It may sound strange, but when Clara Petacci was shot by the firing squad on April 28, 1945, and hung up in the center of Milan along with Benito Mussolini and 14 other Fascists, she got what she had wanted.
You see, from a young age, Clara Petacci wanted two things – to be famous and to be close to “Il Duce.” Through charm and persistence, Clara became Musoslini’s lover and even used her influence to secure special privileges for her family.
Although the events of World War II led to the violent deaths of Clara and Mussolini, she managed to achieve her two main goals in life. She became forever associated with the Italian dictator.
It’s time to take a look at the fascinating life of Mussolini’s mistress and how she went from a swooning teenager to one of the most important figures in the life of Italy’s most famous strongman.
Clara Petacci Falls for “Il Duce”
You could say that Clara Petacci was destined to end up with Benito Mussolini. As a teenager she worshiped him, and that devotion continued even when she was married to another man.
But there was a defining moment that she would remember again and again. This moment that led her into her hero’s arms occurred just before that ill-fated marriage.
It was April 24, 1932, just before she was set to be married to an air force officer named Riccardo Federici. On that day, she was traveling with her family from Rome to the Ostia seaside. She passed by “Il Duce” in his red Alfa C6 1750 Gran Turismo Zagato.
Having spent years in awe of the man, Clara told her chauffeur to follow him. When they finally caught up to him, she flagged him down and started gushing about how great a man she thought he was.
No doubt flattered by the attention of such an attractive 19-year-old, Mussolini called Clara three days later. He then invited her to read poetry to him at Palazzo Venezia.
Pretty soon, the pair began talking often. Mussolini sometimes called her up to a dozen times a day, but for Clara, even that wasn’t enough. She confessed to him that during periods when he didn’t call, she would shake with emotion and worry that he was spending his time with other women.
Clara remained with her husband for several years while meeting regularly with Benito Mussolini. Despite the constant communication and the meetings in the Palazzo Venezia, it’s not clear when their friendship turned from one of fawning admiration to a full-blown romance.
But one factor that may have pushed Clara even further into Mussolini’s arms was the behavior of her husband. According to Clara, he slapped her on occasion and made her and her family suffer.
After appealing to Mussolini repeatedly, Clara finally succeeded in having her husband shipped off to a military post in Africa. By the spring of 1936, the pair separated. It was not long after that Clara and Mussolini finally began their affair.
The Rise and Fall of “Il Duce”
Clara’s adoration of Mussolini was one of a believer worshiping a deity. She would say things like, “I want to be between your feet like a little unhappy cat and earn a caress now and again.”
She assured him that she couldn’t possibly live without him. Clara’s devotion to Mussolini was extreme. But it may not have come as a surprise to the dictator, whose popularity was at an all-time high during this period.
You see, the 1930s were a rough decade for most of the world. An economic crisis lingered in both Europe and North America. Germany, with Hitler at the helm, was growing increasingly ambitious and hostile towards its neighbors.
But during this troubling period, Italy stood apart. Its economy had weathered the crisis better than most other European countries. Many people credited Mussolini for the country’s success.
That all began to change during World War II. As Italy’s army lost battle after battle, proving itself to be the weak partner in the Axis alliance, Musoslini’s reputation plummeted.
On July 25, 1943, the Fascist Grand Council took a vote of no confidence and pushed the dictator out of power. Following the vote, Mussolini, the once great man of Italy, was arrested and imprisoned.
As a result of Mussolini’s fall from grace, journalists began digging into his past. They revealed to the world that he and Clara had been secretly carrying on an affair for several years. This was a scandalous piece of news that further tarnished his already damaged reputation.
For a time, it seemed that Hitler could save Mussolini from his downward spiral. Having always admired the Italian dictator, Hitler intervened and rescued Mussolini from prison a little over a month after he was placed there.
Mussolini was then taken to northern Italy where Hitler instructed him to set up the Italian Social Republic. With Allied forces drawing ever closer to victory, however, Mussolini’s newfound state was short-lived.
The Brutal Execution of “Il Duce” and Clara Petacci
By April 1945, the German army was in full retreat. Mussolini’s northern Italian holdout was about to be overrun by enemy troops.
He left in a convoy with Clara, several other family members, and several government officials. They were accompanied by a well-armed German anti-aircraft unit that was similarly retreating.
For a while, Clara and Mussolini may have thought they would make it. But as they approached the Swiss border, they were stopped by a small group of partisans.
Discovering the identity of Mussolini’s ministers, they allowed the Nazis to continue but forced the Italians to remain behind in Italy. Disobeying the partisan’s orders, Mussolini dressed himself in a German overcoat and helmet and tried to hide among the rest of the German soldiers. However, he was discovered soon after.
Condemned to be executed by firing squad, Mussolini was brought to an old farmhouse for the night. Clara, questioned by the partisan leader who caught them, demanded to be shot alongside her lover. She said that her life would be meaningless without him.
The next day, April 28, 1945, she got her wish. The couple was placed before a stone wall outside the farmhouse and shot. Their bodies were then placed in a truck and driven to the Piazzale Loreto, a plaza in Milan. Here, their bodies were laid out side by side along with the bodies of other Fascist leaders.
The crowd then descended on Mussolini’s corpse with particular vengeance. They beat his head to a pulp until bits of his brain spilled onto the ground. Then Clara, Mussolini, and the rest of the Fascists were strung up on a wire until American soldiers came and took them away.
Clara Petacci was far from Benito Mussolini’s only lover. He once told her that he had had over 500 lovers during his lifetime.
But there is no doubt that the profound love that Clara Petacci heaped on her “Ben” (as she liked to call him), was at least partially reciprocated. In her short life, Clara had enjoyed a special relationship with her hero, a relationship that perhaps not even Mussolini’s wife had been able to cultivate.
For that, Clara Petacci will always be remembered as Mussolini’s mistress: a woman whose devotion was so strong that she chose to die beside her lover rather than live a life without him.