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The star-struck Claretta, Mussolini’s last love. According to her diaries, he radiated a ‘god-like potency’ and a ‘bull-like’ magnetism.

‘I’d like To Jump Onto Your Bed Like a Big Tomcat’

Benito Mussolini had two wives, several mistresses and dozens, possibly hundreds, of casual lovers during his lifetime

Star-struck Claretta Petacci was determined to conquer her ‘divine Caesar’ — and was finally strung up beside him. Claretta Petacci, born 28 February 1912, was perhaps the biggest love in Benito Mussolini’s life, a man 30 years her senior. Brought up in a wealthy family, Clara’s father was the pope’s personal physician.

As a child in fascist Italy, Clara Petacci (known as Claretta) was dutifully adoring of Benito Mussolini and the Cult of ducismo. She gave the stiff-armed Roman salute while at school (the Duce had declared handshaking Fey and unhygienic) and sang the fascist youth anthem ‘Giovinezza’. Her father, was a convinced fascist, for whom Mussolini was the incarnation of animal cunning — furbizia — and the manful fascist soul. Claretta herself would have to wait before she met the ‘divine Caesar’.

The story begins like a romantic novel. On a glorious spring day in Rome in April 1932, stunning heiress Claretta Petacci and her dashing fiance, an army lieutenant, took off in their chauffeured limousine for a day at the beach.

Giggling excitedly between them on the back seat of the Lancia was Claretta’s nine-year-old sister, Myriam, there as chaperone. The road to the coast was a marvel of modern engineering, a motorway built at the command of Italy’s fascist dictator — prime minister Benito Mussolini. He was at the height of his powers, adored by Italians who knew him as Il Duce and feted by leaders around the world. Winston Churchill called him the ‘Roman genius’, and even Mahatma Gandhi praised his ‘passionate love for his people’.

That same day, Il Duce was also taking a spin in the sunshine along the Via del Mare in his bright red Alfa Romeo 8C, with its long running boards and rear fin like the crest of a Roman god’s helmet. Near Ostia, Mussolini’s car recklessly overtook the limousine, blasting his horn as he did. The young woman in the back smiled and waved. For a fleeting moment, Mussolini looked into her eyes — and was smitten. Pulling over, he signalled for the Lancia to stop. Claretta recognised Mussolini at once and scrambled out of the car. ‘I’m going to pay homage to him,’ she declared. ‘I’ve been waiting for such a long time.’

Claretta had been besotted with Mussolini for years, ever since a 1926 assassination attempt when the insane Irish aristocrat Violet Gibson took a potshot at him with a revolver. The bullet just nicked the bridge of his nose. Then a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Claretta had been aghast at the news and penned a gushing letter to him: ‘O, Duce, why was I not with you? Could I not have strangled that murderous woman?’

She told him she dreamed of putting her ‘head on your chest so I could still hear the beats of your great heart. Duce, my life is for you’. Now her teenage fantasies were about to be realised.

The cars drew level, and Mussolini pulled over to confront his pursuer. Petacci was 19; he was 49. But to judge by her diaries — first published in Italy in 2009 as Mussolini segreto (Secret Mussolini) — the encounter was love at first sight. As the weeks went by, the doctor’s daughter began to court the Duce in a decorous way, first by sending him perfumed billets-doux, then by calling him on the telephone.

Mussolini, never one to resist a woman’s advances, soon took her to bed.

Although Mussolini was married and had five children, he and Petacci were to remain lovers until their deaths in 1945.

Long, ‘savage, ardent sex’ took place daily in Mussolini’s headquarters in Rome. His vainglorious sexual boasting (‘They say I’ve got the most beautiful body in Italy’) worked on her like an aphrodisiac.

Claretta was far from the first to be infatuated. Many women found Mussolini irresistible.  In 1926, Churchill’s wife Clementine wrote to her husband saying Il Duce was ‘most impressive: very dignified, with a charming smile and the most beautiful golden brown, piercing eyes, which you can see but can’t look at. He fills you with a sort of pleasurable awe’. And yet his treatment of women was appalling. Born in 1883, in the northern Italian town of Predappio in Forli, Mussolini was the son of a socialist blacksmith. By his teens, he was a regular at the town brothel, and throughout his life claimed that to be aroused he had to imagine that the woman sharing his bed was a prostitute.

