Giuseppe Balsamo, known as the Count of Cagliostro, revolutionized 18th century Europe with his miraculous cures and prophecies.
This great trickster was not even honest with his name. The so-called Count Alessandro di Cagliostro was not a count. Nothing in his name had any truth to it. His title was completely bogus and his last name was taken from a wealthy aunt and uncle. Instead, his real name was Giuseppe Balsamo who began his life in Palermo, the seat of Sicily, on June 2, 1743.
Born into a very humble family, his mother claimed descent from Charles Martel, the medieval Frankish leader who stopped the Umayyad Caliphate’s conquest of Europe in 732 AD. Despite being from a poor family, Balsamo was brilliant, he was good at roguery in the streets of Palermo and as a teenager he became a novice with the Hospitaller Brothers of San Juan de Dios, dedicated to medicine and religious service .
After escaping from Sicily after a series of petty crimes, he traveled through Greece, Egypt, Persia, Arabia and Rhodes and reportedly studied alchemy (perhaps with the order of the Brothers Hospitallers, although the monastic life was not his thing). He left the order – there are sources that say he was expelled – and, at one point in his life, he decided to adopt the title of count and in 1768 he married the beautiful Roman Lorenza Feliciani, called Serafina. This is where he begins his great career of deception throughout Europe.
He was fabulously good at the art of deception, forgery (thanks to studying art for a while), so he began to make a name for himself based on his knowledge of secret and sacred rites, which earned him the nickname ” Wizard”. Cagliostro traveled to major European cities, selling elixirs of youth and love powders and posing as an alchemist, fortune teller, medium, and miraculous healer. He even became a fashionable character in Parisian society in 1785, especially among the nobility.
The scandal known as “The diamond necklace affair”, in which the name of his wife would be involved, led him to spend nine months in the Bastille prison and then he was exiled from France. Later, his wife denounced him to the Inquisition as a heretic, magician and conjurer, for which he was tried and sentenced to death, but his sentence would be commuted to life imprisonment in the fortress of San Leo in the Apennines, where he finally died on the 26th of August 1795 at the age of 52.