Diana Mitford

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Diana Mitford
Diana Mitford.png
Born 16 November 1896
Westminster, England, United Kingdom
Died 11 August 2003 (aged 93)
Paris, France
Nationality British
Occupation editor, author, writer, reviewer, publisher, translator
Spouse Bryan Guinness (1929–1932)
Sir Oswald Mosley (1936–1980)

Diana Mitford, Lady Mosley (née Freeman-Mitford; June 17, 1910August 11, 2003), was one of Britain's noted Mitford sisters. She married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, in 1936, at the home of Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour. Subsequently her involvement with patriotic political causes resulted in three years' internment during the Second World War. She later enjoyed a successful career as a writer, publishing several books and as a syndicated contributor for several major newspapers and magazines such as The Evening Standard and Tatler. She also edited the magazine, The European. Family friend James Lees-Milne wrote of her beauty; "She was the nearest thing to Botticelli's Venus that I have ever seen".[1]


Early life

Diana Mitford was the daughter of David Bertram Ogilvy 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. 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. Already famed for her beauty and charisma, Diana became secretly engaged to Bryan Walter Guinness shortly after her introduction to society at age 18. Guinness was an Irish aristocrat, writer and brewing heir who would inherit the barony of Moyne. Her parents were initially opposed to the match but in time were persuaded. The marriage on January 30, 1929, was the society marriage of the year.

The couple had an income of £20,000 a year, an estate, Biddesden in Hampshire, and houses in London and Dublin. They were well known for hosting glittering society events involving writers such as Evelyn Waugh, Lytton Strachey, Dora Carrington and John Betjeman, or politicians such as Winston Churchill. Waugh exclaimed that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells.". He also dedicated the novel Vile Bodies, a satire of the Roaring Twenties, to the couple[2]. Her portrait was painted by Augustus John, Pavel Tchelitchew and Henry Lamb[3]. The couple had two sons, Jonathan (b. 1930), and Desmond (b. 1931).

In February 1932 Mitford met Sir Oswald Mosley, soon to become leader of the British Union of Fascists, and became his mistress; he was then married to Lady Cynthia Curzon, a daughter of Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India and his first wife, American mercantile heiress Mary Victoria Leiter. Diana soon left her husband but Sir Oswald would not leave his wife. However Cynthia died in 1933. Due to her parents' disapproval over her decision to leave Guinness for Mosley, she was briefly estranged from her family.

Prior to their internment, the couple rented Wooton Lodge, a peculiar 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.[4]

Connections to the Third Reich

Diana Mitford with Ernst Hanfstaengl at the 1934 Nuremberg rally.

Mitford went to Germany with her then 19 year old sister Unity. While there they attended the first Nuremberg rally after the National Socialist victory. They returned again for the second rally the next year during which Unity struck up a friendship with Hitler. She introduced Diana to Hitler in March 1935. They were his guests at the 1935 rally and, in 1936, he provided a Mercedes-Benz to chauffeur Diana to the Berlin Olympic games. Diana also became well-acquainted with Winifred Wagner and Magda Goebbels.

On October 6, 1936, in the Berlin drawing room of Joseph Goebbels, she became Sir Oswald Mosley's second wife. Other than the witnesses, the only guests were Goebbels and Hitler. Hitler presented the couple with a silver framed picture of himself. The marriage was kept secret until the birth of their first child, Alexander, in 1938. Their second child Max Mosley was born in 1940.

The Mosleys were interned throughout much of World War II, under Defence Regulation 18B along with other British fascists including Norah Elam. On June 29, 1940, a few 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.

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. The couples lived in an old cottage on the prison grounds, had a little garden but were not allowed to mix with any other prisoners. After two years imprisonment, in November 1943, they were both released amidst a public outcry 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 1947.

Diana and her sister Jessica, a communist, had become permanently estranged over their political differences, although Jessica did not sever all communication with Unity, a committed National Socialist.


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 was burnt down in an accidental fire. Following this they bought the house of Ileclash near Fermoy in County Cork. They later permanently settled in France where they lived in an exquisite house at Orsay, near Paris called Temple de la Gloire, a former French folly. They were neighbours, and soon became close friends, of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

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 remarried; Hitler had safeguarded their original marriage license, and it was never found after the war.

The only time she and sister, Jessica communicated with each other again following their estrangement was when they were both taking care of sister Nancy in Versailles who was battling with hodgkins disease. Soon after Nancy's death in 1973 all communication between the sisters ceased.

In 1989, she was invited to appear on acclaimed BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. She famously chose Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie as one of her choices.

She was also a lifelong supporter of the British Union of Fascists, and its postwar successor the Union Movement, to which she made financial contributions until the 1994 death of its organiser Jeffrey Hamm. She often attended its annual dinners.