The only love-making he understood was tantamount to rape, and his sexual appetite was vast. He needed up to four women a day and at times had more than a dozen casual mistresses on call.

After he came to power in 1922, his staff were under orders to sift through letters from female admirers — mostly married women — and select the likeliest candidates for sex. He received numerous such propositions by post every day. The chosen few would be invited to Mussolini’s office and sent through for a brief, one-sided encounter. Sex with Il Duce rarely lasted more than five minutes and he had no interest in his partner’s pleasure. His preference was for women of the lower order. Indeed, powerful women intimidated him. When the Italian king’s daughter, Princess Maria Jose, attempted to seduce him in a bathing hut at the Lido in Rome, dropping her dress to reveal ‘the briefest panties and two scraps of clothing on her breasts’, he admitted that he ‘failed to rise to the occasion’. It was the women who resisted him who aroused his most aggressive desire. In a letter he described raping a young virgin: ‘I grabbed her on the stairs, threw her into a corner behind a door and made her mine. She got up weeping and humiliated, and through her tears, she insulted me.

Mussolini’s sexuality has largely been ignored by historians as being unworthy of study. Yet it was central to the ‘virile’ cult of fascism and the Duce’s image of himself as a man of power and ardimento — physical daring. He radiated a ‘god-like potency’ and ‘bull-like’ magnetism, according to Claretta. Her diaries, amply quoted, record the dictator’s every movement and all his words to her, no matter how cringe-making or saccharine (‘I’d like to jump onto your bed like a big tomcat’).

In 1936, after a two-year separation, she became Mussolini’s principal and permanent concubine, the only one who was entitled to bodyguards, a chauffeur and quarters at the Palazzo Venezia.

She called him “Ben,” and he referred to himself, none too modestly, as “your giant.” He would complain to Claretta, his confidante, about the tight boots he always had to wear. Mussolini was as obsessed with sex as he was with his own power. Until the day of his removal from power, July 25, 1943, he had “a woman brought to him every day, every afternoon,” as his valet Quinto Navarra recalls.

Unfortunately for the ‘genteelly reared’ Catholic girl, Claretta was engaged to another man, while Mussolini himself was married with five children. The grandly uniformed Dux surely looked incongruous in her bedroom with its baby-pink telephone and items of pink furniture. He had had relations (or one-night stands) with hundreds of women by now, perhaps ‘as many as 400’, according to the Italian journalist Roberto Olla.

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.

Mussolini himself was intensely jealous and had his “bambina’s” every movement observed. “Your precious little body shall only tremble for me,” he told Claretta. Petacci wrote to pass the time she spent waiting for him. She wrote quickly and copiously, writing almost 2,000 pages in 1938 alone. Writing was “therapy” for Petacci. Mussolini spent much of the night before March 13, 1938, when Austria was annexed into the German Reich in the Anschluss, trying to persuade Claretta not to be jealous, and his efforts were successful. As she wrote: “We make love as we have never made love before, until he has heart pain, and then we do it again. Then he falls asleep, exhausted and blissful.”

In one entry, Petacci writes, ‘I hold him tightly. I kiss him and we make love with such fury that his screams seem like those of a wounded beast. Then, exhausted, he falls onto the bed’. In another, she relates ‘We made love with such force that he bit my shoulder so hard his teeth left a mark’

For the most part, however, the pillow talk Petacci describes, interspersed with diatribes against Mussolini’s wife Ráchele, is a record of sex addiction, infatuation and hypocrisy. In one instance, for example, Mussolini weeps as he describes the horrors of the war in Spain, where 150 children had just been killed during an air raid. “Just think, entire buildings destroyed, as if they were made of cardboard.” But Italy had just ordered the intensification of the bombing.

