Showing posts with label Edda Mussolini. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edda Mussolini. Show all posts

11 April 2017

Rachele Mussolini - wife of Il Duce

Marriage survived 30 years despite dictator's infidelity

Rachele Mussolini
Rachele Mussolini
Rachele Mussolini, the woman who stayed married to Italy’s former Fascist dictator for 30 years despite his simultaneous relationship with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, and numerous affairs, was born on this day in 1890.

The daughter of Agostino Guidi, a peasant farmer, and Anna Lombardi, she was born, like Benito Mussolini, in Predappio, a small town in what is now Emilia-Romagna.  They met for the first time when the future self-proclaimed Duce had a temporary teaching job at her school.

They were married in December 1915 in a civil ceremony in Treviglio, near Milan, although by that time she had been his mistress for several years, having given birth to his eldest daughter, Edda, in 1910.  Mussolini had actually married another woman, Ida Dalser, in 1914 but the marriage had broken down despite her bearing him a son, Benito junior, and Mussolini returned to Rachele.

Her father had cautioned against her marrying Mussolini, whom he considered to have no prospects, but when Agostino died, his widow became the lover of Mussolini’s father, Alessandro, himself a widower.

Benito and Rachele renewed their vows in a Catholic church in 1925, although it is thought only because Mussolini, by then in power, wanted to curry favour with the pope, Pius XI.

Throughout their marriage, which produced five children – two daughters and three sons – Mussolini liked to present his family as the perfect domestic representation of his Fascist ideal but in truth he spent little time at home.

Clara Petacci
Claretta Petacci
He began his affair with Petacci, who was 28 years his junior, in around 1932, but there were countless other women, of whom Rachele was fully aware. She even took a lover of her own for a while, which Mussolini knew about but did nothing to stop.

It was only after Mussolini was installed as president of the new Republic of Salò, following his rescue from house arrest in Italy by German paratroopers, that Rachele’s tolerance of his infidelity began to crack.

This was after he insisted on setting up Petacci with a home close to their own, to which she objected strongly, as if she were prepared to turn a blind eye to his indiscretions, so long as she did not have to encounter any of his lovers.

After Mussolini and Petacci were captured by partisans and hung in 1945, Rachele attempted to flee to Switzerland but was herself captured by resistance fighters.  Fortunately for her, they decided against meting out their own justice and handed her over to the Allies.

She was briefly held on the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples but soon released, at which she returned to Predappio.

It was through her pleadings with the new Italian government that Mussolini’s body was returned to the village and buried in the family crypt, which then became a place of pilgrimage for neo-fascists.

The Mussolini family crypt in Predappio
The Mussolini family crypt in Predappio
Rachele made a living by opening a small restaurant in the village, attracting sympathisers to eat there by selling memorabilia as a sideline.

To anyone who accused her of cashing in on her husband’s notoriety, she would point out that only in 1975, after years of protesting, was she able to draw a state pension, to which she had always been told she was not entitled because Mussolini never actually took a state salary during his time in power.

She died in 1979 at the age of 89.  Before she passed away, she claimed that in 1910 Mussolini, then a journalist, was offered a job on a newspaper in the United States. Because she was pregnant with Edda, however, he turned the offer down.  Had he taken it, the course of Italian history in the 20th century might have been quite different.

Travel tip:

The town of Salò on Lake Garda is now a popular resort, boasting the longest promenade on the lake, some claim in the whole of Italy.  Although its past association with such a divisive figure as Mussolini and his Nazi-sponsored puppet state is not celebrated, it is possible to identify the various buildings he commandeered as government offices.  For example, the town hall – the Palazzo della Magnifica Patria – was an office for interpreters, his propaganda agency, the Agenzia Stefani, was based in a school in Via Brunati, while Mussolini’s guards were said to have been housed in what is now the Bar Italia.  A number of ministries were based in villas overlooking the lake. Mussolini himself lived in the magnificent Villa Feltrinelli, now a luxury hotel, at Gargnano. He installed Claretta Petacci at Villa Fiordaliso, now also a hotel, at Gardone Riviera.

The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
Travel tip:

The small city of Treviglio in Lombardy, where Mussolini and his wife Rachele were married, is about 20km (13 miles) south of Bergamo, 41km (26 miles) north-east of Milan. It developed from a fortified town in the early Middle Ages and, having been at times controlled by the French and the Spanish, became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.  Its most visited attraction is the Basilica of San Martino, originally built in 1008 and reconstructed in 1482, with a Baroque façade from 1740, which is in Piazza Manara.

More reading:

The early life of Benito Mussolini

Nazis free Mussolini in Gran Sasso raid

How Mussolini and Petacci were captured and killed

Also on this day:

1987: The death of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi

(Picture credit: Basilica of San Martino by Giorces via Wikimedia Commons)


11 January 2017

Galeazzo Ciano - ill-fated Fascist politician

The son-in-law Mussolini had shot as a traitor

Galeazzo Ciano, pictured at his ministerial desk at the Palazzo Chigi in 1937
Galeazzo Ciano, pictured at his ministerial desk
at the Palazzo Chigi in 1937
Galeazzo Ciano, part of the Fascist Grand Council that voted for Benito Mussolini to be thrown out of office as Italy faced crushing defeat in the Second World War, was killed by a firing squad in Verona on this day in 1944 after being found guilty of treason.

