The Last Castle

There is an old story, a rumor really, that spread during the 1980s that was meant to discourage promiscuity / slutty behaviour by young ladies.

A young American lady on her last night in Rome decided, in a state of increased intoxication, to allow herself to be seduced by a pair of handsome Italian men, twin brothers, for a night of unforgettable passion and titillation.

After a good time was had by the trio, the brothers graciously drove the young lady to the airport.

Before leaving her at the boarding gate, (Remember those days?) they gave her an envelope and told her not to open it until she was on board the plane.

As the plane’s engines were warming up, she unsealed the envelope to read the message inside:

“Welcome to the wonderful world of AIDS.”

No one ever relates what happened next in the story.

I was reminded of this story when visiting Sanluri with my wife Ute, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, on our vacation in Sardinia.

One of the biggest towns in the Medio Campidano province, Sanluri is said to be a bustling agricultural centre, but when She and I visited the town of 8,000, it seemed the place had been abandoned.

No one was on the streets.

Cars were parked along both sides of the main street but none moved whilst we were there.

The squat, brooding Castle of Sanluri is situated on Sardinia’s main arterial road – the Carlo Felice – halfway between Cagliari and Oristano (at 30 miles distance from each).

It is the only fully-furnished, habitable medieval Sardinian castle of the eighty-eight castles built on the island.

It was lived in by kings and queens, been silent witness to bitter royal power struggles, ill-kept truces, enervating excesses, rebellions and tragic ends.

It has stored hand weapons, firearms and nuclear armaments, including medieval swords, blunderbusts, Italian Army rifles and airborne torpedoes – a truly eclectic collection of assorted military paraphernalia.

Outside in the garden is a medieval catapult.

Its fabulous collection of wax miniatures is the largest and one of the finest in Europe.

It holds a unique collection of correspondence between a general and a poet, along with a small precious collection of Napoleonic family mementoes, the Italian tricolor which fluttered over Trieste on 3 November 1918, the original Italian Declaration of Victory signed by General Diaz, and mementoes of Italian colonial campaigns.

One event brings the above-mentioned story to mind.

Eleonora of Arborea, the great defender of Sardinian independence, died in 1404. (See Eleanor of Arborea.)

On 30 June 1409, the Infante of Aragon, King Martin I, “the Younger”, of Sicily, landed in Sardinia at the head of an army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 cavalrymen.

The independent Giudicato (Royal Judgeship) of Arborea was led by Giudice (Judge-King) William III of Narbonne, Viscount of Narbonia.

The Sardinian army of 15,000 infantry and 3,000 horsemen was composed mostly of mercenaries, including the renowned Genoese crossbowmen and other units from France and northern Italy.

There are few details about the Battle of Sanluri.

Martin’s forces, though less numerous, were better trained and managed to divide William’s army into two parts which were then destroyed separately.

The engagement ended at S’Occidroxia (Slaughter Hill) with 5,000 Sardinians slain and 4,000 taken prisoner.

William, deprived of his Standard during the inglorious retreat, took refuge in the neighbouring Castle of Monreal at San Gavino.

The 500 soldiers of the Sanluri garrison who had managed to escape with William to Monreal were slaughtered there.

Inside the fortified village of Sanluri itself much of the population was exterminated by Martin’s conquering troops.

The victorious Martin, though married to Blanche of Navarre, decided to celebrate his victory through a conquest of another kind, the amorous attentions of the Bella of Sanluri.

From 30 June to the wedding of his natural son Frederick to Violante De Perdes on 9 July, Martin spent much of his time carousing with the Bella.

Smitten by malaria and weakened by the Bella’s amorous lethal attention, Martin was transported to Cagliari on 12 July.

Despite the services of four physicians, Martin died there on 25 July.

He is buried in Cagliari Cathedral.

History does not record if the Bella survived, but one woman succeeded at felling a man that 18,000 soldiers could not.

Of the many weapons used in warfare, sex remains one of the most powerful.

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