Gaetano Bresci

On 1900, Sunday July 29th at 10 PM, Gaetano Bresci (photo 1 and 2) an Italian anarchist from Prato, near Florence, killed the king of Italy Umberto I firing him three shots (four, according to other sources) with a Hamilton&Richardson revolver, while he was moving on an open carriage in the Royal Villa park in Monza, near Milan, coming from the gymnasium of the gymnastic club "Forti e liberi", where he awarded some athletes. (cover of La Domenica del Corriere, August 6th 1900, by Achille Beltrame, first page of Il Messaggero July 31th 1900, works of Flavio Costantini 1, 2 and 3).
Bresci was a weaver, emigrated in the USA (at Patterson, New Jersey), where he was a member of an anarchist circle and one of the founders of the journal "La questione sociale". He came back to Italy on May 17
th just to kill the king.
The motive of the attack was the revenge for the massacres of workers, ordered to repress risings of protest, like those in Sicily and in Lunigiana in 1894 and in Milan in 1898, where the Army fired on the crowd that manifested, assassinating hundred of persons (the exact number has never been assessed). The Milan rising arose from the ill-famed "grist-tax" which provoked a huge increase of bread and flour prices, whence followed the assault to the ovens and the hardest repression, carried on even by means of guns.
The same Umberto I, to whom many people attribute the political responsibility of the massacre, awarded the Piedmontese general Fiorenzo Bava Beccaris, who had ordered the massacre, congratulating him for defending the civilization.

Bresci let himself to be arrested soon afterwards the regicide, whitout offering resistance, and declared: "I didn't kill Umberto. I killed the king. I killed a principle."
Lev Tol'stoj so commented the regicide: "Those ones, you always see them in their military uniform bearing at their side the instrument of the murder, the sabre. Murder is a job for them. But if only one of them is murdered, then you'll hear them complain and be indignant".
The case was prepared for the trial in just one month, and on August 29
th 1900, in the Court of Assizes of Milan, in Piazza Beccaria, the trial begun. Bresci asked to be defended by the Socialist deputy Filippo Turati, who, after a talk with him, refused, even because he hadn't been practicing for ten years; therefore Bresci decided to entrust his defence to the lawyer Francesco Saverio Merlino, from Naples, who in his youth was an anarchist, even if at the time of the trial his sympathies were for the Revolutionary Socialist, although he wasn't involved in the political life.
The enquirers tried to give credit to the thesis of an anarchical conspiracy to kill Umberto, but Bresci always maintained he acted alone and on his own initiative, and no other anarchist was involved in the case.

The trial went one for just one day, and Bresci was sentenced for the crime of regicide "to the life imprisonment, of which the first seven years in continuous seclusion in cell, to the perpetual disqualification from holding public office, to the legal deprivation, to the deprivation of the testamentary capacity, considering null and void a will which by chance he made before the sentence" (the death penalty had been abolished in Italy in 1889).
Bresci was first secluded in the Milan's jail of San Vittore, then in the penitentiary of Portoferraio, on the Elba island, finally he was deported in the penitentiary on Santo Stefano island (see my webpage)..
In Santo Stefano a special cell was purposely built for Bresci, the Generale Prison Department sent the plan to cavalier Cecinelli, the jail's director: it was absolutely identical to the one Alfred Dreyfus occuped on Devil's Island since 1895 and which he would have still occupied until 1906.
The cell was slightly smaller than common ones, and measured 3 x 3 metres: the only furnishings consisted in a wooden bed with a horsehair mattress (which during the day had to be lifted and tied to the wall with big leather belts), a stool fixed to the floor, a wooden washbowl, and the traditional bucket. The cell was separated from the others and placed at the end of a corridor built between the offices and the depots; even the terrace for the exercise hour was isolated, so that the prisoner was kept away also when his confinement was attenuated. The terrace was the only point in which the other prisoners could theoretically see Bresci, but his exercise hour coincided with a moment in which the companions of detainment were locked up: indeed they understood that Bresci had died just because their daily interdiction to go out during that hour ended. On the terrace there were also two sentry-boxes for the two guards who watched him in every moment.
The jailers Barbieri and De Vita, affirmed they found Gaetano Bresci dead at 2,55 PM of May 22
th 1901, a Wednesday, after ten months of confinement.
According to the official version, Bresci would have strangled himself with a towel (according to others with a handkerchief), hanging it to the window's grating, eluding the continuous spy-hole surveillance and making no noise, in spite he had his feet locked in a long chain, fixed to a wall of the cell. Therefore it's easy to suspect that Bresci was murdered, maybe in a date previous to that officially declared. Some coincidences, when confirmed, could strengthen the State murder thesis: the director would have profited a redoubling of his salary and a Santo Stefano lifer would have benefited by the mercy a short time after Bresci's death.
Sandro Pertini, in a speech of November 19
th 1947 to the Constituent Assembly said: "... I speak for personal experience (...). In jail, Honourable Minister, it happens this: a prisoner is struck; in consequence of the blows the prisoner dies, and then everybody worries, and not only the jailers who stroke the prisoner worry, but also the director, the doctor, the chaplain and all the prison crew do it. And then they make this: they lay the prisoner bare, they hang him to the window's grating and they let him be found hanging this way. The doctor comes and he draws up a medical report of suicide. This was the end of Bresci. Bresci has been struck to death, then they hung the corpse to the window's grating of his cell at Santo Stefano, where I have been a year and half".
Ugoberto Alfassio Grimaldi, quoting testimonies of political prisoners, writes of Bresci: "That May 22
nd three guards made him the "Santantonio": that is covering somebody with blankets and sheets and then beating him until his death; his corpse had been buried, in a place of which remained no trace in Santo Stefano archives, by two lifers sent purposely there from an other jail, and then sent immediately away; the penitentiary's commander had been promoted and the three jailers had been rewarded".
Gaetano Bresci died at the age of 32: he was born in Coiano di Prato on November 10
th 1869, a day before Umberto's son, who became king at the death of his father with the name of Vittorio Emanuele III.
From the jail's register, which described life and death of any prisoner, a page is missing: it bears the number 515, corresponding to Bresci's matriculation number. Even in the General State Archives in Rome nothing can be found about Bresci. According to Arrigo Petacco, the author of a successful biography of Bresci, even the contents of a file disappeared, which, between the "secret papers" of the Prime Minister Giolitti, included the unofficial documentation on the death of the "anarchist who came from America".


