Diana, Lady Mosley
17 June 1910
Belgravia, Westminster, London
|Died||11 August 2003 (aged 93)|
(m. 1929; div. 1932)
(m. 1936; d. 1980)
|Relations||See Mitford family|
|Children||Jonathan GuinnessDesmond GuinnessAlexander MosleyMax Mosley|
|Parents||David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron RedesdaleSydney Bowles|
|Known for||Mitford sister who married Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, leader of the British Union of Fascists, association with Adolf Hitler and literary critic and author.|
Diana, Lady Mosley (née Freeman-Mitford; 17 June 1910 – 11 August 2003), usually known as Diana Mitford, was one of the Mitford sisters. She was first married to Bryan Walter Guinness, heir to the barony of Moyne, and with whom she was part of the Bright young things social group of Bohemian young aristocrats and socialites in 1920s London. Her marriage ended in divorce as she was pursuing a relationship with Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, leader of the British Union of Fascists. She married Mosley at the home of Joseph Goebbels in 1936, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour.
Subsequently, her involvement with Fascist political causes resulted in three years' internment during the Second World War. She later moved to Paris and enjoyed some success as a writer. In the 1950s, she contributed diaries to Tatler and edited the magazine The European. In 1977, she published her autobiography, A Life of Contrasts, and two more biographies in the 1980s.
Her appearance on the BBC's Desert Island Discs in 1989 was controversial. She was also a regular book reviewer for Books & Bookmen and later at The Evening Standard in the 1990s. A family friend, James Lees-Milne, wrote of her beauty, "She was the nearest thing to Botticelli's Venus that I have ever seen". She was described as "unrepentant" about her previous political associations by obituary writers such as the historian Andrew Roberts.
Diana Mitford was the fourth child and third daughter of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale (1878–1958, son of Algernon Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale), and his wife, Sydney (1880–1963), daughter of Thomas Gibson Bowles, MP. She was a first cousin of Clementine Churchill, second cousin of Sir Angus Ogilvy, and first cousin, twice removed, of Bertrand Russell. Mitford was born in Belgravia and raised in the country estate of Batsford Park, then from the age of 10 at the family home, Asthall Manor, in Oxfordshire, and later at Swinbrook House, a home her father had built in the village of Swinbrook.
She was educated at home by a series of governesses, except for a six-month period in 1926 when she was sent to a day school in Paris. In childhood, her younger sisters Jessica Mitford ("Decca") and Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire ("Debo"), were particularly devoted to her. At the age of 18, shortly after her presentation at Court, she became secretly engaged to Bryan Walter Guinness.
Guinness, an Irish aristocrat, writer and brewing heir, would inherit the barony of Moyne. Her parents were initially opposed to the engagement but in time were persuaded; Sydney was particularly uneasy at the thought of two such young people having possession of such a large fortune, but she was eventually convinced Bryan was a suitable husband. They married on 30 January 1929; her sisters Jessica and Deborah were too ill to attend the ceremony. The couple had an income of £20,000 a year, an estate at Biddesden in Wiltshire, and houses in London and Dublin. They were well known for hosting aristocratic society events involving the Bright Young People. The writer Evelyn Waugh exclaimed that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells", and he dedicated the novel Vile Bodies, a satire of the Roaring Twenties, to the couple. Her portrait was painted by Augustus John, Pavel Tchelitchew and Henry Lamb. The couple had two sons, Jonathan (b. 1930) and Desmond (b. 1931).
In February 1932, Diana met Sir Oswald Mosley at a garden party at the home of the society hostess Emerald Cunard. He soon became leader of the newly formed British Union of Fascists, and Diana's lover; he was at the time married to Lady Cynthia Curzon, a daughter of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, and his first wife, the American mercantile heiress Mary Victoria Leiter. Diana left her husband, 'moving with a skeleton staff of nanny, cook, house-parlourmaid and lady's maid to a house at 2 Eaton Square, round the corner from Mosley's flat', but Sir Oswald would not leave his wife. Quite suddenly, Cynthia died in 1933 of peritonitis. Mosley was devastated by the death of his wife, but later started an affair with her younger sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe.
Diana's parents did not approve of her decision to leave Guinness for Mosley and she was briefly estranged from most of her family. Her affair and eventual marriage to Mosley also strained relationships with her sisters. Initially, Jessica and Deborah were not permitted to see Diana as she was "living in sin" with Mosley in London. Deborah eventually got to know Mosley and ended up liking him very much. Jessica despised Mosley's beliefs and became permanently estranged from Diana after the late 1930s. Pam and her husband Derek Jackson got along well with Mosley. Nancy never liked Mosley and, like Jessica, despised his political beliefs, but was able to learn to tolerate him for the sake of her relationship with Diana. Nancy wrote the novel Wigs on the Green, which satirised Mosley and his beliefs. After it was published in 1935 relations between the sisters became strained to non-existent and it was not until the mid-1940s that they were able to get back to being close again.
The couple rented Wootton Lodge, a country house in Staffordshire which Diana had intended to buy. She furnished much of her new home with much of the Swinbrook furniture that her father was selling. The Mosleys lived at Wootton Lodge along with their children from 1936 to 1939.
Diana Mitford and Bryan Guinness on their honeymoon in Taormina, Italy, 1929.
In 1934, Mitford went to Germany with her then 19-year-old sister Unity. While there, they attended the first Nuremberg rally after the Nazi rise to power. A friend of Hitler's, Unity introduced Diana to him in March 1935. They returned for the second rally later that year and were entertained as his guests at the 1935 rally. In 1936, he provided a Mercedes-Benz to chauffeur Diana to the Berlin Olympic games. She became well acquainted with Winifred Wagner and Magda Goebbels.
Diana and Oswald wed in secret on 6 October 1936 in Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels' drawing room. Adolf Hitler, Robert Gordon-Canning and Bill Allen were in attendance. The marriage was kept secret until the birth of their first child in 1938. In August 1939, Hitler told Diana over lunch that war was inevitable.
Mosley and Diana had two sons: (Oswald) Alexander Mosley (born 26 November 1938) and Max Rufus Mosley (born 13 April 1940), president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) for 16 years. Hitler presented the couple with a silver framed picture of himself. The Mosleys were interned during much of World War II, under Defence Regulation 18B along with other British fascists including Norah Elam.
MI5 documents released in 2002 described Lady Mosley and her political leanings. "Diana Mosley, wife of Sir Oswald Mosley, is reported on the 'best authority', that of her family and intimate circle, to be a public danger at the present time. Is said to be far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband and will stick at nothing to achieve her ambitions. She is wildly ambitious." On 29 June 1940, eleven weeks after the birth of her fourth son, Max, Diana was arrested (hastily stuffing Hitler's photograph under Max's cot mattress when the police came to arrest her) and taken to a cell in F Block in London's Holloway Prison for women. She and her husband were held without charge or trial under the provisions of 18B, on the advice of MI5. The pair were initially held separately but, after personal intervention by Churchill, in December 1941, Mosley and two other 18B husbands (one of them Mosley's friend Captain H.W. Luttman-Johnson) were permitted to join their wives at Holloway. After more than three years' imprisonment, they were both released in November 1943 on the grounds of Mosley's ill health; they were placed under house arrest until the end of the war and were denied passports until 1949.
Lady Mosley's prison time failed to disturb her approach to life; she remarked in her later years that she never grew fraises des bois (wild strawberries) that tasted as good as those she had cultivated in the prison garden, and felt better treated than earlier prisoners.
According to her obituary in the Daily Telegraph, a diamond swastika was among her jewels.
After the war ended, the couple kept homes in Ireland, with apartments in London and Paris. Their recently renovated Clonfert home, a former Bishop's palace, burned down in an accidental fire. Diana recalled in her memoirs that the fire could have been extinguished had it not been for their cook who ran back to her room to retrieve her possessions and in doing so delayed efforts to control the fire. Following this, they moved to a home near Fermoy, County Cork, later settling permanently in France, at the Temple de la Gloire, a Palladian temple in Orsay, southwest of Paris, in 1950. Gaston and Bettina Bergery had told the Mosleys that the property was on the market. They were neighbours of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who lived in the neighbouring town Gif-sur-Yvette, and soon became close friends with them. The Duchess of Windsor, upon seeing the "Temple de la Gloire" (built in 1801 to honour the French victory of December 1800 at Hohenlinden, near Munich) for the first time, was said to have remarked, "Oh, it's charming, charming but where do you live?"
Once again they were well known for entertaining, but were barred from all functions at the British Embassy. During their time in France, the Mosleys quietly went through another marriage ceremony; Hitler had safeguarded their original marriage licence, and it was never found after the war. During this period, Mosley was unfaithful to Diana, but she found for the most part that she was able to learn to keep herself from getting too upset regarding his adulterous habits. She told an interviewer, "I think if you're going to mind infidelity, you better call it a day as far as marriage goes. Because who has ever remained faithful? I mean, they don't. There's passion and that's it." Diana was also a lifelong supporter of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and its postwar successor the Union Movement, to which she made financial contributions until the 1994 death of its organiser Jeffrey Hamm.
At times, she was vague when discussing her loyalties to Britain, her strong belief in fascism, and her attitude to Jews. In her 1977 autobiography A Life of Contrasts, she wrote, "I didn't love Hitler any more than I did Winston [Churchill]. I can't regret it, it was so interesting." In her final interviews with Duncan Fallowell in 2002, she responded that her reaction to the newsreels of death camps was "Well, of course, horror. Utter horror. Exactly the same probably as your reactions." However, when asked about having revulsion against Hitler for this, she said that "I had a complete revulsion against the people who did it but I could never efface from my memory the man I had actually experienced before the war. A very complicated feeling. I can't really relate those two things to each other. I know I'm not supposed to say that but I just have to." At other times, however, she behaved so as to suggest intense anti-semitic attitudes; the journalist Paul Callan remembered mentioning that he was Jewish while interviewing her husband in Diana's presence. According to Callan, "I mentioned, just in the course of conversation, that I was Jewish—at which Lady Mosley went ashen, snapped a crimson nail and left the room ... No explanation was given but she would later write to a friend: 'A nice, polite reporter came to interview Tom [as Mosley was known] but he turned out to be Jewish and was sitting there at our table. They are a very clever race and come in all shapes and sizes.'" Diana offered to entertain her teenage half-Jewish nephew, Benjamin Treuhaft on a trip to France. The offer was refused by Benjamin's mother, Jessica, who remained estranged from Diana over the latter's political past. In a 2000 interview with The Guardian, Diana said that "Maybe instead they [European Jews] could have gone somewhere like Uganda: very empty and a lovely climate."
Furthermore, when in 1989 she was invited to appear on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs with Sue Lawley, she caused controversy by saying she had not believed in the fact of the extermination of Jews by Hitler until "years" after the war, and, when asked if she now believed it, by replying that she could not believe it was six million, a figure she described as "not conceivable," adding that "whether it's six or one really makes no difference morally, it's equally wrong; I think it was a dreadfully wicked thing." Its broadcast had to be rescheduled several times because it kept coinciding with the Jewish holidays. In 2016, a writer at the BBC described it as the most controversial of all Desert Island episodes. Her choices of music to be played on Desert Island Discs were: Symphony No. 41 (Mozart), "Casta Diva" from Norma (Bellini), "Ode to Joy" (Beethoven), Die Walküre (Wagner), Liebestod (Wagner), "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Carmen (Bizet), "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (Procol Harum) and Polonaise in F-sharp minor (Chopin).
Since their early twenties, Diana and her sister, Jessica only saw each other once, when they met for half an hour as their elder sister, Nancy, lay dying in Versailles. Diana was asked about her sister in 1996; "I quite honestly don't mind what Decca [Jessica] says or thinks," adding that "She means absolutely nothing to me at all. Not because she's a Communist but simply because she's a rather boring person, really."
In 1998, due to her advancing age, she moved out of the Temple de la Gloire and into an apartment in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. Temple de la Gloire was subsequently sold for £1 million in 2000. Throughout much of her life, particularly after her years in prison, she was afflicted by regular bouts of migraines. In 1981, she underwent successful surgery to remove a brain tumour. She convalesced at Chatsworth House, the residence of her sister Deborah. In the early 1990s, she was also successfully treated for skin cancer. In later life, she also suffered from deafness.
Mosley was shunned in the British media for a period after the war and the couple established their own publishing company, Euphorion Books, named after a character in Goethe's Faust. This allowed Mosley to publish and Diana was free to commission a cultural list. After his release from jail, Mosley declared the death of fascism. Diana initially translated Goethe's Faust. Other notable books published by Euphorion under her aegis included La Princesse de Clèves (translated by Nancy, 1950), Niki Lauda's memoirs (1985), and Hans-Ulrich Rudel's memoirs, Stuka Pilot. She also edited several of her husband's books.
While in France, Diana edited the fascist cultural magazine The European for six years, and to this magazine she herself sometimes contributed material. She provided articles, book reviews, and regular diary entries. Many of her contributions were republished in 2008 in The Pursuit of Laughter. In 1965, she was commissioned to write the regular column Letters from Paris for Tatler. She specialised in reviewing autobiographical and biographical accounts as well as the occasional novel. Characteristically she would provide commentary of her own experiences with and knowledge of the subject of the book she was reviewing. She wrote regularly for Books and Bookmen and her 1980 review of a biography on Magda Goebbels attracted the attention of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens objected to a passage where Diana wrote: "Everyone knows the tragic end. As the Russians surrounded Berlin, the Goebbels painlessly killed their children and then themselves. The dead children were described by people who saw them as looking 'peacefully asleep'. Those who condemn this appalling, Masada-like deed must consider the alternative facing the distraught Magda." Hitchens insisted that the New Statesman issue an editorial condemning the Masada trope. In her eighties she had become the lead reviewer for the London Evening Standard during A. N. Wilson's seven-year tenure as literary editor. In 1996, following Wilson's departure, his successor was asked by the new editor of the newspaper, Max Hastings to stop running Diana's reviews. Hastings is alleged to have said that he did not want any more "bloody Lady Hitler" in the newspaper. Diana and the newspaper resumed their relationship following Hastings' retirement in 2001.
She wrote the foreword and introduction of Nancy Mitford: A Memoir by Harold Acton. She produced her own two books of memoirs: A Life of Contrasts (1977, Hamish Hamilton), and Loved Ones (1985). The latter is a collection of pen portraits of close relatives and friends such as the writer Evelyn Waugh among others. In 1980, she released The Duchess of Windsor, a biography.
In 2007, letters between the Mitford sisters, including ones to and from Diana, were published in the compilation The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley. The Sunday Times journalist India Knight was sympathetic towards Diana in her review of the book, describing her as "briefly sinister but also clever, kind, and fatally loyal to her Blackshirt husband, Oswald Mosley." A following collection consisting of her letters, articles, diaries and reviews was released as The Pursuit of Laughter in December 2008.
Diana died in Paris in August 2003, aged 93. Her cause of death was given as complications related to a stroke she had suffered a week earlier, but reports later surfaced that she had been one of the many elderly fatalities of the heat wave of 2003 in mostly non-air-conditioned Paris. She was buried at St Mary's Churchyard, Swinbrook, Oxfordshire, alongside her sisters.
She was survived by her four sons: Desmond Guinness; Jonathan Guinness, 3rd Baron Moyne; Alexander and Max Mosley. Her stepson Nicholas Mosley was a novelist who also wrote a critical memoir of his father for which Diana reportedly never forgave him, despite their previously close relationship. One of her great-granddaughters, Jasmine Guinness, a great-niece, Stella Tennant, a granddaughter, Daphne Guinness and a grandson, Tom Guinness, are models.
"I'm sure he [Hitler] was to blame for the extermination of the Jews," she told British journalist Andrew Roberts. "He was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him." Roberts criticised Lady Mosley following her death on the pages of The Daily Telegraph (16 August 2003), declaring that she was an "unrepentant Nazi and effortlessly charming." He, in turn, was assailed three days later, in the same newspaper, by her son and granddaughter. A. N. Wilson wrote for the same newspaper and said that her public loyalty for Mosley and Hitler were disastrous mistakes. Wilson claimed that privately, Diana admitted that the Nazis were "really rather awful". She was portrayed by actress Emma Davies in the 1997 Channel Four TV miniseries, Mosley.
- A Life of Contrasts (1977)
- Loved Ones (1985)
- The Duchess of Windsor (1980)
- The Pursuit of Laughter (2008)
- Provided introduction and foreword to Nancy Mitford: A Memoir by Harold Acton (1975)
- Collection of letters between the six Mitford sisters: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters (2007)
|Ancestors of Diana Mitford|
- Dalley, Jan (1999). Diana Mosley: a life. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-14448-9.
- de Courcy, Anne (2003). Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062381675.
- de Courcy, Anne. Diana Mosley née Mitford. Le Rocher. (French edition)
- Guinness, Jonathan; Guinness, Catherine (1984). The House of Mitford. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-155560-4.
- Mosley, Charlotte (2007). The Mitfords: letters between six sisters. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-84115-790-2.
- Mosley, Diana (2003) . A Life of Contrasts (paperback ed.). London. ISBN 1-903933-20-X.
- Mosley, Diana (1985). Loved Ones. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0-283-99155-0.
- Mitford, Diana (2008). The Pursuit of Laughter. Gibson Square books.
- Dalley, Jan. "Diana Mosley". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2010.
- "Diana Mitford". The Independent. 13 August 2003.[dead link]
- Hastings, Selina (20 December 2008). "Friends and Enemies". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 8 May 2010.
- Lyall, Sarah (14 August 2003). "Lady Diana Mosley, Fascist Who Dazzled, Is Dead at 93". World. The New York Times.
- Callan, Paul (12 September 2009). "Hitler's aristocratic admirers". Daily Express.
- Diana Mosley, unrepentantly Nazi and effortlessly charming The Telegraph. 13 August 2003
- Diana Mosley, Hitler's angel, dies unrepentant in Paris The Guardian. 13 August 2003
- Lewis, Leo (13 August 2003). "Obituary: The Hon Lady Mosley". The Times. London.[failed verification]
- "Obituary: Lady Diana Mosley". BBC News. 13 August 2003.
- "Hitler was her 'Uncle Wolf'". 17 November 2003 – via www.telegraph.co.uk.
- de Courcy, Anne (2003). Diana Mosley. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 1856192423.
- de Courcy, Anne (4 January 2004). "Hand in hand with Hitler". The Age. Melbourne.
- Mosley, Charlotte, ed. (2007). The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters. Harper Collins. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-06-137364-0.
- McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette - A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6.
- BBC News Online (Published: 2003/08/13 12:15:07 GMT). “Oswald Mosley's widow dies.” Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/3146225.stm
- de Courcy, Anne (2003). Diana Mosley. London: Chatto & Windus, p. 297 ISBN 0-06-056532-2
- Mosley, Oswald (1968). My Life (PDF). pp. 342–343. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 December 2006.
- "Real History and Lady Diana Mosley". The Daily Telegraph. 13 August 2003.
- Focus: Diana Mosley - The last bright young thing The Independent. 17 August 2003
- Obituary: Jessica Mitford The Independent. 25 July 1996
- 'Maybe the Jews could have gone somewhere like Uganda: empty and a lovely climate' The Guardian. 23 November 2000
- Desert Island Discs - Castaway: Lady Mosley. BBC. 26 November 1989. Event occurs between 16:30 and 17:25.
- Desert Island Discs: 7 of the most shocking episodes BBC. 1 August 2016
- Desert Island Discs - Castaway: Lady Mosley. BBC. 26 November 1989. Event occurs between 01:00 and 05:20.
- No unity for the Mitfords - even beyond the grave The Independent. 17 February 1997
- Wilson, A.N. (13 August 2003). "A lifetime staying loyal to her mistakes". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
- Pourcher, Yves (Spring 2012). "Laval Museum". Historical Reflections. 38 (1): 122. doi:10.3167/hrrh.2012.380108.
- Friends and enemies The Spectator. 12 December 2008
- What a lot of parties London Review of Books. 30 September 1999
- The Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley London Evening Standard. 5 January 2009
- Knight, India (2 September 2007). "REVIEW: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters". The Sunday Times. London. Archived from the original on 16 June 2011.
- "Mitford sister who befriended Hitler dies, aged 93". The Age. Melbourne. 14 August 2003.
- "Oswald Mosley's widow dies". BBC News. 13 August 2003.
- Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 32826). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Lovell, Mary S. (2002). The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-01043-0.
- Cook, Megan; Gressor, Kerry (2005). All for Love. Murdoch Books. p. 184. ISBN 978-1-74045-596-1.
- A lifetime staying loyal to her mistakes The Telegraph. 13 August 2003
- ‘After the Party’ Review: The Wrong Sort of People Wall Street Journal. 17 May 2019
Media related to Diana Mitford at Wikimedia Commons