Letter alleges Mussolini had affair with queen
AS a notorious womaniser, Benito Mussolini notched up a string of lovers while building a fascist dictatorship in Italy and an empire in Africa.
But a newly discovered letter suggests that Il Duce's, as he was known, conquests reached the very top of the Italian establishment, to a princess who became the country's last queen.
The revelation of his apparent affair with Queen Maria Jose of Savoy in the 1930s is the more surprising because she was a critic of fascism and an important conduit during the war between the Allies and the Axis powers.
Evidence of an affair has emerged in a letter, published by an Italian magazine for the first time yesterday. It was written by the dictator's youngest son, Romano, to an Italian journalist in 1971 and was recently found by the journalist's son.
It suggests that the affair was known to Mussolini's long-suffering wife Rachele, who had become accustomed to her husband's infidelities.
"Often in our house the relationship between my father and Maria Jose, both political and romantic, was spoken of," Romano Mussolini, who died five years ago, wrote to Antonio Terzi, then deputy editor of 'Corriere della Sera'.
"My mother was considerably more explicit -- between my father and the then princess of Piedmont there was a brief period of intimate relations, which I believe was then called off by my father." The letter's authenticity has been confirmed by Romano Mussolini's ex-wife, Maria Scicolone.
The letter does not offer definitive proof, said Christopher Duggan, professor of modern Italian history at Reading University.
Mussolini told Claretta Petacci, his mistress, that the princess had tried to seduce him in a bikini on a beach in 1937 but he declined.
"Had he had an affair with the princess I think he would have divulged it to Petacci -- he was always boasting about his sexual prowess," said Prof Duggan. (© Daily Telegraph, London)