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Wednesday, August 13, 2003


[Death of Lady Mosley]

Lady Mosley, who died in Paris on Monday aged 93, was a friend of both Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, and decidedly more fascinated by the Führer.

The third and the most beautiful of the six Mitford sisters (daughters of the 3rd Lord Redesdale), she left her first husband Bryan Guinness to unite her destiny with Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. The uncompromising temperament of the Mitfords, combined with Mosley's rebarbative politics, involved renouncing the social life of which she had previously been a leading ornament.

Three of Diana Mosley's sisters would follow her in forswearing England for a mixture of a man and ideology. Nancy, her eldest sister, found in Gaston Palewski the personification of her drooling Francophilia. Unity became enamoured of Hitler and shot herself at the outbreak of the war. Jessica became a Communist and married an American of that persuasion. In Diana Mosley's memory, Sir Oswald was a figure of unequalled glamour.

"He had every gift, being handsome, generous, intelligent, and full of wonderful gaiety and joie de vivre. Of course I fell in love with him . . . and I have never regretted the step I took then."

She left Bryan Guinness in 1932, just as Mosley was forming the British Union of Fascists. To the horror of her family and friends - her father forbade her younger sisters to see her again - she set up house with her two small sons in Eaton Square, and placed herself at the Leader's disposal. Yet it was for an uncertain future that she had cast herself away. Mosley's first wife Cimmie, Lord Curzon's daughter, was still alive; and Mosley showed no disposition to leave her. "I never dreamed of marrying him," Diana remembered.

It was as though the fairy princess had been carried off by the demon king. As Diana Guinness, she had been a leader of a set which included Augustus John, the Sitwells, Henry Yorke, Evelyn Waugh, Roy Harrod and Robert Byron. Lytton Strachey paid her court.

Her photograph regularly stared from the covers of the society weeklies; her portrait was painted again and again. The face always seemed to come out the same - large, calm, and staring vacantly into space. "She was getting like that in real life too," her sister Jessica acidly observed. The death of Cimmie Mosley from peritonitis in May 1933 made possible a lifetime commitment to the Leader of the Blackshirts, which she would honour through every adversity. At first, it seemed that she might keep him within the bounds of respectability. "The Leader is so clever and in his way so civilised and English," she explained to Roy Harrod in 1933, "that [his Blackshirts] could not be comparable to the German movement. But if everyone of sensibility, charm and intelligence shuns him, there is definitely a danger that he will come to regard those virtues as vicious and the possessors of them as enemies."

But that same year, on the invitation of Hitler's stooge Putzi Hansfstaengl, Diana Guinness visited Nazi Germany. For her sister Unity, who accompanied her, the holiday was the beginning of an obsession that would destroy her life. Diana was also deeply impressed, and ever afterwards disposed to ignore what she heard of anti-semitism and concentration camps. Unity Mitford finally succeeded in making Hitler's acquaintance in January 1935, and in March proudly introduced him to her sister. Diana Guinness, in the full flower of her beauty, made a considerable impression; she herself was dazzled. "His eyes were dark blue," Diana rhapsodised about Hitler, "his skin was fair and his brown hair exceptionally fine. In certain moods he could be very funny. He was extremely polite towards women. He was the most unselfconscious politician I have ever come across. He never sought to impress, he never bothered to act a part. If he felt morose, he was morose. If he was in high spirits he talked brilliantly."

Later in 1935 Irene Ravensdale, sister of Mosley's first wife, found the picture of Hitler in Diana Guinness's house at Wootton, in Staffordshire, "particularly painful". Certainly, Diana's partiality for the Führer quite outran that of Mosley, who later in life would refer to Hitler as "a terrible little man".

On October 6 1936, two days after the Blackshirts' humiliating withdrawal from Cable Street, Diana secretly married Mosley in Berlin - a wedding arranged under the auspices of Dr Goebbels, whose wife Magda was a friend of Diana's. Hitler came to dinner after the wedding, presenting a picture of himself in an eagle-topped silver frame. Afterwards, the newly-weds had a fierce quarrel: "We went to bed in dudgeon."

Diana Mosley continued to visit Germany frequently, being involved in negotiations to set up an independent radio station to broadcast to Britain from Heligoland; Mosley hoped that this scheme would finance his movement. She had several private late-night meetings with Hitler in the Chancellery, and he invited her to Bayreuth.

