Cagliostro’s death sentence

Cagliostro’s death sentence as pronounced by the Roman Inquisition (from Trowbridge):1

“At length, on March 21, 1791, the Inquisition judges brought their gloomy farce to an end. As an instance of the hatred of the Papal government for secret societies and especially for Freemasonry, Cagliostro’s sentence is worth quoting in full:

‘Giuseppe Balsamo, attainted and convicted of many crimes, and of having incurred the censures and penalties pronounced against heretics, dogmatics, heresiarchs, and propagators of magic and superstition, has been found guilty and condemned to the said censures and penalties as decreed by the Apostolic laws of Clement XII and Benedict XIV, against all persons who in any manner whatever favour or form societies and conventicles of Freemasonry, as well as by the edict of the Council of State against all persons convicted of this crime in Rome or in any other place in the dominions of the Pope.

Notwithstanding, by special grace and favour, the sentence of death by which this crime is expiated is hereby commuted into perpetual imprisonment in a fortress, where the culprit is to be strictly guarded without any hope of pardon whatever. Furthermore, after he shall have abjured his offences as a heretic in the place of his imprisonment he shall receive absolution, and certain salutary penances will then be prescribed for him to which he is hereby ordered to submit.

Likewise, the manuscript book which has for its title Egyptian Masonry is solemnly condemned as containing rites, propositions, doctrines, and a system which being superstitious, impious, heretical, and altogether blasphemous, open a road to sedition and the destruction of the Christian religion. This book, therefore, shall be burnt by the executioner, together with all the other documents relating to this sect.

By a new Apostolic law we shall confirm and renew not only the laws of the preceding pontiffs which prohibit the societies and conventicles of Freemasonry, making particular mention of the Egyptian sect and of another vulgarly known as the Illumines, and we shall decree that the most grievous corporal punishments reserved for heretics shall be inflicted on all who shall associate, hold communion with, or protect these societies.’

Throughout Europe, which was everywhere impregnated with the doctrines of the Revolution, such a sentence for such a crime at such a time created a revulsion of feeling in Cagliostro’s favour. His fate, however, evoked less sympathy for him than indignation against Rome. An article in the Feuille villageoise best expresses the general opinion.

‘The Pope,’ says the writer, ‘ought to have abandoned Cagliostro to the effects of his bad reputation. Instead he has had him shut up and tried by charlatans far more dangerous to society than himself. His sentence is cruel and ridiculous. If all who make dupes of the crowd were punished in this fashion, precedence on the scaffold should certainly be granted to the Roman Inquisitors.'”


  1. Note that Giovanni Barberi (p. 173), writing in 1791, and also reporting on the proceedings of the Inquisition, says the original sentence of death was read on March 21, 1791 and commuted by the Pope on April 7 1791. He quotes a similar passage, but implies it was coming from the Pope, which makes sense as it is commuting the sentence. This is not in fact, then, a death sentence. The following text may then be from April 7. It is worth noting that Trowbridge thought this source was not authentic []