Bresci's body was buried on May 26th 1901 in Santo Stefano cemetary. According to unofficial sources, all his things were thrown along with him in the grave. According to other sources, instead, Bresci's body was thrown in the sea.
Just a relic of the anarchist's imprisonment was left, his prison cap: it was marked with the number 515, and it was kept in the small penitentiary museum together with the cap of another famous anarchist, Pietro Acciarito, who also tried to kill Umberto in 1897, without success. Both caps were lost during a prisoners' riot broken out in Santo Stefano at the end of the World War II.
In the Criminal museum in Rome other objects sequestrated to Bresci after his arrest are kept: the revolver he used to kill the king Umberto I, a camera, chemical baths for photographic processing and two suitcases containing personal belongings.
On July 29
th 2004, in the 104th anniversary of the regicide, the Turinese anarchists covered Umberto's monument up, lying on Superga hill, in Turin, and affixed a tablet in memory of Gaetano Bresci.
In the city of Carrara, heart of the Italian anarchism, a monument to Bresci was erected, sculptured by the artist Sergio Signori. The work, ufinished for the death of the artist, rises in the Turigliano gardens, in front of the cemetery, and was made under commission of the anarchist craftsman Ugo Mazzucchelli.

- ALFASSIO GRIMALDI Ugoberto (1970) Il re "buono". Feltrinelli, Milano. Pag. 468-470.
- ANATRA Bruno (1972) Voce "Bresci Gaetano" In Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 14 .
- BENTHAM Jeremy (1787) Panopticon, or the Inspection-house.
- DA PASSANO Mario - Il «delitto di Regina Cœli» (
- DEL CARRIA Renzo (1977) Proletari senza rivoluzione - vol.II (1892-1914). Savelli, Roma. pag.138.
- GALZERANO Giuseppe (1988) Gaetano Bresci : la vita, l'attentato, il processo e la morte del regicida anarchico. Galzerano editore -Atti e memorie del popolo - Casalvelino Scalo (Salerno). phone/fax: +39.0974.62028 e-mail:
- LOMBARDO Mario (1974) in "Colloqui coi lettori" - Storia Illustrata no 194 - January 1974, pag. 6.
- MARIANI Giuseppe (1954) Nel mondo degli ergastoli, S.n., Torino.
- PERTINI Sandro (1947) in "Atti dell’Assemblea Costituente. Discussioni", IX, November 19
th 1947, pag. 2179-2180.
- PETACCO Arrigo (1969) L'anarchico che venne dall'America. Milano
- PETACCO Arrigo (1973) "I terroristi fanno tremare i re" - Storia Illustrata n. 191 - October 1973, pag. 64.
- PUGLIESE Amelia (?) Viaggio nella casa di correzione penale di Santo Stefano. and
- VAGHEGGI Paolo (1990) A Gaetano Bresci, gli anarchici'. In piazza la statua contestata. La Repubblica, 4 maggio 1990, sez. Cronaca, pag. 21.
- VETTORI Giuseppe (a cura di) (1974) Canzoni italiane di protesta - Newton Compton - Roma. pag. 350.

Archive of, Forum of politics, culture, society
Istoreco (Institute for the History of the Resistance and the Contemporary Society in the Province of Reggio Emilia, Italy)
Italian Anarchist Federation (F.A.I.)
Marcello Botarelli, photographer
Ministry of Justice, Italy, Criminal Museum in Rome
Spartacus Educational, United Kingdom
Spunk Library, an online anarchist library and archive
Terre Protette travel agency and tour operator, Rome, Italy
Wikipedia, item "Gaetano Bresci" (no more available) (no more active)

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page created: September 21th 2008 and last updated: September 25th 2017