Mosley, meanwhile, took the line that Britain should stay out of any conflict with Germany, in order to preserve the Empire by leaving Hitler a free hand in Europe. As Hitler swept through France in May 1940 Mosley was arrested and imprisoned in Brixton under Defence Regulation 18b, which empowered the Home Secretary to detain in prison "any particular person if satisfied that it is necessary to do so".

In fact, Mosley had frequently declared he would fight for his country in the event of an invasion. But there were many politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, who had scores to pay off. By this time the Mosleys were such pariahs that when Diana gave birth to their youngest son in April 1940 many Britons were inspired to write that they were coming to pour vitriol over her babies.

The Mitfords were cousins of Clementine Churchill, the Prime Minister's wife, and as a girl Diana Mosley used to stay with the Churchills at Chartwell. This did not prevent her imprisonment in Holloway at the end of June 1940.

The conditions under which Diana was imprisoned were ghastly, but she was never one to sue for mercy. Interviewed by a Home Office Advisory Committee under Lord Birkett in 1940, she put her worst foot forward. She admitted that she would like to replace the British political system with the German one "because we think it has done well for that country". Did she approve of the Nazi policies against Jews? "Up to point," she declared. "I am not fond of Jews."

When her lawyer asked if she knew anyone in the government who might help, she gave further hostages to fortune. "Know anyone in the government?" she cried. "I know all the Tories beginning with Churchill. The whole lot deserve to be shot."

This was reported to Churchill, who was not amused. Not until December 1941, after the intervention of Diana's brother Tom with the Prime Minister, was Mosley allowed to join her in married quarters at Holloway. After two more years, in November 1943, they were both released on grounds of Mosley's health, and placed under house arrest until the end of the war.

Evelyn Waugh, who encountered Diana Mosley when she was just out of prison, told his daughter that he was shocked to observe that his friend was wearing a swastika diamond brooch. But then the Mitfords had been brought up to pay scant attention to the opinion of others.


DIANA Freeman-Mitford was born on June 17 1910 into a family which her sister Nancy would immortalise in Love in a Cold Climate. Their parents, Lord and Lady Redesdale, featured as Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. The family first came to prominence in the 18th century, when John Mitford was Speaker of the House of Commons and (as Lord Redesdale) Lord Chancellor of Ireland. His son was raised to an earldom in 1877, but nine years later both titles became extinct.

The Redesdale title would be revived for a cousin, Bertie (pronounced "Barty") Mitford, whose great-grandfather was William Mitford, celebrated as the author of The History of Greece. Bertie's second son, David, Diana's father, married Sydney, daughter of "Tap" Bowles, the founder of Vanity Fair and The Lady. Their only boy, Tom, was killed in Burma in 1944. Of the more orthodox daughters, the second, Pamela, married Professor Derek Jackson; and Debo, the sixth, is the present Duchess of Devonshire. Diana remembered her father with a great deal more affection than Nancy or Jessica did. "Not only did he make us scream with laughter at his lovely jokes," she wrote, "but he was very affectionate. Certainly he had a quick temper, and would often rage, but we were never punished." In 1919 Lord Redesdale sold the house his father had built at Batsford, Gloucestershire, and moved to Astall Manor in Oxfordshire. The children loved it, and Diana, "in a supreme effort to make money", kept chickens, pigs and calves. A succession of governesses - Diana thought 15 - abandoned the attempt to instil some education. Nevertheless, Diana read avidly, and though regarded as soft-hearted by her sisters imbibed her share of the family's tough style. "Do try to hang on this time, darling," Jessica remembered her saying when riding. "You know how cross Muv will be if you break your arm again."

The idyll at Astall did not last; after six years Lord Redesdale decided to build a new house on the hill above Swinbrook. It turned out to be a monstrosity, but for the children there was the compensation that he also bought a large house in London, at 26 Rutland Gate. In 1926 Diana was sent to stay in Paris, where she attended a day school and in six months learnt more than she had during six years in England.

Evelyn Waugh thought that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells". Jim Lees-Milne, who was a friend of Tom Mitford's at Eton, remembered her as "the most divine adolescent I ever beheld: a goddess, more immaculate, more perfect, more celestial than Botticelli's sea-borne Venus". In 1928 this vision came to the attention of Bryan Guinness, and within weeks they were engaged.

Lady Redesdale objected strenuously to her prospective son-in-law on the grounds that he was "so frightfully rich". Nancy Mitford thought he was perfectly all right, but could not imagine why her sister should want to marry him. Eventually, though, consent was granted, and the wedding took place on January 30 1929.

