The Robe and Axe of Giovanni Bugatti: The Papal Executioner Who Executed 514 People.long

The Robe and Axe of Giovanni Bugatti: The Papal Executioner Who Executed 514 People

Giovanni Battista Bugatti, known as Mastro Titta (Senigallia, 1779 – Rome, 1869) was an Italian executioner of the Papal States who executed 514 people during his 68 years of activity.

He became an executioner at the age of 17, in 1796. Bugatti noted 516 names of the executed, but two convicts are subtracted from the account, one because he was shot and the other because he was hanged and quartered by his aide.

Mastro Titta’s blood-stained clothes, axes, and guillotines are on display at the Museum of Criminology at Via del Gonfalone in Rome. The guillotine is of a very peculiar build, with a straight blade and V-shaped neckpiece. 

On August 17, 1864, he was replaced by Vincenzo Balducci and Pope Pius IX granted him a pension, with a monthly pension of 30 scudi.

Mastro Titta carried out sentences throughout the pontifical territory.

In Valentano, at the historical archives, it is possible to find the testimony of his first execution in the locality of Poggio delle Forche, written in the first person: “On March 28, 1797, I beat with a mallet and ripped Valentano Marco Rossi, who killed his uncle and his cousin to take revenge for the unequal division made of a common inheritance.

The nickname given to Bugatti was then extended to his successors: in Rome, the term “Mastro Titta” is synonymous with the executioner.

During the long periods of inactivity, he worked as an umbrella seller in Rome. He was naturally disliked by his fellow citizens; so much so that he was forbidden, out of prudence, to go to the center of the city, on the other side of the Tiber river. In Rome, the public executions decreed by the pope, especially the exemplary ones, did not take place in the papal village but on the other side of the Tiber – in Piazza del Popolo or Campo de’ Fiori or in Piazza del Velabro. For this reason, Bugatti had to cross the Ponte Sant’Angelo to go and render his services. This fact gave rise to the other Roman saying, When Mastro Titta crosses the bridge (Mastro Titta attraversa il ponte), to signify that on that day the execution of a capital sentence was scheduled.

Robe and Axe of Giovanni Battista Bugatti, who was the official executioner for the Papal States. 

The beheading of Gaetano Tognetti and Giuseppe Monti, guilty of a bombing at the Serristori barracks of the papal Zouaves, was carried out by Vincenzo Balducci, aide and then substitute of the famous Mastro Titta, the nickname of Giovanni Battista Bugatti, the “executioner of Rome”. On 9 July 1870, the last execution of the Papal State took place in Palestrina. 

On May 19, 1817, George Gordon Byron was in Piazza del Popolo while three condemned men (Giovanni Francesco Trani, Felice Rocchi, and Felice De Simoni) were being beheaded: the poet described this experience in a letter addressed to his publisher John Murray.

The day before I left Rome I saw three robbers guillotined—the ceremony—including the masqued priests—the half-naked executioners—the bandaged criminals—the black Christ & his banner—the scaffold—the soldiery—the slow procession—& the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe—the splash of blood—& the ghastliness of the exposed heads—is altogether more impressive than the vulgar and dirty “new drop” & dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence. Two of these men—behaved calmly enough—but the first of the three—died with great terror and reluctance—which was very horrible—he would not lie down—then his neck was too large for the aperture—and the priest was obliged to drown his exclamations by still louder exhortations—the head was off before the eye could trace the blow—but from an attempt to draw back the head—notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair—the first head was cut off close to the ears—the other two were taken off more cleanly; —it is better than the Oriental way—& (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. –The pain seems little— & yet the effect to the spectator— & the preparation to the criminal—is very striking & chilling. –The first turned me quite hot and thirsty— & made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close—but was determined to see—as one should see everything once—with attention) the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent) I am ashamed to say had no effect on me—as a horror—though I would have saved them if I could. —It is some time since I heard from you—the 12th April, I believe. —

The English writer Charles Dickens, during his trip to Italy between July 1844 and June of the following year, while he was passing through Rome, on Saturday, March 8, 1845, witnessed an execution in Via de’ Cerchi carried out by Bugatti, which he commented in his book Letters from Italy.

The scarlet cloak that Mastro Titta wore during the executions is preserved in the Criminology Museum of Rome.

In 1891 was published Mastro Titta, the executioner of Rome: memoirs of an executioner written by himself, a false autobiography of Mastro Titta that takes its cue from the notebook actually kept by the executioner.

Giovanni Battista Bugatti offering snuff to a condemned prisoner prior to execution. From a 19th century woodcut. 

The poet Giuseppe Gioachino Belli dedicated several sonnets to Mastro Titta. In particular, no. 68, composed in 1830, describes the hanging of Antonio Carmadella, guilty of the murder of the canon and partner in crime Donato Morgigni. The hanging was carried out in 1749, well before Bugatti was born, but the executioner is still called Mastro Titta, as Bugatti was so famous.

The day they hanged Camardella
I had just been confirmed.
It seems to me now that my godfather took me to the market
I bought myself a top and a sweet roll.
My father then took the buggy
But first he wanted to enjoy the hanging:
He lifted me up high
Saying, “See how beautiful the gallows!”
Suddenly Mastro Titta struck the condemned
A kick in the rear, my father struck me
A slap to the right cheek.
“Take it,” he said, “and remember well
That this same fate is destined
A thousand others who are better than you.

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