This is one of those ‘What if’ stories, a different result would have made a massive impact on world’s history.
Gibson was born in Dublin, Ireland, on August 31 1876. Her father was an Irish lawyer and politician, Edward Gibson, who was created Baron Ashbourne in 1886.
Her mother, Frances, was a Christian Scientist. Violet grew up in well-heeled Merrion Square. Her early life was one of privilege and society events as part of a large Anglo-Irish family dividing their time between Dublin and London. At 18, Violet was a debutante in the court of Queen Victoria.
In 1913, Violet moved to Paris, working for pacifist organisations. She contracted Paget’s disease; a mastectomy left a nine-inch scar on her chest. She returned to England, where botched surgery for appendicitis resulted in lifelong chronic abdominal pain.
In 1922, she suffered a nervous breakdown, was declared insane and committed to a mental institution. Two years later, accompanied by a nurse called Mary McGrath, Violet was released and traveled to Rome, where she lived in a convent. She had developed a religious mania convinced of a divinely inspired mission to kill.
On 7 April 1926, Violet Gibson shot Mussolini, Italy’s Fascist leader, as he walked among the crowd in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome after leaving an assembly of the International Congress of Surgeons, to whom he had delivered a speech on the wonders of modern medicine. Gibson had armed herself with a rock to break Mussolini’s car window (not needed), and a Modèle 1892 revolver hidden in a black shawl.
She fired once, but Mussolini moved his head at that moment and the shot hit his nose; she tried again, but the gun misfired.[She was almost lynched on the spot by an angry mob, but police intervened and took her off for questioning. Mussolini was wounded only slightly, dismissing his injury as “a mere trifle”, and after his nose was bandaged he continued his parade on the Capitoline.
Violet was captured and beaten by a mob; the police smuggled her away before she was killed. Under interrogation, she claimed to have shot Mussolini “to glorify God” who had kindly sent an angel to keep her arm steady.
At the time of the assassination attempt she was almost fifty years old and did not explain her reasons for trying to assassinate Mussolini. It has been theorised that Gibson was insane at the time of the attack and the idea of assassinating Mussolini was hers and that she worked alone. She was later deported to Britain after being released without charge at the request of Mussolini.
Her family wrote, apologising, to the Italian government. She was declared a “chronic paranoiac” and returned to England and St Andrew’s Hospital. Violet died on May 2, 1956. Sadly, there were no mourners.
What if she would have been successful? It is strange to see the’softer’ side of Mussolini, he could have easily made sure she’d get a death sentence.
By sad coincidence, Gibson would share her last years at St Andrew’s with another notable patient of Irish origin, Lucia Joyce. That was the culmination of an even more torturous family tragedy, one begun in 1930 when, romantically rejected by Samuel Beckett, James Joyce’s daughter had first shown signs of mental illness.
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