The 40-year-old former Foreign Minister in Mussolini's government was also his son-in-law, having been married to Edda Mussolini since he was 27.  Yet even his position in the family did not see him spared by the ousted dictator, who had been arrested on the orders of King Victor Emmanuel III but, after being freed by the Nazis, later exacted revenge against those he felt had betrayed him.

Ciano, a founding member of the Italy's National Fascist Party whose marriage to the Duce's daughter certainly helped him advance his career, had largely been supportive of Mussolini and was elevated to Foreign Minister in part because of his role in the military victory over Ethiopia, in which he was a bomber squadron commander. Yet he expressed doubts from the start over Italy's readiness to take part in a major conflict.

In his diaries, which Edda was later to use without success as a bargaining tool as she tried to save her husband's life, Ciano recalled that he had tried to persuade Mussolini against committing to an alliance with Hitler, but in vain. He wrote: "At first he agrees with me - then he says that honour compels him to march with Germany."

Ciano, centre, to the right of Hitler and Mussolini, to the left of  Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring, in Munich in 1938
Ciano, centre, to the right of Hitler and Mussolini, to the left
of  Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring, in Munich in 1938
His entry on June 10, 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Great Britain and France, included the words: "May God help Italy!"

Ciano clashed with the leader again in January 1943, urging him to seek terms for an armistice with the Allies rather than see Italy, which had already suffered significant damage in bombing raids, exposed to the destruction of a full-scale invasion.  This time he and his fellow cabinet members were all sacked.

At the meeting of the Grand Council on July 24, convened by Mussolini himself after news reached him of the Allied landings in Sicily, it was Mussolini's announcement that the Germans were thinking of abandoning southern Italy that prompted fierce argument, culminating in a vote on whether Victor Emmanuel III should take back his full constitutional powers, in effect sidelining Mussolini.  The count was 19-8 in favour.

Mussolini was arrested the following day after appearing to disregard the vote and arriving at his office as if he would continue to be in charge.  It was at this point that Ciano made what would prove a fatal mistake.

With anti-Fascist sentiment growing in Italy, he feared that he too might be arrested by new prime minister Pietro Badoglio's incoming government regardless of his vote against the Duce. He fled to Germany with Edda and their three children in late August, seeking sanctuary.

What he did not know was that Hitler was furious that Mussolini had been ousted. The German leader had Ciano arrested and detained, and when he restored the Italian leader to power in his new Italian Social Republic, having first sent paratroopers to rescue him from house arrest at the Gran Sasso mountain resort in Abruzzo, one of his first acts was to send Ciano back to face trial for treason.

Emilio Pucci
Emilio Pucci
Edda, meanwhile, had enlisted the help of her friend Emilio Pucci - later to become a major fashion designer - in offering Ciano's diaries, which contained much sensitive material, to the Germans in return for her husband's release.  The offer was turned down.  Pucci helped Edda escape to Switzerland - with the diaries - but was himself detained and interrogated, released only on condition that he tracked Edda down in Switzerland and warned her that if she ever published the diaries she would be killed.

Ciano, who had been born in Livorno in 1903 and had joined his father, Costanza, an Admiral in the First World War, in supporting Fascism from the outset, was tried in Verona along with four other members of the Grand Council. After guilty verdicts were returned, the five were tied to chairs and shot in the back.  Ciano's last reputed words were: "Long live Italy!"

Edda, who died in Rome 51 years later at the age of 84, never forgave her father.  While she was in Switzerland, she was tracked down by an American war correspondent who ensured that her husband's diaries were published in London in 1946.  Evidence from them was used in the prosecution of Hitler’s Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, during the post-war Nuremberg Trials.

Travel tip:

Livorno, where Ciano was born, is an historic port on the Tuscan coast, notable for the area built by the Medici family in the 17th century around the town's canal network that has become known as Quartiere La Venezia - the Venice Quarter. Originally comprising warehouses and some impressive houses built by merchants around Piazza della Repubblica and Via Borra, it is nowadays a popular area for nightlife, with many bars and restaurants.

Titian's Assumption of the Virgin in the Duomo at Verona
Titian's Assumption of the Virgin in
the Duomo at Verona
Travel tip:

Verona is most famous for the Roman amphitheatre known as the Arena in Piazza Bra, a lovely square ringed by bars and restaurants, and for the Casa di Giulietta - Juliet's House - which was supposedly the location of the balcony scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, although there is no actual  evidence that it was.  There are many other genuinely historic buildings, including the 14th century castle Castelvecchio, which sits on the banks of the Adige river, and the Duomo, which was rebuilt in the 12th century after the 8th century original was destroyed in an earthquake, in which the artworks include an Assumption of the Virgin by Titian.

More reading:

Republic of Salò was Mussolini's last stand

Mussolini freed by Nazis in audacious Gran Sasso raid

How fashion designer Emilio Pucci helped Mussolini's daughter escape the Nazis

Also on this day:

1975: Birth of Italy's Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi

(Picture credit: Titian painting by Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons)