Esmond Marcus David Romilly (10 June 1918 – 30 November 1941) was a British socialist and anti-fascist, now remembered mainly for his marriage to Jessica Mitford, one of the Mitford sisters. He was born to a family of public service and aristocratic descent, but at a young age became a communist.
Romilly was born in Huntingdon Park in Herefordshire, the son of Colonel Bertram Romilly, a soldier with a distinguished record in World War I and governor of Galilee in 1919–20, when the country was under British military government, before it came under the British Mandate of Palestine. The Romillys were of Huguenot (French Protestant) origin and settled in England in 1701. Esmond's mother was Nellie Hozier, daughter of Colonel Sir Henry Montague Hozier (1838–1907) and Lady Henrietta Blanche Hozier (1852–1925), eldest daughter of David Graham Drummond Ogilvy, 10th Earl of Airlie. Nellie's sister Clementine married Winston Churchill, making Romilly the nephew by marriage of one of Britain's most prominent politicians. In 1923 another cousin, Hon. Charles Carnegie, had married Princess Maud, Countess of Southesk, a granddaughter of king Edward VII.
It was frequently rumoured that the Hozier children were not fathered by Sir Henry, but rather by one of Henrietta's many lovers. Possible candidates for the paternity of Nellie and Clementine Hozier include Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, poet and anti-colonialist, or Capt. William George "Bay" Middleton, a noted horseman — Mary Soames, Clementine’s youngest child, takes this view. According to Clementine Churchill’s biographer, the father was Lord Redesdale, the husband of Henrietta's sister Clementina and grandfather of Esmond Romilly's future wife Jessica Mitford. If Redesdale was indeed Nellie Romilly's biological father, then Esmond’s mother and Jessica’s father were half-siblings. Jessica Mitford suggested in more than one letter to her family that Romilly might have been the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill, stating that she thought her late husband had resembled him.
Educated at Wellington College, Romilly and his brother Giles refused to join the Officers' Training Corps, distributed pacifist leaflets, and ultimately ran away from school. In 1935 they published a book about the experience, Out of Bounds: The Education of Giles and Esmond Romilly. Esmond moved to London, working in a communist bookshop and founding a centre for other boys who had run away from public schools. His activities at such an early age, turning his back on class privilege so ostentatiously, won the attention of the newspapers, eager to report on the doings of Winston Churchill's "red nephew".
In spite of his pacifistic beliefs, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Romilly's hatred of fascism led him to bicycle to Marseille, where, despite his lack of military training, he joined the International Brigades. With a minimum of preparation, he and other British volunteers were thrown into the defence of Madrid as a machine-gun section with the German Thaelmann Battalion. Almost all his companions were killed; he was invalided out with dysentery, and sent back to Britain to recover. While recuperating, he met and fell in love with his second cousin, Jessica Mitford. Mitford was also an anti-fascist, unlike her sister Diana, who married Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, and her sister Unity, a friend of Adolf Hitler).
Romilly had an offer from the News Chronicle to return to Spain as their correspondent and they arranged for Jessica to accompany him. Romilly, along with his friend Philip Toynbee, sent back war news. After some legal difficulties, Romilly and Mitford, both 19, married in Bayonne, France, on 18 May 1937. He spent his honeymoon writing Boadilla, an account of his Spanish experiences.
The couple returned to Britain, where Romilly joined the Labour Party and lived in the East End of London, then a poor working-class district. Their first daughter, Julia, was born there in December, 1937, and died in May 1938 in a measles epidemic.
The Romillys moved to the United States, where Romilly worked at a variety of odd jobs, including selling silk stockings door to door, and setting up a bar in Miami, but without much financial success. When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Romilly remained in the USA; he moved in 1940 to Canada to volunteer. He served in the Royal Canadian Air Force. His daughter Constancia (better known as 'Dinky' or 'Donk') was born on 9 February 1941. Later that year Romilly was shot down over the North Sea after a bombing raid over Germany. He was 23.
It was rumoured during his life that Romilly was born of an affair between his mother and Winston Churchill. The news that his plane had gone missing in action was broken to his wife by Churchill personally.
Constancia had two sons from her relationship with the African-American civil-rights activist James Forman; thus Romilly has two grandsons, James Robert Lumumba Forman Jr., an associate professor at Georgetown Law School, and Chaka Esmond Fanon Forman, an actor.
- Esmond Romilly, "Boadilla". With an introduction and notes by Hugh Thomas. London 1971. SBN 356 03534 4
- Esmond Romilly, "Boadilla" (Edition in Spanish with an Introduction by Antonio R. Celada) Amarú Ediciones, Salamanca, Spain. 2011. ISBN 978-84-8196-324-3
- Giles Romilly and Esmond Romilly, "Out of Bounds". Hamish Hamilton, 1935
- Burke's Peerage and Gentry, online edition. Burke's says "7th Earl of Airlie" but this cannot be correct since the 7th Earl died in 1812.
- "Father always came first, second and third". An interview with Mary Soames, youngest daughter of Churchill. "I was never asked at what point Mama realised Hozier was not her father," says Lady Soames. "I don't think it dawned on her until well into middle age, but it would have been very bothering to her."
- Dictionary of National Biography, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30929.
- Joan Hardwick; Clementine Churchill: The Private Life of a Public Person John Murray, London (1997) ISBN 0-7195-5552-3
- Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, ed. Peter Y. Sussman.
- "From public school to the barricades". The Independent, Kimberley Reynolds 25 July 2016
- Kimberley Reynolds (21 July 2016). Left Out: The forgotten tradition of radical publishing for children in Britain 1910–1949. OUP Oxford. pp. 66–. ISBN 978-0-19-107213-0.
- Anthony Seldon; David Walsh (30 October 2013). Public Schools and The Great War. Pen and Sword. pp. 216–. ISBN 978-1-78159-308-0.
- Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels, chapter fifteen.
- The Canadian Government lists Pilot Officer Esmond Mark David Romilly's service number as J5677, date of birth 10 Jul 1918, and date of death 30 Nov 1941.
- Ingram, Kevin. Rebel: The Short Life of Esmond Romilly. E. P. Dutton, 1986.
- Toynbee, Philip. Friends Apart: A Memoir of Esmond Romilly and Jasper Ridley in the Thirties. Macgibbon & Kee, 1954.
- Mitford, Jessica. Hons and Rebels. Victor Gollancz, 1960.