Apart from her two sons, the most notable achievement of Diana Guinness's first marriage was a spoof exhibition of the works of a mythical artist called Bruno Hat. Brian Howard produced most of the paintings; Evelyn Waugh wrote the catalogue and Tom Mitford impersonated Hat. At Biddesdon, their country house near Andover, Diana was able for the first time to employ her talent for interior decoration. At the end of her life she expressed gratitude for having lived in three beautiful houses:

Biddesdon, Wootton and, from 1950, the pretentiously entitled (though not by the Mosleys) Temple de la Gloire on the outskirts of Paris; the house was known to their foes as "The Concentration of Camp". After the Second World War, the Mosleys lived on a farm at Crowood, near Ramsbury in Wiltshire. Though largely ignored by the local residents, they appeared content in their self-sufficiency; whatever else might be said about them, no one could deny the success of their marriage. In 1951 Mosley, now obsessed with the ideal of creating a united Europe, decided to leave England and divide his time between the Temple de la Gloire and a house he had bought in Galway. "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it," he commented of his decision to leave England. In France, Diana Mosley edited The European, a magazine that boasted contributions from Ezra Pound, Henry Williamson and Roy Campbell. She herself contributed reviews and comment, showing a sharpness that would not have shamed her sister Nancy.

Her loyalty to Mosley remained absolute, though she did venture to suggest, when he stood for North Kensington in 1959, that the use by his supporters of such terms as "fuzzy wuzzies" was not likely to bolster his credentials as a serious politician. In Paris, the Mosleys discovered that they had much in common with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and in 1980 Diana published a book on the Duchess.

If Diana Mosley never enjoyed the literary success of her sister Nancy, she was undoubtedly happier. Thrusting aside all remembrance of Nancy's betrayal of her during the war, Diana proved the main consolation in her sister's painful and protracted final illness, which ended in 1973. But she never made her peace with Jessica, who had declared at the end of the war that the Mosleys should be thrown back into prison. "She's a rather boring person really," Diana concluded.

Sir Oswald Mosley died in 1980, and a year later Diana Mosley suffered from a brain tumour. It turned out to be benign and was operated upon successfully. While convalescing she was visited by Lord Longford. "Of course, he thinks I'm Myra Hindley," Diana remarked. Although her book of memoirs, A Life of Contrasts (1977), was deliberately provocative, most of those who met her found her a delightful companion, while to her sisters' children she was Aunt Honks. On one subject, however, she remained incorrigible.

"They will go on persecuting me until I say Hitler was ghastly," she acknowledged. "Well, what's the point in saying that? We all know he was a monster, that he was very cruel and did terrible things. But that doesn't alter the fact that he was obviously an interesting figure. It was fascinating for me, at 24, to sit and talk with him, to ask him questions and get answers, even if they weren't true ones. No torture on earth would get me to say anything different."

"I was very fond of him," she admitted in an interview in 2000. "Very, very fond."

Of her sons from her first marriage, the elder, Jonathan, is the 3rd Lord Moyne, while the younger, Desmond, founded the Irish Georgian Society. There were two sons from her second marriage; the younger, Max, is President of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile.Related reports

Diana Mosley, unrepentantly Nazi and effortlessly charming

By Andrew Roberts

THE death of Diana Mosley brings to an end one of the most curious questions of British upper-class etiquette: how does one deal socially with an unrepentant Nazi?

One of the funny, charming, intelligent and glamorous Mitford sisters; a denizen of the "Hons' cupboard"; a dedicatee of Vile Bodies; a beautiful woman whom Churchill called "Dinamite"; an inspired interior decorator; a steadfast friend to a wide galère (including some Jews); a fine autobiographer and loving mother; yet Diana Mosley was also a woman who could - when she was inadvisedly invited to appear on Desert Island Discs - describe Adolf Hitler in almost wholly positive terms. The social problem was made easy for most people of her acquaintance during the Second World War because of her long incarceration in Holloway prison for her fascism.

Lest anyone still believe that her imprisonment was somehow undeserved, let them read Jan Dalley's generally sympathetic 1999 biography of Lady Mosley, in which it is recorded that, during a Hyde Park rally in October 1935, she silently gave the Heil Hitler salute when the rest of the crowd was singing God Save the King. And that was before she married Sir Oswald Mosley. Her interrogation by Norman Birkett's Advisory Committee in 1940 - the transcripts of which were finally released in 1983 - confirmed that it had been quite right to recommend that she stay in jail, especially after she told them that "she would like to see the German system of government in England because of all it had achieved in Germany". The key, inescapable difference between Diana Mosley and the scores of other pre-war pro-Nazis who had changed their political allegiance once the concentration camps yielded up their incontrovertible evidence of the profound evil of Hitlerism was that she was hooked for life. As the writer Michael Shelden has diagnosed it: "There was no going back; Diana Mosley's stubbornness and aristocratic pride made her reluctant to admit that she had made a profound mistake." Indeed, even that puts it too mildly.

Lady Mosley fully appreciated the frisson that would shoot through a lunch table when she made some fond reference to a Nazi leader. Nor did it end there.

She helped to finance the British Union of Fascists until the death of its organiser, Jeffrey Hamm, in 1994, often attending their annual dinners. In letters I received from her in 1992, she took particular pleasure in the way that Czechoslovakia, which she wrote "couldn't last in its 1938 form", was splitting in two, just as Hitler had succeeded in forcing it to do at Munich. She even recently wrote to The Spectator to argue that her late husband "was not an extremist".

The problem of how to deal socially with Lady Mosley was not made that much harder after her release from Holloway in 1943, especially once she went to live in France after the war.

British ambassadors were instructed, as if they really needed to be, not to invite the Mosleys to the embassy, and, other than the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, they made few new friends. But old friendships and ties of blood, especially through the children of Diana's first husband, Bryan Guinness, meant that they were never short of visitors to their beautiful house outside Paris, Temple de la Gloire, which was originally built for General Moreau in 1800 to commemorate the battle of Hohenlinden. When I visited the Temple to interview Diana Mosley for a book I was writing about Churchill's contemporaries, I was subjected to the full force of her superb Mitfordesque charm, and I am ashamed to say that I loved it.

There was not a trace of pomposity to her - "How snooty I looked in those days", she said of a photograph of herself - nor of the boorishness one expects (and rather hopes for) from fascists. Yet she never failed to appreciate the effect of occasionally flashing a view of the cloven hoof. "Hitler was attractive," she told me, "though not handsome, with great inner dynamism and charm. Charm can mean so mean so many things; I don't suppose I've met anyone quite so charming. It might be just that he was powerful, I suppose, but it seemed more than that." I asked about the Holocaust, of course, expecting a David Irving-style refutation, but was astounded not to get one. "I'm sure he was to blame for the extermination of the Jews," she answered. "He was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him."

Was that use of the past tense an admission? Had she in fact changed her mind about the Führer? So I asked her again, hoping that I would not have to think this beautiful aristocrat a monster because of her disgraceful views. When she married Mosley in a civil ceremony in Joseph Goebbels's "ordinary, middle-class drawing room" in Berlin in 1936, the only guests (besides the witnesses) were Hitler and Goebbels himself. Fifty-two years and a world war later, I wondered, what she would do if the Führer walked into the room? "I should have to be pleased," she replied, "and ask him how it had been in Hell, or Heaven, or wherever he'd been."

There it was; the same disdain for equivocation that later led her to talk to Sue Lawley about Hitler's lovely blue eyes, the same inability to admit that the central fact about her life had been disastrous, that fascism was evil and that the man she had worshipped - Oswald Mosley, "Tom" to his friends, "Kit" to her - had wasted his undeniable talents upon a foul lie. There were several people who told me in the course of my researches - including another of Oswald Mosley's lovers, Lady Alexandra "Baba" Metcalfe - that Diana was the more dangerous of the couple, because she was more fanatical than her husband back in the 1930s. Her own sister, the novelist Nancy Mitford, told the Home Office as much in 1940. I like to think that she stuck to her repulsive views out of love for her husband and because her beloved sister Unity had attempted to commit suicide for them on the outbreak of war, and that to denounce them would have been a betrayal of her.

Whatever the reason, Diana Mosley took her disgusting, unchanged views to her grave, and now she can ask the Führer herself how he has fared "in Heaven, or Hell, or wherever he'd been".

Blonde who captivated Hitler and spent

Philip Delves Broughton looks at the life of the woman who was once the poster girl for English fascism

IF you believed Diana Mosley's friends, she was simply incapable of lying. She could have begged forgiveness for supporting Hitler, blaming it on a dilettantish crush. She could have said she was blinded by love for her husband into saying and doing things she would later regret. But she did neither. She owned up.

The Nazis, she often said, turned out to be a disappointment. But that could never erase the fact that they had once seemed a very good thing to a great many people.