Elsewhere, Petacci’s diary records Mussolini’s growing anti-Semitism, his meetings with Hitler, and his fears about the coming war. Much of it is expressed in terms of frustration. Mussolini may have been a dictator, but he often felt straitjacketed by events beyond even his control. ‘I am a slave,’ he bemoans; ‘I am not even master in my own house’.

In his latter years, while running the Salo Republic, Mussolini had his mistress, Clara Petacci, a woman two years younger than his daughter Edda, set up home nearby – much to Rachele Mussolini’s disgust. Wife and mistress frequently argued while Mussolini, the diminished dictator, cowered.

Indeed, on one occasion, Rachele, accompanied by a minder, confronted Petacci. On arriving at the villa gates of her rival, Rachele kept her finger on the doorbell until Petacci’s own minder came out to tell her to go away. But Rachele forced her way in. On coming face to face with her husband’s mistress, she demanded that Petacci move out of the area. Petacci broke down in tears while Rachele called her names. Both minders waited anxiously in the wings. Petacci tried to read to Rachele letters sent to her by Mussolini. Unable to bear this, Rachele lunged at Petacci and had to be restrained by the minders.

Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini giving a speech in 1935 Fox Photos / Getty Images

Despite his love for Petacci, Mussolini still entertained women on a regular basis, usually on a sofa in his office.

Yet Petacci never lost her attachment to the Duce.

In April 1945, Mussolini, knowing the end was in sight, tried to flee to neutral Switzerland. His companion was not Rachele, his wife of thirty years, but Petacci.

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

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.

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.

But by April 1945, with the Allies advancing north through Italy, Mussolini knew the end was in sight. Together with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and a few followers, Mussolini fled and headed for the Swiss border. Stopped by Italian partisans, Mussolini’s attempts to disguise himself with a Luftwaffe overcoat and helmet had failed.

Shortly before seven o’clock on the rain-drenched morning of April 27, 1945, the hum of motors gradually displaced the serenity of the mountainous northern Italian countryside. A road convoy was rolling north on the two-lane highway less than 10 miles from the Swiss frontier on the north-west side of wishbone-shaped Lake Como. Crouching figures, one of them taking photos, watched from the rugged hillside as the vehicles entered a short tunnel just north of the hamlet of Musso. The 40-vehicle convoy was forced to an abrupt halt by a roadblock of rocks and a felled tree on the other side of the tunnel. Rifle fire erupted from the hillside. The armoured car in the convoy barked a reply with its cannon.

On April 28, 1945, at the picturesque Lake Como, the partisans stopped the car; pushed Mussolini and Petacci out, and ordered them against a wall. Whilst the partisans pronounced the death sentence, Petacci flung her arms around Mussolini and screamed, “No, he mustn’t die.” Petacci was shot and fell. Mussolini ripped open his jacket and screamed, ‘Shoot me in the chest!’ The executioner, a communist partisan by the name of Walter Audisio, did so. Mussolini fell but was not dead. Another bullet in the chest ensured that he was. The bodies were heaped into the back of a van, together with those of Mussolini’s last followers, and transported to Milan.

In the city, their bodies were delivered to the Piazzale Loreto, the scene of a mass execution of partisans the year before.

After the execution — and before his body was hung from a scaffold to give the crowds a better view — Mussolini’s corpse was laid out on the ground in the Piazzale Loreto.

A civilian tramped across the bodies and dealt Mussolini ‘s shaven head a terrific kick. Someone pushed the twisted head into a more natural position again with a rifle butt. Although the Duce’s upper teeth now protruded grotesquely, there was no mistaking his jaw. In death, Mussolini seemed a little man. He wore Fascist Militia uniform — grey breeches with a narrow black stripe, a green-grey tunic and muddy black riding boots. A bullet had pierced his skull over the left eye and emerged at the back, leaving a hole from which the brains dripped.

Mistress Petacci, daughter of an ambitious Roman family, wore a white silk blouse. In her breast were two bullet holes ringed by dark circles of dried blood.

The mob surged and swayed around the grisly spot. One woman emptied a pistol into the Duce’s body. “Five shots!” she screamed. “Five shots for my five murdered sons!” Others cried: “He died too quickly! He should have suffered!” But the hate of many was wordless. They could only spit.

