|Mussolini and the King|
Although he complained about having to deal with the monarchy such as when Hitler visited the country (and Hitler, who was adamantly opposed to monarchy, warned Mussolini that the Royal Family was against him and that the monarchy should be abolished at the first available opportunity), the Duce always seemed willing to make use of the monarchy as a dynastic tool for the advancement of Italian interests. When the so-called Austro-fascists sounded him out about the possibility of restoring the House of Hapsburg he made no objection and even spoke of another Hapsburg-Savoy dynastic alliance to cement the ties between Italy and Austria. During the Italian intervention he also proposed Prince Amadeus, Duke of Aosta, as a potential Spanish monarch (as his ancestor had briefly been). The King disliked this idea and, no doubt to his relief, Franco turned it down. Yet, there were other confrontations when Mussolini tried to interfere with the army, confrontations which the King always won such as the proposal to abolish the carabinieri (the prestigious and very royalist military police) and another to fuse the army and the MVSN (the Fascist militia or Blackshirts). Were these simply efforts to expand the much-boasted totalitarianism of the regime or part of an on-going anti-monarchist agenda?
|Duce & Re-Imperatore|
After Mussolini, there was no more elite group among the Fascists than the “Quadrumvirs”, men who had led the ‘March on Rome’ in 1921; Michele Bianchi, Emilio De Bono, Cesare De Vecchi and Italo Balbo. Of these, Bianchi was dead by 1930, De Bono and De Vecchi had always been staunch monarchists and only joined the Fascist bid for power after Mussolini endorsed the monarchy and even Italo Balbo, previously an ardent republican, had become a monarchist after becoming disillusioned with Mussolini’s leadership. Balbo, like the King, had been particularly distressed at the decision to ally with Nazi Germany. Count Dino Grandi, president of parliament and a member of the Fascist Grand Council also remained supportive of the monarchy and increasingly dubious in his attachment to Mussolini (he would ultimately raise the motion in the Grand Council to restore the King to his full powers, thus removing Mussolini). Given all of that, and the fact that the army remained staunchly royalist, later proven by the fact that only one Marshal of Italy followed Mussolini in his Nazi-backed puppet republic in the north after 1943, would indicate that even if there had been an effort to abolish the monarchy before the war it almost certainly would have failed disastrously.
|Prince Umberto & Mussolini|
Yet, again, even if that had been the Duce’s plan, it may not have been successful. For one thing, Mussolini was never able to have the purely Fascist military victory that he always longed for. The invasion of Abyssinia is illustrative of this. The original commander was Emilio De Bono who (though a staunch monarchist) was one of the Fascist Quadrumvirs and the Blackshirt legions were set to play the dominant role in the fighting. However, De Bono’s cautious advance was taking too much time and he had to be replaced by Marshal Badoglio who was seen at least as being more the King’s man as a traditional Piedmontese army officer (though, oddly enough, De Bono was probably more attached to the monarchy in fact than Badoglio was). The MVSN is often wrongly considered the Italian equivalent of the German SS but, in fact, it would have been more similar to the SA. It was a militia, not an elite force and mostly consisted of men who were “weekend warriors” rather than professional soldiers. Even then, by the time of World War II, many of its commanders were monarchist former army officers rather than committed Fascists.
|General Giovanni Messe|
Given how many monarchists remained in positions of authority in government, even within the Fascist Party itself, as well as the prevalence of royalist sentiment in the army, it is hard to see how Mussolini could have abolished the monarchy even if Italy had won the war. Part of the problem, for the Duce at least, with the royalist figures such as De Vecchi, De Bono, former leader of the predominately royalist nationalist party Luigi Federzoni (who was also on the Grand Council) was precisely that Mussolini had appointed them all to high positions. Previously, he had stated that there would, in the future, be “another” Fascist revolution and this time, “without contraceptives” (taken by most to mean casting aside the monarchy and Church) and that he was “plucking the chicken feather by feather to lessen its squawking” (referring to his diminishment of royal powers) which could certainly be added to the column of evidence that Mussolini intended to move against the monarchy at some point. However, if part of that “plucking” involved the removal of royalists from positions of power, particularly non-military officials like those mentioned above, it would have been all but impossible to do without destroying the Fascist myth of the Duce as the man who was “always right”. After all, if Mussolini is never supposed to make a mistake, how could he purge such men at the very highest echelons of the Fascist state without admitting the he had been spectacularly wrong on numerous occasions over so many years?
That, however, was never an option though as Italy lost the war and so the only question left is whether losing cost the House of Savoy their crown. It certainly made a huge difference. Contrary to the popular perception (based mostly on World War II), losing wars was not something Italians were used to. Ties between the military and the monarchy were old and strongly held but, prior to World War II, Italian military operations had been overwhelmingly successful, from the war in Abyssinia, the intervention in Spain, the pacification of Libya, World War I and the war against Ottoman Turkey. The Italian military had been extremely over-hyped by Mussolini but given the recent history, the stunning losses in World War II came as quite a shock to the public and as a terrible morale blow to the royal army in particular. Of course, we know that losing the war did not automatically bring down the monarchy but there were several key points about the loss that certainly undermined the monarchy and left it in mortal danger. Examples include the German alliance, the Salo Republic and the blundering of the Allies. There was also one way in which Mussolini himself actually benefited the monarchy, albeit inadvertently.
|Italian Co-Belligerent Force soldiers|
Another problem caused by the Germans and their Salo puppet state was that it provided a huge shot in the arm to all the most anti-monarchy elements in Italy. It attracted the most diehard Fascists as well as attracting even more leftist opposition. Communist partisan guerillas were rampant and could count on strong backing from the Soviet Union. Inevitably, some aid from the western Allies to other non-communist partisans found their way into communist hands. So, while anti-monarchy elements gained a stranglehold on northern Italy thanks to the state of affairs caused by Germany, in the rest of the country, short-sighted Allied policies did nothing to bolster the monarchy which was the best defense against a communist takeover of Italy. Were it not for this confused situation and the Allied occupation there may well have never been a referendum at all. Finally, Mussolini inadvertently helped the monarchy by the previously discussed efforts of him to keep the Royal Family out of the war as much as possible. He did this because he did not want them to share any of the glory but, as it turned out, it meant that they could not be blamed for the ultimate defeat and most of the military remained loyal to the monarchy. This is evidenced by the efforts taken to keep as many members of the armed forces as possible from participating in the referendum by its republican organizers.
If Italy had stayed out of the war, the monarchy would almost certainly have survived. There were too many monarchists in high places to make abolition of the monarchy in any way easy. If Italy had won the war, the monarchy would probably have survived, even with Mussolini triumphant, it was still too interwoven with the fabric of society and the regime to get rid out without trouble and a great deal of embarrassment. If, upon exiting the war, Germany had stayed out of Italy, it certainly would have made the retention of the monarchy more likely. If the Allies had enacted a coherent policy towards the Kingdom of Italy which was seeking an armistice, the monarchy could have survived. If Italy had been given some tangible benefit for joining the Allied cause, the monarchy might have been saved. It, of course, also goes without saying that if the Allies had behaved differently and if the referendum had been conducted fairly and by impartial authorities the monarchy could have been saved. I dislike saying so but if King Vittorio Emanuele III had abdicated and left the country at the time of the defeat, it may also have made preserving the monarchy easier. As it was, the Fascist era and World War II managed to at least make possible the downfall of one of the oldest Royal Families in the world so that, for the first time in over a thousand years, there was no patch of ground over which a Savoy reigned.