Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


WHAT WITH two-bit, four-bit, and six-bit rascals populating Washington, D.C. these days, it’s comforting to learn about a genuine, first-class, international rascal of the highest order. Indeed, his rascality calls for Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

Stefano Zannowich, 1751–1786, Montenegrin Serb writer, royal impersonator, adventurer, pal of Casanova, Catherine the Great, and the Duchess of Kingston. Identified here as Stépan Annibale Prince d’Albanie born 1751.

Stefano was one of eight children. Biographers note that this gave them all plenty of opportunities for false identities, often leading to confusion with any one of them appearing in two places at the same time.

Sort of a Shakespeare comedy played throughout Europe.

Wikipedia notes “Zannowich’s life is full of controversy, scarce on facts and full of fictional events which were most likely product of his own imagination.”

Not that the documented portions are boring. After completing his education in Venice and Padua, Stefano hung out in Florence. There, Giacomo Casanova, yes, that Casanova, knew Zannowich and cited his alias as Prince Castriotto d’Albanie. While in Florence, Zannowich scammed an English lord at cards.

This swindle got him tossed out of Florence. Later, in 1769, Zannowich and a brother (which brother? does it matter?) were expelled from Venice and Treviso for documentation forgery and false representation.

No big thing, because Zannowich needed a trip to London anyway to collect his card winnings. Along the way, he chummed up with the French Encyclopédistes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and friends.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712–1778, Genevan philosopher whose political views influenced the Jacobin Club of the French Revolution.

Not that Zannowich just gadded about. During this time he wrote Opere Diverse and Poesie, both printed in 1773 in French. Zannowich also composed works in German, Italian, and Latin and corresponded with the likes of Voltaire, Catherine the Great, and Frederick William II of Prussia as well as Rousseau.

Stefano’s brothers, older Marko and younger Miroslav, had adopted the title of Count, but a young Stefano went them one better: In the late 1770s, he impersonated the Russian Tsar Peter III and set himself up as head of Montenegro.

Peter III, 1728–1762, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. Husband of Catherine the Great, who collaborated in his assassination.

Zannowich’s assumption of the Principe de Montenegro was a particularly outrageous spoof, given that another guy, Šćepan Mali aka Stephen the Little, had already pulled this scam in Montenegro from 1768 until dying in 1773.

Stefano Castriotto, one of Zannowich’s noms de vie. The blub at the bottom, Se vende à Vienne Chez Christoph Torricella, identifies the image’s availability for sale.

Perhaps Zannowich actually visited Montenegro, briefly, in 1774. Thereafter, for awhile, he toured Europe in masquerade of its previous phony ruler. Then, in a deft bit of cross-identify, Zannowich composed two books in 1784 in which he differentiated between himself and his impersonated personage, even to claiming that he was one of Stephen the Little’s generals.

As musicologist Anna Russell used to say, “You know, I’m not making this up.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Zannowich’s Pigmalione and also his dealings with Frederick the Great, Catherine the Great, and Elizabeth Chudleigh aka the Duchess of Kingston. In her own way, she was great too. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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