The corpses were beaten and urinated upon and finally left to hang upside down, for public display, from a rusty beam outside a petrol station. Petacci had not been wearing underwear and a group of old women rearranged her skirt to preserve her modesty. People surged around, desperate to get a look, to laugh and spit upon them, wanting to make sure that it was true: Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for 23 years, was truly dead and Italy could live again.

The macabre scene later that morning was a much-photographed one—frenzied, jeering crowds, who only four months earlier had cheered their Duce, milling beneath the bloody cadavers of Mussolini, Petacci, and four other Fascists hanging head down from a metal beam. To the bodies under them was added that of Achille Starace, the early Fascist Party secretary, who had been caught and shot on the spot. The corpses, mutilated and barely recognisable, were taken away that evening, placed in simple coffins, and displayed outside the city morgue.

When Adolf Hitler heard of Mussolini’s undignified end, he was determined he would not suffer the same fate. Two days after Mussolini’s death, he shot his new wife and long-time mistress Eva Braun, and then poisoned and shot himself. He ordered that both their bodies be burned after their deaths to prevent any post-mortem desecration.

Margherita Sarfatti (April 8, 1880 – October 30, 1961) was an Italian journalist, art critic, patron, collector, socialite, a prominent propaganda adviser of the National Fascist Party. She was Benito Mussolini’s biographer as well as one of his mistresses.

Days after the end of the war, Rachele also tried to flee to Switzerland and was also apprehended at Como by partisans. Handed over to the Allies, she was interned by the Americans, where she volunteered to cook for her fellow inmates, before being released within a matter of months. Penniless, she and her daughter Edda lived in Rome surviving on handouts before eventually returning to Predappio, her place of birth.

Rachele canvassed the Italian government to allow her to bury her husband’s body in Predappio. Finally, her wish was granted and in 1957, Mussolini was returned and buried in the family crypt. Immediately, Mussolini’s grave became a shrine for neo-fascists with frequent ‘pilgrimages’ especially on significant dates – his date of birth, 29 July, and death, 28 April.

Meanwhile, dressed traditionally as a ‘black-cad mamma’, Rachele Mussolini kept chickens, tendered a garden, and opened a small restaurant within sight of a mock-medieval castle that Mussolini had built at the height of his power. The restaurant did well, as did a roaring side trade in selling postcards featuring her husband.

In March 1966, Rachele was handed an envelope by an American diplomat. Inside, bizarrely, was a piece of Mussolini’s brain which the Americans had removed from Mussolini’s corpse presumably, thought Rachele because they ‘wanted to know what makes a dictator’. The Washington Post that year had reported that a ‘section’ of Mussolini’s brain had been ‘examined by pathologists who described it as average’. She placed the section of brain in a box above Mussolini’s grave.

Mussolini’s widow, Rachele, ever the devoted wife and mother, spent most of the post-war years on her farm at Predappio. She died there in 1979, at age 87, and was buried next to the one-time dictator and two of their children. Son Bruno had died testing an air force bomber in 1941; daughter Anna Maria, satisfied to be a housewife, passed on in 1968. Edda, the eldest and favourite of her father, an “independent-minded woman when women in Italy had few rights,” died of cardiac arrest in Rome in 1995. After the execution of her husband, Count Galeazzo Ciano, for treason in 1944 (he had been one of the cabinet votes to depose Il Duce), she disavowed her father and the family name. Vittorio, an airman, war veteran, and probably Mussolini’s most loyal child, died of kidney failure in Rome in 1997. Only Romano, who, to his father’s disappointment, became a highly successful jazz musician, lived to see the new century.

The Mussolini name has made the newspapers innumerable times since that fateful Saturday in 1945, most recently in 2003. Alessandra Mussolini, Il Duce’s 40-year-old granddaughter, severed her ties to the rightist post-Fascist National Alliance Party for denouncing the one-time dictator’s 20-year reign as “shameful pages of history.” The daughter of Romano Mussolini, she had been a member of the Italian parliament for 11 years. Earlier, when she was nearly elected mayor of Naples with 44 percent of the vote, she said, “This is a victory for my grandfather.” Before that, she had abandoned an acting career after posing for Playboy magazine and unsuccessfully auditioning for the female lead in Big Top Pee-Wee, an American film. Her mother’s sister is the famous actress Sophia Loren.

