Victor Emmanuel III – a brief biography

On 29 July 1900, the king of Italy, Umberto I, was assassinated. The throne passed to his 30-year-old son, who, as Victor Emmanuel III, would reign until 1946, a period which saw both world wars and the rise and fall of Benito Mussolini’s fascists.

Victor Emmanuel IIIBorn in Naples on 11 November 1869, the future king was so short, the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, nicknamed him the dwarf, and, in private, Mussolini called him the ‘little sardine’. He ruled over an Italy that had been in existence as a unified nation only since 1871. Despite unification, Italy was a deeply-fragmented society, steeped in poverty and corruption, and ruled over by a succession of weak coalition governments. But, as a figurehead king, Victor Emmanuel III chose to ignore the affairs of state, preferring instead to focus on his vast collection of coins.

World War One

With the outbreak of war in July 1914, Italy initially adopted a position of neutrality despite having been in alliance, the Triple Alliance, with Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire since 1882. Victor Emmanuel favoured participation in the war, partly as a means of enhancing Italy’s reputation on the international stage. Italy duly entered the war in May 1915, not as allies of Germany and Austria-Hungary, but on the side of the Triple Entente allies – France, Russia and Great Britain.

Mussolini

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The Execution of Mussolini – an outline

The execution of Mussolini: on 28 April 1945, Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by partisans as they tried to flee Italy.

The war was going badly for Italy, the Allies had landed in Sicily and the future looked bleak.

Mussolini’s last plea

Benito MussoliniOn July 24, 1943, at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, Benito Mussolini delivered an impassioned two-hour speech, exhorting his fellow fascists to put up a fight. His plea fell on deaf ears, the Council instead voting to propose peace with the Allies.

Dismissed

The following day the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III, dismissed Mussolini, remarking, “At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.” Mussolini was immediately arrested and imprisoned. The Italian population rejoiced.
On September 8, Italy swapped sides and joined the Allies. Italy’s wish to remain neutral was vetoed by Churchill who demanded Italy’s cooperation against the Germans as the price for the “passage back.” On October 13, 1943, Italy reluctantly declared war on Germany. Immediately, the Germans started capturing Italians as prisoners of war, shipping them to internment camps and began the targeting of Italian Jews.

The daring rescue

On September 12, 1943 on Hitler’s orders, Mussolini was rescued from his mountainside captivity by SS paratroopers and whisked away to Germany in a glider. Having met with Hitler, Mussolini was returned to Italy and set up as the head of a Fascist republic in German-occupied northern Italy. Continue reading

The Italian Social Republic – an outline

Proclaimed on 23 September 1943, the Italian Social Republic was a short-lived state headed by fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini.

Benito MussoliniThe war had been going badly for Mussolini’s Italy, so much so that a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on 25 July 1943 voted to have Mussolini removed. One of those who voted against Mussolini was his son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano. The following day, Mussolini was dismissed by the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel III: ‘My dear Duce, it’s no longer any good. Italy has gone to bits… The soldiers don’t want to fight any more… At this moment you are the most hated man in Italy.’

Mussolini was immediately arrested and imprisoned. His successor, Pietro Badoglio, appointed a new cabinet which, pointedly, contained no fascists. The Italian population rejoiced.

On 8 September, Italy swapped sides and joined the Allies and, on 13 October 1943, declared war on Germany.

Salo

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Rachele Mussolini – a brief biography

In 1914, in Milan, the future fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, married Ida Dalser, a 34-year-old beautician who soon bore him a child, Benito Albino Mussolini. The marriage lasted just a few months and on 17 December 1915, before the birth of Benito Jr., Mussolini, at the time at home on army sick leave, married Rachele Guidi in a civil ceremony. Guidi had been his long-term mistress and mother to his first child, Edda, who had been born in 1910.

Mussolini and Rachele Guidi shared the same place of birth – the town of Predappio in the area of Forlì in northern Italy. Guidi had been born 11 April 1890. She and Mussolini had first met when Mussolini appeared at her school as a stand-in teacher. Guidi’s father had warned her against marrying the penniless Mussolini: ‘That young man will starve you to death,’ he warned. After the death of her father, Guidi’s mother began a relationship with Mussolini’s widowed father. 

In December 1925, ten years after their civil marriage, Rachele and Mussolini were married in a Catholic church. It was less a romantic gesture than an attempt by Mussolini to ingratiate himself with the pope, Pius XI. The Mussolinis were to have five children.

