Edda Mussolini was a child of her times – a woman defined by the men around her – her father, Benito Mussolini - from October 1922 Prime Minister of Italy & from 3rd January 1925 Dictator - & her husband Count Galeazzo Ciano - from June 1936 Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs. Neither man was able to control Edda’s wildness. Edda should have been a boy & when she was a child Mussolini treated her as one. In many ways Edda was like her father – she loved fast cars, was intelligent & strong-willed, determined to have her own way. Edda’s life followed the meteoric rise & crash of her fathers, burning out with the fall of the Fascist regime he had created.
On 1st September 1910 Edda was born in Forli, the eldest of Benito Mussolini’s children. He named her Edda, after the heroine of Ibsen’s play - Hedda Gabler. At the time of Edda’s birth Mussolini was not married to her mother Rachele Guidi, a semi-literate young peasant girl. Mussolini, a former teacher, was the editor of a small weekly Forli paper La Lotta di Classe & General Secretary of the Federation of Forli Socialists[i]. There were, according to Edda herself, rumours in later years that Rachele was not her mother & that a former mistress, Angelica Balabanoff, was her real mother[ii].
The small family was made remarkable mainly by the eccentricities of its pater familias. An ardent socialist, who had spent time living rough in Switzerland, Mussolini was arrested & imprisoned in November 1911 for criminal damage, resisting the forces of law & order & other crimes during a general strike opposing Italy’s involvement in a war with Libya. Released in March 1912 Mussolini returned home to the family he had left penniless & reliant on the charity of friends[iii]. In December 1912 the family moved to Milan, as Mussolini had been made editor of the Socialist paper Avanti!
Edda’s upbringing was unusual. Her father allegedly used to lock Rachele in their flat when he went to work, as he was jealous of any potential lovers to the extent that he would take dirty dinner dishes down to the stand pipe to do the washing-up[iv]. The family apartment was always on the top floor of any building they lived in, as Mussolini could not bear noise. As a baby Edda was serenaded to sleep by her father playing on his violin. Mussolini decided to teach Edda himself, rather than send her to school. Edda claimed to have learnt the alphabet using the presses printing her father’s papers & would display her knowledge by chalking her letters on the kitchen floor[v]. .
In addition to his short absence in prison Mussolini was also an absent father while fighting for his country during what became known as the Great War. Previously a supporter of Italian neutrality, Mussolini speedily changed his political position. He resigned his position as editor of Avanti! & in November 1914 Mussolini started his paper Il Popolo d’Italia. In mid 1915 Mussolini was called up to fight. He wrote letters regularly to Edda while he was away[vi].
Mussolini’s lover, Ida Dalser, & mother of his second child, had taken to calling herself Signora Mussolini. Ida claimed that she had been through a ceremony of marriage with Mussolini, which he denied. Following an incident when Rachele was arrested instead of Ida Dalser, who had set fire to a hotel room, an infuriated Rachele agreed to marry Mussolini at a civil ceremony at Mussolini’s bedside in December 1915; he was in hospital with typhoid. Mussolini was back on the front line by Christmas.
Edda was affected by her upbringing. She idolised her eccentric & often absent father but seemed dismissive of her mother, possibly because she was not educated. Rachele apparently beat the children regularly with a broom, in an attempt to control her unruly brood. While Rachele was pregnant with Vittorio, the family kept a cock in their flat in anticipation of the feast for Vittorio’s birth. To make a cage for the cock Edda was sent to obtain wood from the cellar of their apartment building. She was caught by the caretaker who immediately complained to Rachele. Edda was beaten for telling the caretaker why she was stealing the wood.
Vittorio Mussolini was born in September 1916 & the 6 year old Edda was jealous. Having decided to kill Vittorio she knocked over a stool that her grandmother, holding the new baby, was about to sit on. For her pains Edda was thrashed by her grandmother & then her mother[vii].
Mussolini returned to hospital in February 1917 following shrapnel injuries. Ida Dalser turned up at Milan hospital in February to visit her lover. The visit ended in a cat fight with Rachele, much to the amusement of the other patients. Mussolini left hospital in August 1917, on a year’s sick leave[viii].
Home from hospital Mussolini spent his time building up a new party with new political beliefs – Fascism was officially founded on 19th March 1919. Bruno was born in April 1918. Mussolini was often away from home generating support for his new party, but he was able to find the time to learn to fly a plane, starting lessons in July 1920. By 30th October 1922 Mussolini had been made Italy’s prime minister, following the March on Rome on the 22nd[ix]. He became Dictator of Italy in January 1925[x].
At some time between 1922-3 the Mussolini family moved to the Villa Carpena in Milan, while Mussolini worked & carried on womanizing in Rome, now even more the absent father. Ida Dalser was not Mussolini’s only lover throughout his tempestuous marriage to Rachele; there was also Margareta Sarfati, art critic on Avanti! She was to remain important in Mussolini’s life until the war. Not to mention an ever changing parade of women passing up the back stairs to the Prime Minister’s office. And in 1923 Rachele apparently returned the compliment by taking a lover of her own from Forli. Edda was later to follow her parents’ example.
Following Edda’s falling in love with the Forli stationmaster during the summer, she was sent away to school near Florence in October 1925 at the Santissima Annunziata College in Poggio Imperiale, where she was bullied. Mussolini wrote to the school in November with the pious hope that she would be treated the same as the other girls, many of whom were from aristocratic backgrounds. Edda, in letters to friends back in Milan, made impractical escape plans, which she reluctantly abandoned [xi].
In December 1925 Mussolini & Rachele were married for a second time by a priest in their Milan home to regularise the Prime Minister’s home relationship in the eyes of the Catholic church. Prior to this second marriage Edda & her brothers were christened.Three years later the Mussolinis sent their wild child Edda to India in December 1928, chaperoned by a Senator Conti & his wife. Edda returned in January 1929, having grown up according to her brother.
Rachele & the children did not join Mussolini in Rome until November 1929, by which time Rachele had given birth to another two children – Romano in September 1927 & Anna Maria in September 1929, in an attempt to encourage the Italian people to follow likewise & have large families. The Mussolini family moved into the Villa Torlonia, paying a peppercorn rent to the owner Prince Torlonia. Almost immediately Rachele sacked the housekeeper, who had been with Mussolini since 1923[xii].
Edda took to Rome like a duck takes to water, so much so that her Aunt Edvige suggested to Mussolini that Edda be married to a nice boy from Forli. Edda’s engagement to Count Pier-Francesco Mangelli, whose father was an industrialist, lasted until Edda was told to break it off by her father on 17th January 1930. Pier-Francesco had had the temerity to ask the Duce for a dowry[xiii]. By then Edda had already met the man she was to marry - the son of one of her father's ministers.
[i] Mussolini: A New Life by Nicholas Farrell, 2004, Phoenix
[ii] My Truth by Edda Mussolini Ciano 1977, Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, Mussolini by Vittorio Mussolini 1973 New English Library
[iii] Mussolini - Farrell
[v] My Truth - Ciano
[vi] The Real Mussolini by Rachele Mussolini 1974, Saxon House, Mussolini - Farrell
[vii] Mussolini - Mussolini
[ix] Mussolini – Farrell, My Truth - Ciano
[x] Mussolini - Farrell
[xi] Mussolini by RJB Bosworth 2002, Arnold, Mussolini - Mussolini
[xii] Mussolini – Bosworth, Mussolini – Farrell, Mussolini - Mussolini
[xiii] My Truth – Ciano, Mussolini’s Shadow – Moseley, Mussolini - Mussolini