Who was Clara Petacci?
Clara Petacci was the mistress of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Being born to a convinced fascist, she dutifully adored Mussolini and the cult of ducismo as a child. She sung the fascist youth anthem ‘Giovinezza’ and also gave the fascist salute while at school. She eventually managed to reach her idol when she was twenty years old, and while the Duce reportedly had had fleeting relationships with ‘as many as 400’ women, she quickly rose among the ranks to become his long-time mistress. She stayed with him till the end, and was executed alongside him on April 28, 1945. She has been featured in many films and TV shows like 'Claretta', 'Mussolini: The Untold Story' and 'Mussolini and I'. For her devotion as a lover, she is often portrayed favorably by later authors.
Love Affair With Mussolini
Clara Petacci reportedly wrote her first letter to Benito Mussolini on April 7, 1926, explaining how she would have protected him after Violet Gibson, the mentally disturbed daughter of a Conservative MP, who shot at him at close range but narrowly missed.
Clara Petacci eventually met Mussolini sheer by chance on a fateful day in April 1932, at the age of 20, when he drove past her in his car. She was travelling from Rome to the seaside resort of Ostia in a car, and she ordered her driver to follow him. After they met, despite a huge 28-year gap in age, she reportedly fell in love instantaneously.
In the following weeks, she relentlessly pursued him, first by sending him love letters and calling him on the telephone, and eventually managed to secure a private audience with him at the Palazzo Venezia. Interestingly, a Catholic girl, she was at the time engaged to another man, Riccardo Federici, while Mussolini had five children with his wife Rachele Mussolini. She is considered to be the only woman the dictator truly loved.
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Life with Mussolini & Death
Clara Petacci spent the rest of her live with her "beloved Ben", as she often called Benito Mussolini, till their death on April 28, 1945. She also accompanied him when, towards the end of the World War II, he attempted to escape to Spain via Switzerland. On 27th April 1945, she was captured alongside Mussolini by partisans while traveling with a convoy of Italian Social Republic members. She reportedly died after being shot while defending her lover in Mezzegra, where they were detained overnight. He was also executed soon after, and the following day, both of them were hung upside down in front of a petrol station in Piazzale Loreto in Milan, along with many other fascist leaders.
Clara Petacci kept a detailed account of the time she spent with the Duce in a personal diary which was seized by Italian authorities in 1949, and was released for public viewing only in 2009. It is now considered an important record of the private life of the dictator, and sheds light to a side of his character that was long unexplored by historians.
Her records conform to his image as a man of power and physical daring, which was central to the ‘virile’ cult of fascism. However, it also exposes the fact that he was a boastful and needy man who often needed others to pamper his ego by telling him how handsome he looked, how much she and the Italian people loved him, and how he was a genius much like Napoleon. Interestingly, it was she who recorded how he had a dull conjugal life with his wife Rachele and how he kept up to 14 lovers at a time when he was younger.
Claretta Petacci was born on February 28, 1912 in Rome, Lazio, Italy to Dr. Francesco Saverio Petacci and his wife Giuseppina Persichetti Petacci. Her father was primary physician of Pope Pius XI. She was ‘genteelly reared’ in an upper class Catholic family and as a child studied music from violinist Corrado Archibugi, a family friend.
By the time she became romantically involved with Benito Mussolini in 1932, she was engaged to a man named Riccardo Federici, a lieutenant in the Air force. Her family reportedly supported her affair with the dictator to climb the social ladder. She got married to Federici in 1934, but they separated soon after.
She had a brother named Marcello who had accompanied her and Mussolini while they were escaping, and was shot dead in the water of the lake Como while trying to flee. She also had a younger sister named Maria Petacci, also known as Miriam di San Servolo, who later became an actress. Her mother died on March 22, 1962, while her father died in 1970.