EARLY NOIR by Albert Tucher
Is the year 936 A.D. early enough for you?
I’m working on a stand-alone story set in the city of Rome in the early tenth century. A later historian referred to that period as the Pornocracy (Rule by Whores). Whore-in-Chief was a woman named Marozia.
She was born around 890, which would make her a small girl in 897, when the political enemies of Pope Formosus propped him up on his throne and put him on trial, never mind that he had been dead for a year and a half. Since Marozia’s father was a corrupt local politico, she may have witnessed the proceedings. I like to think of that trial as one of her formative influences.
At the age of about fifteen she may have become the mistress of Pope Sergius III, but historians dispute the issue. She outlived two husbands, and after number two, she decided to rule Rome on her own. One order of business was assassinating Pope John X, who had been a friend of her mother Theodora.
Serious Mommy issues there.
Marozia appointed a few nonentities to the papacy, but her goal was to install her eldest son once he was old enough. John XI may been the son of Sergius III. See above. She succeeded in 931, and she seemed invincible.
Enter King Hugh of Arles in 932. He was a descendant of Charlemagne with a claim to the title Holy Roman Emperor. Marozia offered to have her son the Pope crown Hugh, if Hugh would make her his empress. Hugh agreed, provided that she allow him to eliminate a complication, her second son Alberic. Marozia considered this a fair trade.
Alberic did not. At the wedding feast Hugh treated the young man with contempt. Alberic ran out into the street and riled up the Roman mob with a xenophobic harangue. The Romans chased Hugh from the city and proclaimed Alberic their ruler.
He may have been as young as sixteen, but he ruled the city for more than twenty years, and there was no kidding around. His first act was to imprison his mother for the rest of her life. No information survives about her death, but Hugh’s remarriage in 936 gives a hint about the date.
Still later Alberic made peace with Hugh and married his daughter.
Marozia’s grandson through Alberic became Pope John XII, one of the worst popes in history. Several later descendants also became pope. Some historians believe that the Pope Joan legend is a folk memory of Marozia.
They call them the Dark Ages for a reason. Sources about Marozia are sparse, and they leave room to wonder how evil she really was. In fact, the only contemporary chronicler who tells a coherent narrative about her is one Liutprand, Bishop of Cremona, who on the one hand rescued her from oblivion, while on the other assassinating her reputation for all time. He obviously had a problem with her refusal to keep to a woman’s proper sphere.
All of which means I can write what I want.
The Marozia story has everything that spells noir: sex, greed, ambition, betrayal, self-deception. I have been trying to use this material for years, and the current story is the first that seems to work.
I’ll let you know.
BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of the Diana Andrews suburban prostitute stories, almost thirty of which have appeared in ThugLit, A Twist of Noir , Out of the Gutter, and other hardboiled/noir publications. He has several novels about the character that are looking for a home.