- Education and Science
Diana Mitford & Oswald Mosley
A scandalous relationship: Diana Mitford & Sir Oswald Mosley
This story has all the ingredients required for a great scandal - and then some.
In addition to great wealth, the British aristocracy, extra-marital affairs, high society and secret loves, we also have imprisonment, exile, extreme political views, royalty, Hitler and top Nazi officials, all set in a wartime background.
Yet we also have an enduring love story between two people who were reviled in their day (and still are to some extent) but who secretly, I can't help being fascinated by.
On the right, you see Diana Mitford, often described as the most beautiful woman in Britain in the 1930s. Simply being who she was - her family was quite eccentric and her sisters as scandalous as she - made her well-known and often in the newspapers but events of period just before and during the Second World War were scandalous even by her family's standards.
There were six girls in the family and a single boy. Their father was a peer, Baron Resedale. He was a famously eccentric and grumpy man but with a great sense of humour (I think I would have rather liked him) whose wife had her own somewhat unique ideas.
She once said 'Whenever I read a headline that begins with the words peer's daughter, I know that one of you children has been in trouble'.And she wasn't wrong.
Diana's sister Unity was probably the most notorious of the sisters but Diana wasn't far behind. At the age of eighteen, and against her parents' wishes, she became engaged to a young heir to the brewing fortune, Bryan Guinness.
He was only five years older than she but they married and were horribly wealthy. However, this did not satisfy Diana, despite the fact that she and Bryan had two sons.
Here we see Oswald Mosley on the occasion of his wedding to Lady Cynthia Curzon.
Her father was a high-up politician and a marquess and her mother, an American of German extraction whose family had founded the Marshall Field department stores. (I love this).
Prior to the marriage, Oswald had had an affair with his bride's older sister, Irene.Sir Oswald obviously liked the family. His wife died thirteen years after the marriage so he embarked upon an affair with his late wife's younger sister, Alexandra (known as Baba). But by this time, he was also having an affair with Diana Mitford.
Confused? I know I am...
How the other half lived
So, our personnel here are:
- Sir Oswald Mosley, a member of the British aristocracy.
- He had an affair with Irene Curzon, also a member of the British aristocracy whose mother was an American of German descent.
- He then married her sister, Cynthia.
- He then embarks on an affair with Diana Guinness (Mitford) who is also a member of the British aristocracy and married with two children.
- When his wife died, he embarked on an affair with her younger sister Baba. He was still having a relationship with Diana.
- Baba was also a married woman, her husband being Fruity Metcalfe, the close friend of Edward Vlll, later the Duke of Windsor.
- Edward Vlll abdicated so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, his long time mistress. She was married to Ernest Simpson, an American of German / Jewish extraction.
- The Mitford family, especially Diana and her sister Unity, socialised with Adolf Hitler prior to the war, as did Edward and Mrs Simpson.
The information that you'll read below largely comes from this book.
It is about the family as a whole and in addition to the sisters, has full details about their parents and their often-forgotten brother.It's also illustrated by photographs from the girls' earliest days, through to their beauty as debutantes in high society in the 1930s.
It's a fascinating glimpse into another era.
Quick historical note
Before I go any further into the fascinating story of the relationship between Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosley, I'd just like to explain the historical context a little.
Both were amongst the most hated people in Britain during and after the war.
Diana's friendship with Hitler was one factor, Oswald was the founder of the British Union of Fascists which was another. (An interesting side note is that Fruity Metcalfe, best friend of the king, was also a member).
Words like 'Nazi', 'fascist' and so on have emotional connotations today that just didn't exist in the 1930s. Young people, particularly those of Diana's and Oswald's age could remember the war. They no doubt lost family during the conflict.
They were determined to create a better world. Exploring political beliefs that were new and unusual wasn't uncommon.We also have to remember that because people in those days had survived the war, there was a hedonistic approach to life. Affairs were commonplace and accepted. Even the king was openly at it!