She was nothing if not ambiguous when discussing her loyalties to Britain and her strong belief in fascism. 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 1998, for practical reasons, she moved out of Temple de la Gloire her home of over fifty years and into a Paris apartment. Temple de la Gloire was sold for £1 million in 2000.


Sir Oswald had been banned in the British media for a period after the war and subsequently, the couple established a publishing company 'Euphorion Books'. This allowed Mosley to publish his books and Diana was free to commission a cultural list. The company was named after a character in Faust - released from jail Mosley had declared the death of fascism. Diana initially translated Goethe's first Faust. Other notable books that she translated for the company included the 1950 English translation of La Princesse de Clèves, the 1985 translation of Niki Lauda's memoirs, and Hans-Ulrich Rudel's memoirs, Stuka Pilot. She also edited several of her husband's books.

While in France, Diana edited the right-wing cultural magazine The European for six years, to which she also contributed. 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 a regular column called Letters from Paris for the Tatler.

She was also an avid reader and a shrewd judge of contemporary literature, reviewing for publications such as the London Evening Standard, The Spectator, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Sunday Times and Books & Bookmen. Generally she specialized 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 was the lead literary reviewer for the London Evening Standard during A.N. Wilson's tenure as literary editor. In 1996, and on personal grounds, the new editor Max Hastings insisted that she no longer be contracted by the newspaper. Since Hastings' retirement in 2001, the newspaper published several more book reviews by her until her death in 2003.

She was also a published author. She wrote the foreword and introduction of Nancy Mitford: A Memoir by Harold Acton. Mitford also produced her own two books of memoirs; A Life of Contrasts was published in 1977 by Hamish Hamilton, and this was followed by Loved Ones in 1985. The latter is a collection of pen portraits of close relatives and friends such as the writer Evelyn Waugh amongst others. In 1980 she released The Duchess of Windsor; a biography of the Duchess of Windsor.

New editions of A Life of Contrasts and The Duchess of Windsor were released in 2002 and 2003 respectively.

In 2007 several letters between the Mitford sisters (including her own) were published in the compilation The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley. The book garnered acclaim and reviewers were sympathetic to the portrayal of Diana. In a review published in The Sunday Times, journalist India Knight noted that Diana was evidently "briefly sinister but also clever, kind, fatally loyal to her Blackshirt husband, Oswald Mosley. " [5]

Following the positive reception towards Diana in the 2007 collection of letters, a collection of her letters, articles, diaries and reviews was released as The Pursuit of Laughter in December 2008. The collection garnered generally positive reviews.[6]


Throughout much of her life she was afflicted by regular bouts of migraines. In 1981, she underwent a successful surgery to remove a brain tumour. She convalesced at Chatsworth House, the residence of her sister Deborah.

In the early 1990s, she was successfully treated for skin cancer. In later life she also suffered from partial deafness.


Diana Mosley died in Paris in August 2003, aged 93, apparently due to 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. Her remains are interred in the Swinbrook Churchyard in Oxfordshire[7] with those of her sisters, Nancy (1904-1973) and Unity (1914-1948) and Jessica Mitford (1917-1996). Her death leaves one surviving sister: Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

She was survived by her four sons, among whom are the Irish preservationist Desmond Guinness; the writer Jonathan Guinness, 3rd Baron Moyne; and Max Mosley, president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the governing body of world motorsport. Her stepson Nicholas Mosley is a novelist who also wrote a critical memoir of his father for which Diana never forgave him despite their previously close relationship. One of her great-granddaughters, Jasmine Guinness, and a great-niece, Stella Tennant, are models.[8]



In film


  • de Courcy Anne, Diana Mosley : Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler's Angel, Morrow Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0060-56532-2
  • de Courcy Anne, Diana Mosley née Mitford, Rocher (Le), (French edition)
  • Guinness, Jonathan, with Catherine Guinness, The House of Mitford, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1984, ISBN 0-09-155560-4
  • Mosley, Diana, Loved Ones, Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1985, ISBN 0-283-99155-0
  • Dalley, Jan, Diana Mosley - A Life, Faber & Faber, London,1999, ISBN 0-571-14448-9
  • Mosley, Charlotte, The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters, Fourth Estate Ltd, London, 2007, ISBN 1841157902

External link


  1. Lady Diana Mosley, Fascist Who Dazzled, Is Dead at 93 The New York Times. 14 August 2003
  2. OBITUARY: The Hon Lady Mosley. The Times (August 13 2003).
  3. Obituary: Lady Diana Mosley. BBC (August 13 2003).
  4. Hand in hand with Hitler The Age. 4 January 2004
  5. REVIEW: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters. The Sunday Times (September 2 2007).
  6. REVIEW: The Pursuit of Laughter by Diana Mosley. The Times (December 12 2008).
  7. Oswald Mosley's widow diesBBC. 13 August 2003
  8. Lovell, Mary S., The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, 2002, ISBN 0-393-01043-0
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