Birth of an assassin

On this day in history: Birth of an assassin


10th November 1869, saw the birth of an assassin. Gaetano Bresci was born in Coiano, a small village near Prato in Tuscany. Thirty years later, he would assassinate the king of Italy, Umberto I.

Bresci was a silk weaver by profession. He moved to the United States in 1890. He settled in New Jersey with his Irish-born wife.

Bresci and others set about propagating anarchist ideas among the large local Italian immigrant population, eventually setting up a newspaper, La Questione Social.

One of the main contributors to the paper, Bresci devoted much of his free time to writing and organising fellow anarchists.

Trigger event

The route that Bresci was to take was determined upon hearing of the events in Milan on  May 6, 1898.

Following the ‘bread riots’ – a prolonged campaign of strikes and demonstrations across Italy to protest against the rising cost of living – a mass demonstration of workers took place. The Italian army were protecting key buildings. Fearing an attack upon the Royal Palace, General Florenzo Bava-Beccaris ordered troops to fire on the crowd.

The shootings, known as the Bava-Beccaris massacre, officially left 80 people dead. It’s likely  the true number of victims was double that.

Bresci vowed to avenge the  dead workers and hatched his plot to kill the king.

Secret plan

Birth of an assassin - Bresci

In May 1900, with no explanation, Bresci asked for the return of a $150 loan he had made to set up La Questione. He set sail for Italy on May 17, 1900.  

He murdered Umberto in Monza, north of Milan, on July 29, 1900. The monarch was handing out prizes at an athletics event. Bresci mingled with the crowd before springing forward and shooting Umberto three or four times.

Umberto (Il Buono) was unpopular with his subjects. He had already survived two previous attempts on his life, in 1878 and 1897.

Trial and death

Bresci stood trial in Milan and received a life sentence of hard labour on Santo Stefano island.

Only a year later he was dead, in mysterious circumstances, discovered hanged in his cell. They recorded his death as suicide. However, there were strong suspicions prison guards kicked him to death, and attempted to conceal evidence by throwing his body into the sea.

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