Diana was besotted by the handsome Mosley.
They first met in 1932 and were in the same social circle and saw each other frequently at dinner parties held by the Churchills and other members of high society.
They were soon deeply in love.In those days, before the war, Mosley was seen as being a brilliant and promising politician and Diana realised that her parents had been right - she had been too young when she married Bryan Guinness.
And of course, Mosley too was a married man and by now, with three children.Socially, divorce was frowned upon in those days so extra-marital affairs were accepted by all parties, including the cuckolded spouses.
Indeed, the two couples went on vacation to Europe together that summer.Diana was unable to live a lie. She was still fond of Bryan but she was in love with Oswald. Even though there was no divorce in the offing between the Mosleys, she left Bryan and set up home with her two small sons. In the circles in which she moved, this was 'social suicide'.
Despite his affair with Diana, there seems little doubt that Oswald was genuinely fond of his wife.
So it was a severe blow when she died of peritonitis at the age of thirty three.
This was about a year after the affair had started.Oswald was so distraught that his late wife's sisters took his revolver from his house and hid it.
Diana was going through her own problems. The affair was widely known about in society and people were suggesting that Cynthia had died as a result - of a broken heart.
Diana was cast as the villain of the piece. She was also going through her divorce. Astonishingly, that summer, Mosley started an affair with his late wife's sister, Baba. Diana was well aware of this but did not end her affair.
Three years later, when Oswald was still enjoying both women, Diana became pregnant. She had a termination which upset her dreadfully.
She was a loving mother to her two sons and she and Mosley decided that they wanted to have children together.They decided to marry in secret.
They were both too well known to marry in England and considered Paris, but there was three week residency requirement. Shortly after lunching with Churchill, who was fascinated when she told him about meeting Hitler on a previous visit to Germany, she was in Germany again, lunching with her friend, Magda.
Magda suggested that the couple marry in her home in Berlin, which they did in a quiet ceremony.Magda's husband was Josef Goebbels and a guest at the wedding was Adolf Hitler.
In early 1938, Diana became pregnant.
This meant that their secret marriage had now to become public knowledge. (The most horrified person, when discovering this, was Baba).Their son was born and the following year, she was expecting another baby and in early 1940, shortly after war had broken out, gave birth to another son.
Just a few weeks later, Oswald was arrested. A bill had been rushed through parliament, allowing the imprisonment of any person with 'hostile association or origin'.
Oswald's political activities counted against him.Investigations soon showed that Diana had personally known Hitler and she too, although still breastfeeding her son, was arrested and imprisoned.
Initially, the couple was separated but eighteen months later Churchill intervened and allowed married couples to be incarcerated together. They were released from jail in 1943 but remained under house arrest for the duration of the war.
In addition, their passports were confiscated until 1947.
I love this photograph.
Their eldest son said, in later years, that the love between the couple was constantly visible. I think this photograph says it all.
They were together, happily married, until Sir Oswald died in 1980. They were still persona non grata in England after the war and moved to Paris.
Their neighbours there were that other scandalous nineteen thirties couple (and their good friends) the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; Edward and Mrs Simpson.
Lady Diana Mosley died in 2003 at ninety three years of age.
Meet more Mitford sisters
- Six Sisters, Six Books: The Mitfords
The Mitford Sisters were endlessly fascinating. Society girls in the twentieth century they were involved in scandals, mixed with the most bizarre people and were often on the wrong side of the law.
- Hitler & Unity Mitford's Illegitimate Child
Did Adolf Hitler have an affair with an aristocratic English girl? And did she - Unity Mitford - give birth to his child in England during the Second World War? Read about their unusual relationship.
- Duchess of Devonshire: Deborah Mitford
The Mitford sisters were a truly fascinating part of British society in the twentieth century. This article discusses the youngest sister, Deborah, who became the Duchess of Devonshire.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson