from a secret rom. And for the record, Morosini and Capretta—yes, that first nun-lover of Casanova—had already engaged in their own same-sex relationship from within the convent. Does that make this a love square?
38. Can I Ask WedMD About This?
In 1759, Casanova tried to help his old friend Guistiniana Wynne get an abortion (not his baby for once) only to end up sleeping with her himself. He procured an ointment that would supposedly act as an abortifacient, but it had to be applied with his “private” parts, or so he claimed. At that stage, one starts to question how earnestly Casanova was trying to “help.” To no one’s shock, this did not work, and Wynne fled to give birth in a convent.
39. I Escaped as I Lived. Sneakily.
When Casanova escaped prison with Father Balbi back in the 1750s, he left a token of his “appreciation” for his captors—a note that read “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord,” quoting the 117th Psalm.
40. Too Close for Conscience…
Unsurprisingly, Casanova fathered too many illegitimate children to keep count. This got dangerous in 1761, when (so he claims) he almost took a woman named Leonilda as his mistress. Just before he brought her into his bedroom, he found out that she was actually his daughter, and pulled back from the affair. But the worst wasn’t over.
41. …At Least For a While
But Casanova’s reunion with Leonilda had a horrific ending. Many years after he withdrew from their tryst, her mother (and his old flame) Lucrezia Castelli invited him to stay with her and Leonilda, who was now married. While he visited, mommy dearest revealed that Leonilda desperately wanted a child, but her husband was unable to giver her one.
Disturbingly, she then begged Casanova to impregnate Leonilda. Ew. Even more unsettling, he actually did it. That’s right, if we are to believe his writings, Casanova fathered his own grandson.
42. The Man Who Scored So Much Yet Lost Everything
Giacomo Casanova died at the age of 73 on 4 June, 1798 in Dux, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic)—just one year after Napoleon Bonaparte seized his home city in Venice and left him with no hometown to return to. His last words were reportedly, “I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian.”
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