Mussolini, the Italian Queen, and a Royal Romance
A letter written by Benito Mussolini's son Romano, and re-printed in an Italian magazine, makes the remarkable claim that the dictator had an affair with Queen Maria Jose of Savoy, the last queen of Italy.
Maria Jose was born to the Belgian king in 1906. Her future was mapped out for her, as it so often is when the progeny of Royal families is concerned, and her family agreed that she would marry into the Italian lineage. Aged 26, she wed Umberto of Savoy, and moved to Italy where, in stark contrast to many in her new family, she was a persistent critic of Fascism. Known as Princess de Piedmont, she became Queen for a month following the Second World War, before a plebiscite abolished the monarchy. She left her husband shortly after and spent most of her remaining years in Switzerland, dying in a Geneva clinic at the age of 94 in 2001.
Mussolini's links with the Italian Royals were among the many reasons for the family's downfall, and rumours of Il Duce's relationship with the young queen were rife during the 1930s: the dictator's mistress, Claretta Petacci, noted in her diary that the princess had failed in an attempt to seduce her man whilst at a coastal resort, with Mussolini's reassuring his trusting consort that the princess' advances (which included swimming naked in front of him) were "repulsive".
The news of yet another sexual conquest from Italy's great and good will burnish Mussolini's reputation as a romantic of some repute. Tales of his promiscuity are legion, and the list of women he supposedly bedded is long (the Telegraph has a useful guide to many of the more noteworthy subjects).
Romano Mussolini's letter was written in 1971 and addressed to a journalist, but it is only now, 40 years later, that it has come to light, after the journalist's son discovered it. Yet it's unlikely to change our understanding of the man. As Stephen Gundle, writing in History Today last year, has pointed out, Il Duce's cultural cachet is substantial enough already.
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