Diana Mosley, she wanted you to know, was not the only one who had thought this way. Just the only one to have to live the rest of her life with the consequences.

She died on Monday in Paris in her flat on the Rue de L'Universite, overlooking the gardens of the Ministry of Defence, a stone's throw from parliament.

She had been in bed since suffering a mild stroke a week earlier. Her death, according to the death notice posted by her sister, the Duchess of Devonshire, was "peaceful".

She is expected to be buried at Swinbrook, her family's home in Oxfordshire. It never helped Diana Mosley's reputation that she looked like a Nazi fantasy sprung to life: tall, blonde and with a cool blue gaze that captivated everyone from Evelyn Waugh to the Fuhrer. Her elongated vowels and apparent disregard for what people thought of her compounded her public image as a cold-hearted aristocrat. She was the poster girl for English fascism, symbolising how morally rotten the upper classes had become.

Later in life, however, she assiduously defended her own and her husband's reputation.

Last year, the Public Record Office released Secret Service documents from just before the Second World War which called her "a public danger" and "far cleverer and more dangerous than her husband and will stick at nothing to achieve her ambitions".

The day after an article appeared in this newspaper reporting the claims, a fax arrived in The Daily Telegraph's Paris office inviting me to hear her side of things.

"Oh, it's too wonderful really," she said, rocking back on her pale blue sofa and reading the allegations. But after this casual brush-off, she launched into a detailed account of why exactly the documents were wrong. Though she could barely hear, she never lost her train of thought. She explained why her husband had so many guns when he was arrested - they were for hunting and shooting, not for launching an armed coup; she said why he had been so prescient about the need for European integration and bemoaned the lack of politeness in contemporary politics. When her husband was politically active, she said, they frequently argued with communists in political settings but "if you met them at dinner, you wouldn't have a row".

She said she despised the kind of "crusty old Tory nationalism" preached by extreme Right demagogues such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, and that Sir Oswald was never "extreme Right". Her sometimes blithe dismissals of her past and those who demanded that she apologise for it concealed a determination that her personal history be properly understood, however difficult that might be.

She called her 23 grandchildren a "sort of cushion in one's life really", against both old age and the still frequently heard taunts that she is an unrepentant Nazi.

Since her husband's death in 1980, she remained in Paris, writing book reviews and taking brisk walks along the Seine. She lunched frequently in Tante Marguerite, an immaculate French restaurant close to her flat and opposite the offices of French Vogue magazine. The staff there would be fascinated to see her walking past in her old Dior and Balenciaga outfits, cinched at her miniscule waist. Few, however, knew quite how controversial she had once been.

During the 1930s, when Britain first became fascinated by the Mitford sisters, their eccentric private lives and shifting political allegiances, one newspaper ran the headline: "Mixed up Mitford girls still confusing Europe."

Jessica Mitford had just run off with Churchill's nephew, Esmond Romilly, to fight with the Communists in the Spanish Civil War; Diana and Unity were swooning over Hitler, and Nancy was outraged with them and their mother, Sydney, for admiring the Nazis.

In her memoirs, A Life of Contrasts, Diana Mosley writes about this time and the Nazis she met as if they were guests at a country house party. Asked once what she best remembered about Hitler, she said: "The jokes!" At the time of her internment, she said her main concern was looking after her two infant children. Politics was a single thread in the far broader weave of her life as a wife, mother and sister.

This thread, however, made her a figure of public scorn and soured relations with her sisters Nancy and Jessica who were disgusted by her Nazism and anti-Semitism.

Diana and Jessica did not communicate after the war until the 1970s, when Nancy was dying of cancer in Paris and they shared the responsibility of looking after her.

Apart from her family, Diana Mosley had a large circle of admirers, both English and French, who were as tantalised by the prospect of a recollection of Hitler as they were captivated by her charm. In her memoirs, republished last year, she complained that Paris no longer had the best dressmakers but that at least it was "beautiful, bright and clean". She wrote: "Most of my friends are dead but, with those who remain, and my sons, and above all Debo [the Duchess of Devonshire] with her generous and loving nature, I am fortunate beyond words." She said her 90th birthday was her "last farewell" and quoted Hillaire Belloc's response when asked what made life worth living: "Laughter and the love of friends."

But as one American reviewer put it when writing about Diana and the Mitfords, quoting Nancy: "Alas one's life."

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2003.


David Irving: A Radical's Diary
Diana Mosley - The last bright young thing

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