Search This Blog

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Benito Mussolini


Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in the province of Forlì in Romagna, Italy.

Birthplace of Benito Mussolini in Predappio, now used as a museum

His father, Alessandro  (November 11, 1854 – November 19, 1910), was a socialist blacksmith, who bored his customers with his relentless propaganda.

Mussolini's father, Alessandro

Benito's mother, Rosa Maltoni, was a  devoutly Catholic school teacher.

He was named Benito after Mexican reformist President Benito Juárez. Like his father, Benito became a socialist.

Benito was the oldest child. He had a brother, Arnaldo, who would later become the editor of Il Popolo d'Italia, the official newspaper of Benito Mussolini's regime.

Benito was a bully. Always in trouble, he caused his family much worry.

By the age of eight, Benito was banned from his mother's church.

He attended a boarding school in Faenza, Italy ran by priests. In 1894 Benito was expelled from the school for stabbing a fellow student in the buttocks with a pen knife.

Worn out by her troublesome Benito, his mother died of meningitis in 1905.

Rosa Maltoni
Later Mussolini reflected on his delinquent youth: "Youth is a malady of which one becomes cured a little every day."


Mussolini qualified as an elementary schoolmaster in 1901.

In 1902 Mussolini emigrated to Switzerland. Unable to find a permanent job there and arrested for vagrancy, he was expelled and returned to Italy to do his military service.

Mussolini's booking photograph following his arrest by Swiss police, 1903

After further trouble with the police, Mussolini joined the staff of a newspaper in the Austrian town of Trento in 1908.

Mussolini founded the Il Popolo D’Italia paper in October 1914 to convince socialists and revolutionaries to support Italy's entry in World War 1 against Germany.

Mussolini was expelled by the socialists in 1914 for supporting Italy's entry in World War 1.

He enlisted for the war in 1916 and totaled about nine months of active, front-line trench warfare.

Mussolini's military exploits ended in 1917 when he was seriously wounded by the accidental explosion of a mortar bomb in his trench. He was left with at least 40 shards of metal in his body.

He was discharged from the hospital in August 1917 and resumed his editor-in-chief position at his Il Popolo d'Italia newspaper.

Mussolini as an Italian soldier, 1917


Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento in Milan on March 23, 1919 backed by many prominent people.

The platform of Fasci italiani di combattimento, as published in "Il Popolo d'Italia" .

Fasci Italiani di Combattimento became the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) on November 9, 1921.

At the 1921 Italian elections the Fascists won 36 seats. Disregarding the lack of public support in the election, the Fascists marched on Rome between October 27-29 1922, threatening to take over the country. King Vittorio Emanuele III gave in, allowed them to form a government, and made Mussolini prime minister on October 31.

Mussolini and the Quadrumviri during the March on Rome in 1922


After destroying all political opposition through his secret police, Mussolini and his fascist followers consolidated their power through a series of laws that transformed the nation into a one-party dictatorship. From 1925, Mussolini styled himself Il Duce (the leader).

By 1927 Mussolini had established dictatorial authority by both legal and extraordinary means, aspiring to create a totalitarian state.

Mussolini introduced the stiff-armed Roman salute as he considered the handshake to be fey and unhygienic.

To increase Italy’s population from 40 to 60 million, Mussolini doubled income tax for bachelors in 1926 and encouraged women to see who could produce the most children.

Since the incorporation of the Papal states into a united Italy in 1870 successive popes had been a "voluntary prisoner of the Vatican" refusing to leave their small remaining grounds as a protest. In 1929 Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Latern agreement resolving the issue. The Papacy renounced all its claims to former Papal States in Italy, recognized Mussolini's rule and agreed to keep out of politics. In return Mussolini recognized Vatican City as an independent state with the pope as ruler and established Catholicism as the sole religion of state.

Mussolini during 1920s.

In 1929 Mussolini banned beauty contests- he considered them immoral.

Between 1924-40 Mussolini successfully carried out social reforms and public work programs and invigorated the economy. He also famously made the trains run on time.

In 1935 Mussolini attacked the African country Abyssinia (now called Ethiopia). Emperor Haile Selassie was forced to flee the country, with Italy entering the capital city, Addis Ababa to proclaim an empire by May 1936, making Abyssinia part of Italian East Africa. Italy was thrown out of the League of Nations as a result of their aggression.

On October 25, 1936, Mussolini signed an alliance with Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Germany.

On 25 October 1936, an Axis was declared between Italy and Germany.


At first Mussolini was a socialist, but when he wanted Italy to join the First World War he was thrown out of the socialist party. He 'invented' a new ideology, Fascism, a combination of Nationalist and Socialist views.

Fascism is named after the fasces, which is an old Roman Empire name for a group of sticks tied together.

An outspoken anti clerical, Mussolini claimed religion was indispensable but the state (e.g. him) should take priority.


He was short (barely 5ft), bald, burly jawed, golden brown piercing eyes.

During the march Mussolini wore a starched collar, black shirt and white spats. After interviewing him, the journalist and writer Ernest Hemingway wrote of Mussolini, "There is something wrong with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt."

He had an encyclopedic knowledge and a winning smile. Winston Churchill referred to Mussolini as a "whipped jackal."

In Mussolini's earlier years the British statesman Bonar Law predicted of him "look at that man's eyes. You will hear more of him later."

Describing how he begins his day, in a newspaper report in January 1927 Mussolini said: "My sleep is like that of a babe. It is profound, undisturbed and therefore extremely reposeful. I instinctively stretch and yawn when I wake, and, as quick as a flash, I am out of bed. My day has begun. I never stay in bed a moment after the yawn."


Benito Mussolini married Ida Dalser in 1914 at a church in Milan. She was the daughter of the mayor of Sopramonte, and had been supporting him financially. Not long after however, they became estranged, but they never divorced.

Ida supplied cash to fund the start of Il Popolo D’Italia by pawning her jewellery and selling a beauty salon she owned.

After becoming the Italian leader Mussolini tried to erase Ida from history and she was confined to a mental hospital.

Mussolini first met Rachele Guidi in 1909 when she was a local peasant girl. Mussolini, a well known womanizer, spotted her working as a barmaid and waitress at his father's wine shop.

Rachele had originally been one of Mussolini's pupils when he had taken over his mother's class in the village school.

In October 1909 Mussolini stormed Rachele's sister's farmhouse and took Rachele away to live with him. Faced with parental objections Mussolini overcome them by drawing a pistol and saying "Here are six bullets-one for Rachele, five for me."

Young Rachele Guidi Mussolini, likely early 20th century.

Despite never divorcing Ida, he married Rachele on December 16, 1915 at a civil wedding ceremony, and had five children with her.

Rachele and Mussolini had a church wedding in 1925 and she was his consort throughout his 20 years in power.

Rachele remained a countrywoman at heart. When Mussolini was leader of Italy, she still baked bread, made her own pasta, kept chicken, pigs, turkeys and geese, played cards with the servants and bawled out Mussolini in front of their five children.

They never divorced despite Mussolini's many mistresses. Among his other relationships was a long-standing one with dark haired Clara Petacci, who was twenty-eight years Mussolini's junior.


The Italian dictator used sport to inspire his nation and his country won the 1934 soccer World Cup.

He supported the Roman football club Lazio.

Benito Mussolini entered his Alfa Romeo in the 1936 Mille Miglia, the 1000 mile race from Brescia to Rome and back. However Mussolini's driver, Ercole Boratto only came thirteenth.

Mussolini was a vegetarian. He disliked pasta, and snacked on chopped raw garlic with oil and lemon.

Mussolini tried to replace pasta with rice, deemed more virile and patriotic, in order to ease reliance on imported wheat.

Mussolini was mad about Mickey Mouse. He sang Disney songs and watched Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with child-like enthusiasm.

During his time as a journalist, Mussolini published a fictional serial melodrama set in 17th century Italy: L'amante del Cardinale (The Cardinal's Mistress). Co-written with Santi Corvaja, it was published as a serial book in the Trento newspaper Il Popolo and released in installments from January 20 to May 11, 1910. The novel was a success and was made into a successful silent movie.

The Cardinal's Mistress was bitterly anticlerical, and years later was withdrawn from circulation after Mussolini made his truce with the Vatican.


Mussolini had a pet lion club, named Ras.

Mussolini was apprensive of horses. He decided to pose for a heroic looking photograph atop a massive stallion, sword in hand but had the photo taken with a groom soothing both the steed and its rider. Both the groom and the horse's placid look were removed before the photograph was released.

Mussolini once said in an interview: "If I could do whatever I liked, I should always be at sea, when that is impossible I content myself with animals. Their mental life approximates to that of man and yet they don't want to get anything out of him. Horses, dogs and my favourite the cat. Or else I watch wild animals."


 In 1940, Mussolini sent Italy into the Second World War on the side of the Axis countries.

Benito Mussolini dressed in the fascist uniform.

In 1943, the Allies landed in Southern Italy. The Grand Council of Fascism and King Vittorio Emanuel III deposed Mussolini and put him in jail in Campo Imperatore.

Mussolini was released from imprisonment by German parachutists on September 12, 1943 and set up a Republican Fascist government in North Italy.

Mussolini rescued by German troops from his prison on 12 September 1943.


Benito Mussolini and Clara were arrested in Dongo, Lake Como on the afternoon of April 27, 1945. Il Duce was caught by Italian communist partisans as he headed for Chiavenna to board a plane for escape to Switzerland.

At his trial Mussolini cried "Let me live and I will give you an empire!"

He was sentenced to be shot in the back, an Italian method of execution.

On April 28, 1945, Mussolini and Clara were both executed along with their sixteen-man train, mostly ministers and officials of the Italian Social Republic. Mussolini died like a coward shouting, “no, no” to his firing squad before the volley rang out. Clara Petacci clung to him till the last.

The next day their bodies were hung, upside down, in Piazzale Loreto (Milan) along with those of other fascists, to be abused by the crowds. Mussolini's body was then buried in an unmarked grave in a Milan cemetery.

The corpse of Mussolini (second from left) next to Petacci (middle) and other executed fascists 

In the 1950s Mussolini's body was moved back to his home town of Predappio. Here he was buried in a crypt (the only posthumous honor granted to Mussolini).

Sources That's Life Octopus Books, The Penguin Book of Interviews

No comments:

Post a Comment