In 2009, in another bizarre postscript, Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, model turned politician, discovered that the Italian version of the online auction site, eBay, was listing three glass vials containing blood samples and more fragments of her grandfather’s brain with a starting price of 15,000 Euros. On realising their mistake (eBay forbids the sale of body parts), the listing was immediately removed.

When the diaries were published, to the considerable consternation of one of Mussolini’s descendants. “This woman would be convicted of stalking today,” says Alessandra,  she insists that “not a word” of what Petacci wrote about her grandfather is true. The Mussolinis never had a very high opinion of Petacci, the only woman who was faithful to Mussolini literally to the bitter end.

Thus, the heritage of Benito Mussolini evolves and lives, a subject of ongoing fascination in Italy. Whether reviled or lauded, he remains the Fascist dictator who led an unprepared nation into World War II and died an ignominious death. Winston Churchill called Il Duce’s execution “murder,” but, looking at the other side of the coin, he realised, “at least the world was spared an Italian Nuremberg.”

Mussolini is renowned for his sexual appetite. Although he remained married to one woman from 1915 until his death (and had five children with her), he had at least three other serious, long-term sexual relationships.

(1) Ida Dalser, with whom he was involved before he met Rachele, and with whom he had a child, (2) Sarfatti, and (3) Clara Petacci, a young woman who took Sarfatti’s place as a favourite of the dictator and who was killed along with him in 1945. More than that, Mussolini was known for his “one day stands”; he apparently had a young woman brought to him most afternoons after lunch either while he was in his Rome office other on the road elsewhere in the country. (A perk, I suppose, of being a dictator.)

Ida Irene Dalser was a lover and the first wife of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Here are the most important women in his life.

Ida DalserMussolini struck up a relationship with the beauty therapist in around 1909. They may have married in 1914, although no records survive. In 1915 she bore him his first child, which they named Benito Albino Mussolini.

Mussolini as editor of the social democratic paper Avanti drives up its circulation, but with the outbreak of WWI, the Socialist Party splits into two factions—those calling for Italian intervention in the bloody imperialist conflict, and those rejecting any involvement.

Mussolini became a ferocious proponent of Italian intervention, seeing the war as an opportunity for Italy to wrest control of Trento and Trieste from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Denounced as a traitor and expelled from the party, he establishes his own paper—IL Popolo d’Italia—‘The People of Italy’ to agitate for the war. Dalser sold most of her possessions to help finance Mussolini’s political activities and the couple married and have a son. Mussolini, however, maintains a certain distance and refuses to completely commit himself to Dalser. He joins the army and is wounded in a training accident.

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 daughter, Edda, who had been born in 1910.

Dalser later discovered that he has married another woman—Rachele Guidi, and there is an angry altercation between the two women at a church hospital where Mussolini is recuperating from his injuries. The future fascist dictator is beginning to be noticed by sections of Italy’s ruling elite, including King Vittorio Emanuele III, and has no intention of letting Dalser or anybody else stand in the way of his political ambition.

Mussolini subsequently tried to expunge both Dalser and his son from his life, regarding them as an embarrassment, particularly after he married Rachele Guidi. Dalser publicly insisted that she was Mussolini’s wife but is made persona non grata and then placed under virtual house arrest at her sister’s home. Government agents raid the house, destroying all evidence of her relationship with Mussolini.

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.

Mussolini ordered the destruction of the marriage records and stopped paying his first wife maintenance as previously ordered by the courts.

Dalser stubbornly refused to be intimidated and wrote to the Pope, the king, in fact, anyone in authority she hopes will listen and demands that she be officially acknowledged as Mussolini’s first wife. She vacillates between denouncing Mussolini as a traitor and deluding herself that he still loves her and is simply testing her loyalty.

