Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, born Giuseppe Balsamo became a roving adventurer, freemason and alchemist in the late 18th century.
Nobody knows for certain who Cagliostro's parents were. Some say he was Giuseppe Balsamo who was born to a poor family in Palermo, Sicily on June 2, 1743. He called himself count, and traveled in many countries under many different names and characters, pretending sometimes to be a nobleman, sometimes a physician, and sometimes a juggler. With the help of his wife, some say he cheated many people, and made great money, especially selling an elixir which would make people live forever and keep their beauty. Others claim that he gained great fame by giving freely to the poor, and offering his healing talents for free. Some people say that he himself claimed to be very old, sometimes putting his age at two-hundred. Some people also claim that he also pretended to make gold out of other metals, and many noble and rich people believed that he could. Most of the wild and fanciful stories surrounding Cagliostro have more to do with the imagination of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society than any claims that Cagliostro actually made himself.
His claim to the title of count is controversial. He claimed to have been initiated into the Sovereign Military Order of the Knights of Malta, and to have studied alchemy, the Kabbalah, and magic under their auspices. He did become involved in Freemasonry in London and used his Masonic connections and personal charm to roam through aristocratic circles throughout Europe, where he distributed various magical elixirs and charms, at one time even being recommended as a physician to Benjamin Franklin during a stay in Paris.
He founded the Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry, which initiated men and women in separate lodges, and had an influence on the foundation of the masonic Rite of Misraim.
He was prosecuted as Giuseppe Balsamo in the affair of the diamond necklace which involved Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette, and was imprisoned in France for fraud. The claim that he was the same person as Balsamo rests solely on the opinion of the local magistrates and the Inquisition, who got a confession that he was the same person under torture. There is no evidence that he was indeed the same person as Balsamo, but this is often taken for granted nonetheless. Many people have argued that on the contrary, the evidence proves that the two men are not the same. After being released from prison in France, he travelled to Rome. Some say Cagliostro even claimed to be a freemason from Egypt who had walked on the sands of Galilee with Jesus. He died in San Leo prison after his wife betrayed him to the Inquisition. He was prosecuted on the sole charge of starting a masonic lodge in the Holy City, Rome.