the death of garibaldi's wife -- 4/24/17

Today's selection -- from Garibaldi: Hero of Italian Unification by Christopher Hibbert. Giuseppe Garibaldi was the legendary military hero of the Italian "Risorgimento," or unification into a single country that occurred from 1860 to 1870. As a young man he sailed to South America and made his early reputation as a military commander in wars of independence there in the 1830s and 1840s. While there, he met his first wife, Ana Ribeiro da Silva (known as Anita), who bore four children and often fought in battles at his side. In 1849, back in Italy, Garibaldi, with Anita at his side, made a failed military attempt at a Risorgimento in Rome and in defeat fled north toward San Marino and Venice. During this escape, Anita, who was again pregnant, fell ill.

"[During their flight north, Garibaldi and the ailing Anita rested at the farm of a sympathizer, Gioacchino Bonnet, but] ... there could be no doubt that the fugitives would have to leave the farm soon and make for a place less likely to be searched.

Anita Garibaldi

"Garibaldi was urged by Bonnet to leave Anita, for he could not hope to escape if she went with him ... Anita had become much worse since her arrival there, was intermittently delirious and, though she could not fully grasp what was happening any more, had begged Garibaldi not to leave her. Garibaldi no longer felt able to do so. 'Bonnet,' he said, 'you can't imagine all that she has done for me, and how much she loves me. I owe her too much and love her too much to leave her. Let her come with me.' ... It was to be almost twelve hours before he was able to get her to a doctor. ... And by then she was close to death. ...

"Hours before she had mur­mured something to her husband about their children, but since then the only sounds he had heard were her quick, uneven breath­ing and the whimpers of pain. They had stopped the cart on the way to the farm to ask two young peasants standing at the door of a hovel for some soup, but when they had brought it she had had a violent convulsion and could not drink. She had relapsed into unconscious­ness and had begun to foam at the mouth. Garibaldi wiped her lips gently.

"The doctor from the near-by village of Sant' Angelo arrived at the Guiccioli farm in his cart and Garibaldi said to him desperately, 'For God's sake, try and save her.' But it was too late. As they carried her up to a bedroom on the mattress that the Guidi brothers had put into the cart, her body shook in a final spasm. When Garibaldi laid her on the bed and looked into her face, he knew that she was dead. He felt her pulse but the veins in her wrist were still. He knelt down and suddenly burst into tears. For a long time he knelt by her body, unable to control his sobbing, close to hysteria. ...

Anita dies in a farm house not far from Ravenna

"At length, when he grew quieter, [a friend named] Culiolo, who was also in tears, approached him and persuaded him to get away while there was still time. ... He knew they were right and that he must go at once; so, having in his own words 'directed the good people to bury the body', he allowed a guide to lead himself and Culiolo to Sant' Alberto. ...

"The farm people obeyed Garibaldi's directions but, in their haste to get the body out of sight before the Austrians arrived, they had not dared to dig too deep. The shallow grave behind the farmhouse was soon excavated by an animal which, gnawing at a hand and forearm, left them protruding from the sand. A farmer's young daughter saw them, and her father called the police whose first suspicion was that they had a murder to investigate. The doctor confirmed this suspicion and, noticing that the eyes protruded, that the tongue was between the teeth and that the trachea was severed, concluded that the woman had died by strangula­tion. The presence of a six-month foetus in the womb led the police to report that the body was that 'of a wife or woman who accompanied Garibaldi and who was reported to have landed in this district. ...

"The Ravaglia brothers, managers of the Guiccioli farm, were arrested and charged with murder. They were released, however, five days later when evidence was produced to show that Anita Garibaldi had been suffering from a malignant fever when she arrived at Mandriole. ... The story was, nevertheless, spread abroad by Garibaldi's enemies that Anita had been strangled and that it was he himself who had murdered her in his anxiety to escape."



Christopher Hibbert


Garibaldi: Hero of Italian Unification


St. Martin's Griffin


Copyright Christopher Hibbert 1965, 1966, 2008


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