Petrus Gonsalvus: the gentleman at the court of Henry II that inspired the tale of “Beauty and the Beast”

Petrus-Gonsalvus-e1411405923632Petrus Gonsalvus, in his singularity, was successful man in life. The hypertrichosis that afflicted him and that definitely aroused great curiosity, rather than a limit eventually prove to be a “trump card.” Thanks to his intellectual gifts, he was considered one of the most well-known in the sixteenth century aristocrat. And this is his story.


He was born in 1537 in Tenerife, a descendant of the “Mencey”, the king of the aborigines of the Canary Islands (Guanches) overwhelmed and enslaved by the Spanish conquest at the end of ‘400. It seems that Pedro Gonzales, this is his name, was a “muchacho muy hermoso“, whose characteristic was to have his face and body covered with a fine down dark red, which, however, discovered in the faces of beautiful regular features, as reported the chronicles. At the age of ten years, it seems that he was sent as a “gift” from the Canary Islands to King Charles V in the Netherlands, but during the crossing raid of French privateers led to the capture of Pedro that was conducted instead, games of fate, in homage to King Henry II of France.

A court ruled then that the historical Catherine de ‘Medici, wife of the king, a woman with a strong personality and character policy, small in stature and not very pleasant to look at, rather selfish and often cruel, with some peculiarities such as being extremely greedy (he was the first to bring to court the use of the fork), and lover of all that was exotic. The entrance of the boy “guancho” aroused great interest in her then, ambition before courtiers to host a unique testimony of its kind. Pedro was seen as an icon by exotic store with every consideration. Was routed to the study of Latin spoken and written (at that time regarded as the highest form of culture) and the humanities, yes that grew like a true gentleman prejudice to the Court for 44 years under the name of Don Petrus Gonsalvus, a duty to its real origins.

In 1573, when Petrus was 36 years old, the queen believed it was better to give him a wife. The choice was not much chance of Catherine, the most beautiful of her bridesmaids, perhaps for the … scientific curiosity to see what would be built by the contrasting combination. It is said that the girl, at the time of coming to Petrus presented as his wife, fainted in his presence. However, beyond the hair that darkened his face and that would intimidate any girl waiting for Prince Charming, Petrus was equipped with an impressive physique, that characteristic of the Guanches of Tenerife, which would have had to basics infiltration of northern European peoples , pale skin and blond hair. Hence it is reasonable to infer the reddish hair of Petrus. And ‘to assume that the initial swoon Catherine and forced marriage are being solved in a union unexpectedly happy, because the sensitivity, kindness and culture of Petrus came to conquer. It in fact born six children, four of whom were suffering from hypertrichosis. And the Queen was satisfied.

Ulisse Aldrovandi, passionate naturalist of the 500, studied family members Gonsalvus, by posting pictures of one of his volumes entitled “De Monstris”, where the Latin word antonietta_gonsalvus“monstrum” did not have that negative meaning we attribute to modern use, but something out of the ordinary, of portentous, exceptional. In fact, Aldrovandi showed those malformations that nature often gives surprise to all beings on this earth, human, animal and plant. In turn, the portrait painter Lavinia Fontana, a friend of the family Aldrovandi, portrayed the daughter of Petrus Antoinette called Tognina, and so also the same Petrus.

Apparently Petrus Gonsalvus and his family are the oldest documented cases of hypertrichosis in Europe. This disorder is found in the little black and Asian ethnic groups and less common in northern Europe, most frequently in the Mediterranean instead. Currently, worldwide known a hundred cases of this that is considered a real disease, manipulated by the media and now visible in all known national-popular television programs.

This unusual love story was popularly equated to that of “Beauty and the Beast” and in some ways there are clear similarities. The tale, written in 1550 by Italian Gianfrancesco Straparola and then by the French Charles Perrault at the end of’ 600, although probably inspired by the figure of Gonsalvus at that time very well known, actually has its origins in the ‘ancient classical literature greek – Latin, remembering “Metamorphoses” of Apuleius, philosopher, writer of the original Platonic school of Numidia. There will also be a plethora of interpretations of the fairy tale in the ‘700 with a social-educational, until today with film versions, literary, theater and television.

After the death of Catherine de ‘Medici in 1589, Petrus Gonsalvus with family left the French court to travel to Italy, where he stayed at the court of Parma. Later, he settled permanently in Capodimonte on Lake Bolsena (Viterbo), where he died in 1618, aged 81. The details of his life can be found in ‘Vatican Archives and the State Archives of Rome and Naples.



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