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 abducted by government agents and was placed in various boarding schools and, as he grew up, was told that his mother had died. In 1931, at age fifteen, he was adopted as an orphan by the fascist ex-police chief of Sopramonte. Initially educated at a Barnabite college in Moncalieri, he enrolled in the Italian Royal Navy, and always remained under close surveillance by the fascist government. Nevertheless, he persisted in stating Benito Mussolini was his father and was eventually forcibly interned in an asylum in Mombello, Province of Milan, where he was murdered on 26 August 1942 after repeated coma-inducing injections, aged twenty-six.

The story of Benito Mussolini’s first marriage was suppressed during fascist rule and remained generally unknown for years afterwards. It was uncovered in 2005 by Italian journalist Marco Zeni and made public through a TV documentary on state television as well as two books (L’ultimo filò and La moglie di Mussolini).

Young Rachele Guidi Mussolini, likely early 20th century.

Rachele Guidi: The deterioration of Mussolini’s relationship with Ida Dalser was in part due to the romance he struck up with Rachele Guidi.

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.’

In 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.

In fact, it was less Mussolini’s dalliances that worried Rachele, than his career in politics: ‘You can’t be happy in politics… one day things go well,’ she said, ‘another day things go badly.’ She admitted that she had been at her happiest when they were poor. ‘She never was,’ declared Life, ‘nor ever wanted to be, anything but a housewife’. She certainly disliked the trappings of being married to Italy’s most powerful man. She hated life in Rome and, refusing to live there, avoided the city at all costs. ‘If I lived in Rome,’ she told Life, ‘I’d be a communist.’

Mussolini was, by all accounts, fearful of his wife. Once, following an argument, she kicked him out of the house and made him have his dinner on the front steps. One friend remembered, ‘The Duce was more afraid of her than he was of the Germans.’

Meanwhile, despite numerous affairs and dalliances, Mussolini remained with his second wife, Rachele, throughout his life. They were to have five children.

In 1930, Edda married Mussolini’s foreign secretary, Galeazzo Ciano. (During the Second World War, on 11 January 1944, Mussolini had his son-in-law executed, an act for which Edda never forgave her father: ‘The Italian people must avenge the death of my husband. If they do not, I’ll do it with my own hands.’)  Another womaniser, Rachele disliked her daughter’s husband and made no attempt to disguise it.

At the end of the war, with her husband and his mistress being hunted by partisans, she too tried to flee Italy. But she was captured and handed over to US forces before being released after a few months’ internment. She subsequently ran a restaurant in the village in which she grew up in Emilia Romagna.

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

Clara Petacci: Mussolini started corresponding with his lover Claretta Petacci when she was only 14 years old. The young Clara had sent the Dux a letter to let him know how happy she was that he had survived an attempt on his life and how outrageous she considered the incident. Mussolini was impressed by the letter, asked who the girl was, and ordered his secretary to reply to her, thanking her for the feelings expressed in it. Thus would start a relationship that would last for many years and would lead Claretta to her death, at the side of the man she so deeply loved.

Here is the letter:

Dux. For the second time they have cowardly made an attempt on Your person. A woman! What infamy, what cowardice, what disgrace! But she’s a foreigner and that’s enough! Beloved Dux, why have they made another attempt* to take you away from our strong and safe love? Dux, my very great Dux, our life, our hope, our glory, how can there be a soul so wicked to attempt to the bright destiny of our beautiful Italy? O, Dux, why wasn’t I there!

Why couldn’t I strangle that woman assassin who has wounded You, divine being? Why couldn’t I remove her forever from our Italian soil, that has been stained with Your pure blood, with your great, good, sincere Romagnolo blood! Dux, I want to repeat to you like I did the other very sad time, that I ardently wish to lay my head on Your chest to be able to hear still alive the beats of Your big heart. These painful and memorable dates will remain forever stamped on my heart: 4 November 1925, 7 April 1926. O, Dux, You who are the man of our future, who are the man loved always with growing fervour and passion by the Italian people and by those who don’t desire your decline, you never have to leave us.

