April 28th 1945: Mussolini killed

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Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

 

On this day in 1945 the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci were executed by members of the Italian resistance movement. Mussolini became Prime Minister in 1922 and became head of government and ‘Il Duce’ in 1925. Mussolini’s Italy was a dictatorial and ruthless totalitarian state. He took Italy into World War Two in 1940 on the side of Germany, but by 1943 support for him had dwindled and he was defeated in a vote at the Grand Council of Fascism and was arrested by the King. He managed to escape but was soon captured and executed on April 28th. When Petacci was shot, Mussolini told the shooters to kill him also. His body was taken to Milan and hung for public viewing.

 

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Site in Mezzegra where he was shot

 

“Look at his face, the emotions on his face don’t suit him.”
– Mussolini’s executioner after shooting the dictator

April 9th 1492: Medici dies

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Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449 – 1492)

 

On this day in 1492 the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici, died aged 43. The Medici family had run the largest Florentine bank, the Medici Bank, for some time, but eventually came to rule the republic itself. Lorenzo de’ Medici was one of the central figures of the Italian Renaissance as a leading statesman from Florence, a city which was the hub of the cultural movement. A primary legacy of the Renaissance is its astounding art, and Medici was well-known in Florence for making considerable contributions to the art world. The famed artist Leonardo da Vinci even held a place in the Medici court, and Michelangelo was a family friend.

 

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Tomb of Lorenzo de’ Medici in Sagrestia Nuova, San Lorenzo, Florence (source: http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/m/michelan/1sculptu/medici/index.html)

 

However Lorenzo did not rule unopposed: he faced challenges in Florence, from the Pazzi familly; from the Vatican, who excommunicated Lorenzo; and from the King of Naples who went to war with Florence. When Medici died, Florence mourned their leader, and eventually the fragile peace he had established with fellow city states fell apart. I must admit, once again my knowledge of Renaissance Florence comes primarily from playing the Assassin’s Creed games, in which Lorenzo de’ Medici is a central character. Clearly, some artistic liberties are taken with certain characters (especially the Borgias), which I have written about before. However I would still recommend these games, especially Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood. As you roam around the Italian countryside and cities killing Templars, you can read about the locations and characters in their historical context. Then at least you can feel you’re doing something educational while playing videogames!

March 12th 1507: Cesare Borgia dies

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Cesare Borgia (1475 – 1507)

On this day in 1507, the Italian nobleman Cesare Borgia died aged 31. His parents were Rodrigo Borgia (who went on to become Pope Alexander VI 1492) and his mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei. Cesare’s siblings were Lucrezia, Giovanni and Gioffre. Due to his high birth and rank Cesare Borgia held multiple prominent positions throughout his life, including positions as Duke of Valentinois, Vatican cardinal, and general of the church’s armies. Often portrayed as a vicious man notorious for womanising and cruelty, Borgia was hungry for power and had numerous people assassinated to secure his position.

 

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Pope Alexander VI (1431 – 1503)

 

After his father’s death he lost the protection of the Vatican and was arrested for refusing to cooperate with the new Pope. Spending some years evading papal forces, Borgia was eventually killed trying to storm a castle in Viana, Spain. Cesare Borgia features heavily in Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous 1532 work ‘The Prince’ which discusses the nature of political power. Machiavelli admired Borgia, and in ‘The Prince’ advised politicians to follow his example. Perhaps due to this infamy, Cesare Borgia has been a popular figure in fiction. He is one of the characters of the TV series ‘The Borgias’ and is one of the main antagonists of the videogame ‘Assassin’s Creed II’. I have to admit that I first came across the Borgias through playing the latter. As a history nerd, that game remains one of my favourites. Aside from the amazing gameplay, you genuinely do learn things about the period of the Italian Renaissance. Of course you have to take these things with a pinch of salt – I highly doubt the real Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI, was a Templar who found the magical Apple of Eden and wielded it on a staff on a rampage in the Sistine Chapel. However I would still recommend these games to history fans – Cesare Borgia is featured heavily in all his evil glory.

“Here lies in little earth one who was feared by all, who held peace and war in his hand”
– inscription on Borgia’s tomb in Viana (which has since been demolished and his remains moved by bishops who were horrified by his sins)

March 4th 1678: Vivaldi born

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741)

On this day in 1678, the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi was born in Venice. He was baptised immediately after birth, a very rare event, most likely because he seemed to be in poor health and his mother wanted him baptised in case he died. Vivaldi is often considered one of the greatest Baroque musicians. Perhaps his most famous work is the series of violin concertos ‘The Four Seasons’.

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Monument to Vivaldi in Vienna

His red hair and position as a Catholic priest earned him the nickname ‘il Prete Rosso’ or ‘The Red Priest’. During his lifetime Vivaldi was active in his community, helping in a local orphanage where he supported their music programmes for the children. Antonio Vivaldi died in Vienna in 1741 aged 63, after moving there hoping for employment by Emperor Charles VI. Whilst he died impoverished, his music is now widely considered some of the greatest from his era. ‘Spring’ from his Four Seasons has especially enjoyed popularity, and is arguably his most well known piece beyond usual classical music fans.

February 17th 1600: Giordano Bruno executed

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Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600)

 

On this day in 1600, the Italian friar, astronomer and philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. His ideas were controversial for his day, but are now hailed as precursory to modern scientific understanding. Bruno proposed the concept of an infinite universe populated by other intelligent life and rejected traditional geocentric astronomy. He agreed with Copernicus that the planets revolve around the Sun, but expanded on this by suggesting that the Sun is just another star. For these unorthodox views (and others beyond astrology) which challenged traditional Christian ideas about the universe, Bruno was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake.

 

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Statue of Bruno on the site of his execution in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome

 

During his seven years on trial, he insisted he could not be charged with heresy as his works were distinctly philosophical rather than theological but this fell on deaf ears. All they wanted was a full retraction of his statements, but Bruno was unwilling to do so. He thus accepted his fate and was burned at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome. For his refusal to renounce his beliefs, Giordano Bruno is often remembered as a martyr for free thought. Bruno’s case is particularly lamented as his ideas are now considered groundbreaking and he has become symbolic of the church’s war on scientific progress. In 2000, on the 400th anniversary of his death, the Vatican declared remorse at the incident, calling it a “sad episode” and mourning Bruno’s “atrocious death”.

 

“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.”
– Giordano Bruno to the judges upon hearing his death sentence

July 25th 1943: Mussolini forced from power

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On this day in 1943 the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was forced from office by his own Italian Grand Council. He was replaced by Pietro Badoglio. Mussolini had been in power since 1922 but his popularity had been declining due to his totalitarian rule and his leading Italy into World War Two. On July 24th 1943 the Council voted to restore powers to the King and the next day King Victor Emmanuel III had him arrested. Mussolini soon escaped and fled, but was tracked down and executed on 28th April 1945.