Saturday, February 27, 2016
That campaign culminated in the 1527 “Sack of Rome” which must rank as one of the most horrific acts of rampant savagery and horror in all of human history. The accounts are numerous and often too lurid to repeat such that the imagination itself would be overwhelmed in describing the barbarity that occurred. The Emperor himself, who was not present of course, was shocked but not so shocked as to fail to take advantage of the situation and force the Pope into submission. Likewise, in the city of Florence, the anti-Medici elements saw the sacking of Rome and the violent destruction of the power of the Pope as their great moment of opportunity. They took to the streets shouting slogans and singing songs in thanks to the downfall of the Pope. The papal envoy, Cardinal Silvio Passerini, took the Medici family and children, Alessandro as well as Ippolito, but leaving little Catherine behind for some reason, and quickly fled Florence for safer environs. An effigy of Pope Clement VII was torn to pieces in the street and a republican government was restored under a new anti-Medici leader.
That was good news for Alessandro, but he looked likely to have been in for a soft landing in any event as Emperor Charles V had entertained another ducal throne for him. The Sforza Duke Francesco II of Milan had been appointed to that position by the Emperor when the Emperor’s Spanish forces had driven out the French in the Italian Wars. However, Francesco II had turned against the Emperor in the latest unpleasantness, allying with Florence, Papal Rome, the French and so on. As a result, once his forces were victorious, the Emperor had considered placing Alessandro de’ Medici on the ducal throne of Milan but the Republic of Venice objected to the idea and, after paying the Emperor a considerable bribe, Francesco II was allowed to return. So, it was back to Florence after all for Alessandro but he would have an equal rank anyway. First, of course, was the detail of actually taking the city which was the last of the Italian states still holding out in opposition to the Emperor.
At first, Duke Alessandro acted with the advice of elected councils, trying to calm the nerves of the defeated republicans. However, he soon showed that he was not about to forget all that had transpired. He disarmed the populace, confiscating all weapons even if they were purely ornamental, and build a large new fortress to help ensure that he would not be chased out of town again. The large bell which had symbolized the republic in Florence (Americans might think of it as being in the same vein as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia) was melted down and, you have to love this, cast into medals showing the figures and symbols of the House of Medici. The republican opposition, needless to say, became increasingly furious and just exactly what sort of man Duke Alessandro was depends almost entirely on whose side of the story you choose to believe.
Historians have, themselves, debated which image of Alessandro is more correct. Emperor Charles V, if deemed a sufficient judge of character, seems to have found no merit in the accusations made by the critics of Alessandro. Not only were their charges not accepted but the Emperor fulfilled the wish of the late Pope Clement and agreed to have his fourteen-year old daughter Margaret married to Duke Alessandro; an illegitimate Hapsburg for an illegitimate Medici. The two were married in 1536 and, based on her later life, she might have been just the sort of woman Alessandro needed. However, the two would not have a long, married life together. As far as his private life was concerned, Alessandro had one mistress who gave birth to his three children, and was allegedly lured away by the promise of a romantic rendezvous with a famously beautiful widow, Laudomia, by her brother, Lorenzino de’ Medici (a distant cousin of Alessandro) who then assassinated Alessandro on January 6, 1537. He was only 26-years old but had lived quite a colorful life. Lorenzino said he had done the deed to restore the republic but, if genuine, it certainly did not work and he was killed in Venice several years later.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The same year that Princess Maria Pia was married to the King of Portugal, a prince of the House of Savoy was in the running for the throne of another country. Italian volunteers had long given assistance to the struggling Greeks in their fight for independence from Muslim domination. When an independent Greece was finally restored, it was originally a republic, which did not last long and later, with the intervention of the Great Powers in favor of the Greeks, it was decided that the country would be a monarchy. King Victor Emmanuel II thought his second son, Prince Amedeo, Duke of Aosta, would make a fine King of Greece and could play an important part in this dynastic alliance of countries with prominent Savoy royals. A referendum was held in November of 1862 and the Duke of Aosta was in the running but did not win. In the end, none of the top choices were acceptable to the Great Powers and so the Greek crown finally passed to Prince William of Denmark.
Monday, February 1, 2016
|Blackshirts' 'dagger salute'|
The MVSN had its own organization and its own rank structure, both based on the old Roman army with legions, cohorts, centuries and so on rather than regiments, battalions and companies. As part of the Fascist Party, Mussolini considered them to be his own, however, after the MVSN became part of the established power structure Blackshirt units often found themselves commanded by former army officers who were more royalist than purely Fascist in their ultimate loyalty. Their nominal supreme commander was, of course, Mussolini who held the rank of “First Corporal of Honor”, the rank of “Corporal of Honor” being an honorary rank for important people, Hitler was given such an honorary rank after the regimes became allies. However, after becoming part of the armed services, members of the MVSN were required to swear allegiance to the King of Italy rather than to “God and the Italian homeland” as they had in the past. They also found themselves with little to do as an internal security force as the regular police and Carabinieri already had that job under control.
|Musketeers of the Duce|
1930 saw MVSN legions attached to army divisions, who they would depend on for support facilities and they saw their first really large-scale combat with the outbreak of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935 following an Ethiopian attack on an Italian outpost. Mussolini hoped to make the war a showcase for his Fascist troops and the MVSN was set to play a major part in the campaign with overall field command of the war being entrusted to the veteran general and MVSN leader Emilio De Bono. However, General De Bono waged a slow and cautious campaign and, considering the economic sanctions placed on Italy by the League of Nations, this was something Italy could not afford as the League was counting on the Italian economy collapsing and perhaps bringing down the Fascist regime before the formidable task of taking and pacifying an area as immense as Ethiopia could be achieved. So, Emilio De Bono was promoted to Marshal of Italy and replaced with General Pietro Badoglio who waged a much more aggressive, if more costly, campaign that brought rapid success. Within seven months Ethiopia was conquered and Mussolini proudly announced the birth of a new Roman empire with Vittorio Emanuele III raised to the status of “Re-Imperatore”.
When the Kingdom of Italy entered World War II in 1940 the MVSN saw action on every front. The French Alps, Libya, Egypt, East Africa, Greece, Yugoslavia and Russia, the MVSN participated in every campaign. In Italian East Africa local units were raised and after the conquest of Yugoslavia there were additional units established for foreign fighters, particularly the Croatians. However, the British counter-offensive out of Egypt practically wiped out the Blackshirt legions in north Africa and the few in East Africa were, of course, lost with the eventual Allied counter-offensive. Those that remained were mostly detailed to garrison duty in Greece and Yugoslavia and it was in the former Yugoslavia that they became involved in the bitter partisan warfare that characterized that region. There were also the Blackshirts who were sent to Russia but it was also determined that some reorganization was in order to form a hard-core from the MVSN that would be the equivalent of the German Waffen-SS rather than the “weekend warriors” that the Fascist militia had generally been. The result was the “M” Battalions.
|"M" Battalion insignia|
That was the end of the MVSN as an organization of the Kingdom of Italy, the organization being officially abolished by the royal government on December 6, 1943. A few days later, on December 8, there was, though, a successor organization formed after the establishment of the German-backed Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. This was the Republican National Guard (GNR) which grouped together all pro-Fascist security personnel loyal to Mussolini. They were engaged mostly in the bitter and often merciless anti-partisan warfare behind the front lines. The following year saw the Fascist Party revert back to the old Action Squads of their earliest days as the desperate war situation had by then left only the most fanatical, die-hard Fascists in the ranks, still supporting the dying regime. These Blackshirt remnants held out until the final surrender of the Axis forces in Italy in 1945.