As dictator, Mussolini preached about the importance of the family and liked to portray his own family as a model fascist household. But in truth, he had little time for his children and could number his lovers by the hundred. Rachele knew about her husband’s many indiscretions. In an interview with Life magazine in February 1966, Rachele said, ‘My husband had a fascination for women. They all wanted him. Sometimes he showed me their letters – from women who wanted to sleep with him or have a baby with him. It always made me laugh.’

A beautiful companion

Benito and Rachele MussoliniIn 1923, Rachele took on a lover of her own – according to Edda in an interview in 1995, shortly before her death, and only broadcast in 2001.Rachele, according to Edda, told Mussolini, ‘You have many women. There is a person who loves me a lot, a beautiful companion.’ Mussolini may have been shocked but he did nothing to stop the affair, which, apparently, lasted several years.

(Pictured are Benito and Rachele Mussolini in 1923 with their first three children. Edda, their eldest, is on the right).

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Claretta Petacci – a brief biography

Claretta Petacci, born 28 February 1912, was perhaps the biggest love in Benito Mussolini’s life, a man 28 years her senior. Brought up in a wealthy family, Clara’s father was the pope’s personal physician.

Having been devoted to the Duce since childhood, she first met him, quite by accident, in 1932, when he drove pass 20-year-old Petacci in his car. Over the coming weeks, she pursued him relentlessly until, eventually, she secured an audience with him. Mussolini, never one to resist a woman’s advances, soon took her to bed.

Benito and Rachele MussoliniAlthough Mussolini was married and had five children, he and Petacci were to remain lovers until their deaths in 1945. (Pictured: Mussolini with his wife, Rachele, and their first three children, c1923).

Clara’s diaries

Petacci kept a detailed diary of their time together which, in 1949, was seized by the Italian authorities. The diary, under Italian law, was kept locked away for seventy years and only published in 2009. The detailed entries provide intimate details of her relationship with Mussolini, and a record of his inner thoughts. Mussolini, often bored, would ring her several times a day. As a lover, he is portrayed as a boastful and needy man, often fishing for compliments, and in need of constant reassurance about his looks, his virility and the love of both Clara and the Italian people.

It was Petacci who recorded how Mussolini boasted of having, in his younger days, up to fourteen lovers at a time, and able to satisfy four women a night. This, from the man who, in his speeches, liked to emphasise the importance of family. Sex with Rachele, his wife, was dull and, worse still, she failed to appreciate just how great a man he was. Clara, on the other hand, never failed to stroke his ego – comparing him favourably to Napoleon and constantly reminding him of his genius. Continue reading

Galeazzo Ciano – brief biography

In 1930, the dashing and rich 27-year-old Galeazzo Ciano married Edda Mussolini, daughter to the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Six years later, he became Mussolini’s foreign minister. Yet, on 11 January 1944, on his father-in-law’s orders, he was executed.

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationGaleazzo Ciano’s father had made a name for himself as an admiral during the First World War. An early supporter of Benito Mussolini’s, he built his fortune through some unethical business deals. Thus, Galeazzo, born 18 March 1903, was brought up in an environment of wealth and luxury, and inherited his father’s love for fascism. Father and son both took part in Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’.

Diplomacy and Marriage

Ciano studied law before embarking on a diplomatic career which took him to South America and China. In between postings, on 30 April 1930, he married Edda Mussolini, hence becoming Mussolini’s son-in-law – facilitating a rapid rise up the promotional ladder. The couple were to have three children although Ciano, like his father-in-law, had numerous affairs. He was certainly disliked by his mother-in-law who, understandably, thoroughly disproved of his womanizing.

In 1935, Mussolini made Ciano his minister for propaganda. The same year, Ciano volunteered for action in Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, serving in a bomber squadron and reaching the rank of captain. He returned to a hero’s welcome and in June 1936, aged only 33, Mussolini appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing Mussolini himself. (Ciano’s father, meanwhile, was serving as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, a post he held from 1934 to shortly before his death in 1939).

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Ida Dalser – Mussolini’s first wife

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.

Ida Dalser

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.

Benito MussoliniIn 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.

MBtE - NGRupert Colley

Mussolini: History In An Hour by Rupert Colley, published by HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats and downloadable audio.

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