Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel

Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel

by Anne de Courcy

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Diana Mosley was a society beauty who fell from grace when she left her husband, brewery heir Bryan Guinness, for Sir Oswald Mosley, an admirer of Mussolini and a notorious womanizer. This horrified her family and scandalized society.

In 1933, Diana met the new German leader, Adolf Hitler. They became close friends and he attended her wedding as the guest of


Diana Mosley was a society beauty who fell from grace when she left her husband, brewery heir Bryan Guinness, for Sir Oswald Mosley, an admirer of Mussolini and a notorious womanizer. This horrified her family and scandalized society.

In 1933, Diana met the new German leader, Adolf Hitler. They became close friends and he attended her wedding as the guest of honor. During the war, the Mosleys' association with Hitler led them to be arrested and interned for three and a half years. Diana's relationships with Hitler and Mosley defined her life in the public eye and marked her as a woman who possessed a singular lack of empathy for those less blessed at birth.

Anne de Courcy's revealing biography chronicles one of the most intriguing, controversial women of the twentieth century. It is a riveting tell-all memoir of a leading society hostess, a woman with intimate access to the highest literary, political, and social circles of her time. Written with Mosley's exclusive cooperation and based upon hundreds of hours of taped interviews and unprecedented access to her private papers, letters, and diaries, Lady Mosley's only stipulation was that the book not be published until after her death.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
De Courcy last wrote (in The Viceroy's Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters) about Cimmie Curzon, who married the British Fascist Oswald Mosley. Here, de Courcy examines the life of Mosley's second wife, Diana Mitford, who died this summer. Born into an aristocratic but eccentric family, Mitford was blessed with a mythical beauty and charm that inspired a frenzy among potential suitors Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill. She was married young to the heir of the Guinness ale fortune and hobnobbed with the social and cultural elite of the 1920s. Diana had two children with Guinness before meeting Mosley, then a Labour Party leader and known womanizer still married to Curzon. Mosley was in the process of establishing the British Union of Fascism, and Diana, fervently in love, left her husband to support him and his cause. Later, Diana and her sister Unity became fascinated with the Nazi party in Germany and developed close ties with Hitler. When Curzon died, Diana married Mosley, standing by him through imprisonment and the aftermath of WWII. De Courcy's sympathetic but critical account, based on extensive and exclusive access to Mosley herself and her papers, suggests that Diana was unaware of the extent of the brutality of the Nazi regimes-and that, despite her own anti-Semitism, her politics were the sum of her blind romantic and sexual desires. This is a thorough, nuanced reading of a complicated woman, but even more ambitiously, de Courcy has painted her as an icon of between-the-wars Europe, with its crumbling social structure and decadent, violent attempts at self-preservation. Agent, Carole Blake. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Diana Mosley
Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel

Chapter One

Exceptional beauty is an attribute which defines its possessor's life. When Diana Mitford was only ten, her sixteen-year-old cousin Michael Bowles fell violently in love with her. Her looks, charm and gaiety, enhanced by the setting of a close and vivid family life, had an irresistible appeal to this rather lonely boy. From Marlborough -- then one of the most rigorous and least enjoyable of public schools -- he wrote daily screeds of devotion, often concluding wistfully, 'I suppose we must wait six years and then you will be old enough to marry.' Although this devotion was entirely proper -- Diana was far more interested in the family ponies, dogs and chickens -- he was uneasily conscious that it might be misinterpreted, so persuaded Mabel, head parlourmaid and friend of all the Mitford children, to give his letters to Diana privately instead of leaving them on the hall table with the others.

Discovery was inevitable. Lord Redesdale reacted as if his ten-year-old child had planned to elope, rushing straight to Marlborough and storming unannounced into the study Bowles shared with his friend Mitchell.

'Is this Michael Bowles's room?' he shouted furiously. 'My name is Redesdale and I want to talk to him.' His rage was so terrifying that Mitchell, alarmed, set off to find his friend.

'Somebody called Redesdale has come to see you,' he said. 'You've got to hide for a couple of hours, until he goes away. Otherwise I think he'll kill you.'

Eventually, after stumping up and down muttering for some time, the angry father departed. Although Lord Redesdale forgot fairly quickly, Michael Bowles was so terrified by the incident that he lost touch with his cousins for almost forty years.

The episode illustrates not only Lord Redesdale's almost oriental paranoia about the chastity of his daughters but the effects of a personality so powerful that it was stamped on his children indelibly.

The second son and third of the second Lord Redesdale's nine children, David Freeman-Mitford had impressively good looks, with blue eyes under light, brown-blond hair and a smooth skin tanned by a life spent as far as he could manage it out of doors. He was a man of strong and irrational prejudices. He loathed Roman Catholics, Jews and foreigners -- especially Germans -- and took the occasional instant dislike to some harmless individual. His special fury was reserved for men whom he suspected of wishing to woo his daughters.

His charm, when he exerted it, was formidable; he was loving, affectionate, even sentimental, and immensely funny, with an original, oblique and intelligent but uneducated mind. His rages were terrifying, though actual punishment was seldom worse than being sent out of the room or, occasionally, early to bed. What made them so devastating was their unpredictability: dazzling good humour could give way without warning to ferocious temper. Sometimes his children could get away with cheekiness and uproarious wildness, the next moment they would be sent upstairs in tears for the same behaviour that had made him laugh only minutes before.

To the children's friends this emotional quicksand was petrifying -- one shy boy was threatened with a horsewhip for putting his feet on a sofa, another referred to as 'that hog Watson' to his face. James Lees-Milne has described an evening when he was sent away from the house at nine-thirty P.M. in a downpour, for attacking an anti-German film about Edith Cavell. Equally true to form, a couple of hours later, drenched and miserable, he was welcomed back affectionately by his host, who appeared to have forgotten all about the incident.

But these extremes merely toughened the Mitford children's psyches. Grouped on a sunlit lawn in muslin frocks and picture hats they may, as one dazzled visitor remarked, have resembled a Winterhalter portrait but under the ribbons they were of the same steely breed. 'Mitfords are a savage tribe,' wrote Goronwy Rees.

David Mitford was the sun around which his daughters revolved. Forever simultaneously seeking his approval and seeing how far they could go, they led an emotional life that was a switchback between hysterical tears ('floods') and gales of laughter ('shrieks'). Their often outrageous behaviour, designed to attract his attention, found echoes in adult life. Jessica spoke of the 'strong streak of delinquency' in her husband Esmond Romilly that struck such a responsive chord in her; Unity found a positive joy in shocking people and in extremes of behaviour; and most of the sisters later conceived passions for men with notably strong personalities or convictions. As Nancy wrote of Uncle Matthew, the character founded on her father in her novel The Pursuit of Love: 'Much as we feared, much as we disapproved of, passionately as we sometimes hated Uncle Matthew, he still remained for us a sort of criterion of English manhood; there seemed something not quite right about any man who greatly differed from him.'

To Diana, for years of her childhood David's favourite daughter, he handed on his honesty, his funniness, a singleness of purpose so undeviating as to be at times both ruthless and blinkered, the brilliant Mitford blue eyes and an independence of mind that cared nothing for what others might think, say or do. Perhaps significantly, in view of their own later political beliefs, she and Unity described him as 'one of Nature's fascists'.

There was nothing obvious in David Mitford's parentage to produce such an extreme, eccentric personality. His father, 'Bertie' Redesdale, was a well-read, cultivated man, a cousin and contemporary of the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, with the necessary gravity and cleverness to serve with distinction as a diplomat, first in Russia and then as First Secretary at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Here he became fascinated by all things Japanese, learning the language and being one of the first Europeans to be presented to the emperor. He was a great gardener and his influence can still be seen at Sandringham, where he assisted in laying out the gardens -- his speciality was bamboo ...

Diana Mosley
Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel
. Copyright © by Anne de Courcy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Anne de Courcy has written eleven books, including Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel; Debs at War; and The Viceroy's Daughters. She lives in London and Gloucestershire.

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