In Milan during 1914, the future fascist dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, married Ida Dalser, a 34-year-old beautician. Dalser, born 20 August 1880, soon bore him a child, Benito Albino Mussolini, and sold her business to help her husband fund his new newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, ‘The People of Italy’.
The marriage did not last and before the birth of Benito Jr, on 17 December 1915, Mussolini had married Rachele Guidi, his long-term mistress and mother to his first child, Edda, who had been born in 1910.
Mussolini ordered the destruction of the marriage records between him and his first wife, and stopped paying her maintenance, as previously ordered by the courts.
Unsurprisingly, Ida, left penniless, was furious with the way Mussolini had treated her. Following the end of the First World War, she claimed she had proof that in early 1915 Mussolini had taken bribes from the French government to use his influence to commit neutral Italy to declare war against Austria-Hungary. (Italy did indeed declare war against the Central Powers in May 1915). Had this allegation come to light it would have ruined Mussolini’s fledging career.
Forced into drastic action, Mussolini had her abducted. Beaten and forced into a straitjacket, she was declared insane and interned against her will in an asylum. Benito Junior was placed in various boarding schools and, as he grew up, was told that his mother had died. He was ordered to stop referring to Mussolini as his father and had his surname changed to Bernardi.
In 1935, Benito, like his mother, was forcibly incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital. Both remained incarcerated until their deaths – Ida Dasler on 3 December 1937 of a ‘brain hemorrhage’, and Benito killed on 26 August 1942, aged 26, following a series of injections designed to induce coma.
Meanwhile, despite numerous affairs and dalliances, most notably to Claretta Petacci, Mussolini remained with his second wife, Rachele, throughout his life. They were to have five children.
The story of Mussolini and Dalser was dramatized in the 2009 Italian film Vincere.
Mussolini: History In An Hour by Rupert Colley, published by HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats and downloadable audio.
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