When I learned the sad news, I believed I would die because I deeply love You like a little fascist of the first hour. Dux, how much Your good and sensible heart will have suffered at noticing that a foreign hand tried to break Your Saintly regenerating and powerful work. Very beloved Dux, immortal loyalty all Your Blackshirts have again sworn to you, and I little, ma courageous Fascist, with my favourite motto contain all the love my youthful heart feels for you: Dux, my life is for You! The Dux is safe! Viva the Dux!

Clara Petacci (14 years old), Lungo Tevere Cenci N. 10

She was just 19 when she became the mistress of the fascist dictator, who was married with five children and 29 years her senior. In April 1945, with total defeat looming, the couple tried to escape to Switzerland but were caught by partisans in northern Italy, executed and strung up by their feet from a petrol station. Her diaries, in which she documented her relationship with the fascist leader, were published for the first time in 2009. “Do you know, my darling, that last night at the theatre I undressed you at least three times?” she recalled him telling her in 1938.

In 1911, Margherita Sarfatti met Benito Mussolini (three years her junior) and started a relationship with him. After losing her husband in 1924, she wrote a biography of Mussolini. This first published in 1925 in Britain under the title The Life of Benito Mussolini; it was published the following year in Italy with the title Dux. Because of the fame of Mussolini and the author’s familiarity with the dictator, the book was a success. Seventeen editions were printed and it was translated into 18 languages.

Margherita Sarfatti: Sarfatti was the daughter of a wealthy Italian Jewish lawyer and grew up in a grand palazzo in Venice. Despite being married, she embarked on an affair with Mussolini in around 1911.

For the role-played by Sarfatti (with whom, by the way, Mussolini clearly had a deeply emotional, as well as physical, relationship), went far beyond sex and company.

Margherita was Jewish, although she herself was non-religious, and she converted to Catholicism in 1928 (she was 48 at the time), becoming a non-observant Catholic, rather than a non-observant Jew. This was after her husband, Cesare Sarfatti, a Jewish lawyer more committed to the religion than his wife, had passed away.

Not only was Sarfatti Jewish, but she was born to one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Venice, where one of her grandfathers had been the mayor (the first Jewish mayor of the city) and the other a businessman who, with his associates, was responsible for developing the Venice Lido as a beach resort.  Her family lived sequentially in two large palazzi in Venice, and she never lacked for money, position or culture.

But she was a rebel, and a very smart one, from an early age, and she and her husband, also from a prominent Jewish family, became radical socialists around the turn of the century, engaging in journalistic efforts, the labour movement and (in Cesare’s position) as a supporter of the legal rights of the working and peasant classes.  It was in this way that she met the young Benito Mussolini (3 years her junior), who was at the time also a radical socialist.  They worked closely together on many projects and, as Mussolini remained married to Rachele after their affair started, so she remained attached to Cesare until his death, with whom she had three children.

And then there was the tragedy and the empowerment of the war.  The war took the life of Margherita’s oldest son, Roberto, at age 17, a tragedy she never imagined could happen, and one she never forgot. The war gave Mussolini a chance to demonstrate his charismatic leadership, something he obviously never forgot.

Throughout this long difficult period, there were three Sarfattis.  There was Margherita Sarfatti the regular sexual companion of Mussolini.  There was Margherita Sarfatti, the polemic journalist who wrote both under her own name and as a ghostwriter for Mussolini, and who was the author of a best-selling biography of Mussolini, which helped bring him to national and worldwide attention.  And then there was, strange as it may seem, the Margherita Sarfatti, who more than anything loved art and art history, and who wrote widely on the subject, becoming one of the most prominent experts on Italian art of all ages, including Renaissance art, and Italian modernist art.

Throughout this time, and until the mid-1930s, Italian Jews (a relatively small community, but a very old community with many prominent members in business, professional, intellectual and artistic pursuits) were considered as Italian as Italian Catholics. The country was proudly anti-anti-Semitic.  Thus, Mussolini’s dalliances with a Jewish lover was not itself of interest.

Eventually, Italy and Hitler’s Germany found themselves full blown allies, and in the mid-1930s Italy issued laws limiting Jewish participation in the professions, abolishing marriage or employment relationships between Christians and Jews, and so forth.  Sure, they never set up concentration camps or created modern ghettos, and the Italian government did not participate in the “Final Solution”.  But the Italians who happened to be Jewish were no longer considered as full blown Italians.  And, as Margherita found out, conversion did not change her status.

It was during this period that the Sarfatti-Mussolini personal relationship deteriorated and their sexual relationship ended.  Would this have happened anyway, or did Sarfatti’s Jewish background play the major role?  It is hard to answer this question, but Sarfatti for the first time found it difficult to meet with Mussolini, found that his support of her artwork (including her support for young artists and her curating of large scale art exhibitions around the country) ending, and learned that he no longer wanted her to write her articles about the positives of the fascist movement, which she had been doing for a large number of periodicals, including American ones, under her own name and under the name of Mussolini.

She still seemed to feel something for her former lover, but she was violently opposed to the turns he had taken politically – his support of Franco in Spain, his invasion of Ethiopia to prove Italy was a major colonial power, and of course his alliance with Nazi Germany. He obviously no longer wanted her advice, he sometimes denied they ever had a relationship, and she found that many of her former friends and allies in the power circles of Italian government and culture were no longer friends. She began to worry about her own safety and that of her family.

Eventually, Margherita travelled extensively in the United States, and left Italy altogether (along with her one living son and his family – her daughter and family remained in Rome during the war), living for a while in Paris and then splitting her time between her children and grandchildren in Montevideo and the large Italian community in Buenos Aires. After the war, she returned to Italy, living a more private life and writing about art and art history, until she died at age 80.

Sarfatti grew up in a palazzo situated at the Canal Grande in Venice and was educated by private tutors. However, she was soon attracted by socialist ideas and escaped her parents’ home at age 18 to marry Cesare Sarfatti, a Jewish lawyer from Padua. He was 13 years her senior, but shared her socialist beliefs. In 1902, the couple moved to Milan. There, they became prominent in the city’s artistic life, hosting weekly Salons that became the centre of the Futurist and Novecento Italiano artistic movements. They had several children.

Casual flings: The dictator, who liked to present himself as an insatiable Latin lover, is thought to have had hundreds of casual lovers, many of them Italian women who offered themselves to him out of admiration for his fascist beliefs. He lost his virginity at the age of 17 to a prostitute. He later described her as “an elderly woman who spilled out lard from all parts of her body.” Once he had risen to power as head of the fascist party, his valet claimed that Il Duce had “a woman brought to him every day, every afternoon”. They were recorded in the guest book of his official residence, Palazzo Venezia in Rome, as “fascist visitors”. Mussolini himself liked to brag about his love life. “There was a time when I had 14 women and took three or four them every evening, one after the other,” he once said.

In 1910, while working as a journalist, the 27-year-old Mussolini was offered a job as a reporter in America. Rachele was pregnant with Edda at the time and therefore they decided against going. ‘I often wish we had,’ she said. ‘I think my husband might have been very successful in America.’

Mussolini Executed

Italian Partisans Kill Mussolini

Mussolini Killed

Mussolini

In Bed with Benito

Rachele Mussolini – Wikipedia

Benito Mussolini’s women – Telegraph

Rachele Mussolini – a summary – History in an HourHistory in an Hour

Mussolini: History In An Hour 

She Was Called Mussolini’s “Jewish Mistress”, But She Was Much …

Ida Dalser (Dictator) – Pics, Videos, Dating, & News – Spokeo

Vincere—the tragic life of Ida Dalser, Mussolini’s first wife – World …

The Execution of Mussolini – a summary – History in an HourHistory in …

Mussolini’s Final Hours, 70 Years Ago – History in the Headlines

Execution of Mussolini – Custermen

Clara Petacci – Wikipedia

In Bed with Benito: Sex Diaries Reveal Mussolini’s Soft Side …

The death of Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci – WW2 …

Seducing Mussolini | The Spectator

Claretta Petacci – a summary – History in an HourHistory in an Hour

Modesty and Killing – Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog


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