Oswald Mosley

For other people named Oswald Mosley, see Oswald Mosley (disambiguation).
Sir Oswald Mosley

Portrait of Mosley
by Glyn Warren Philpot (1925)
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
7 June 1929  19 May 1930
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded by Ronald John McNeill
Succeeded by Clement Attlee
Member of Parliament
for Smethwick
In office
21 December 1926  27 October 1931
Preceded by John Davison
Succeeded by Roy Wise
Member of Parliament
for Harrow
In office
14 December 1918  29 October 1924
Preceded by Harry Mallaby-Deeley
Succeeded by Sir Isidore Salmon
Personal details
Born Oswald Ernald Mosley
16 November 1896
Mayfair, London, England
Died 3 December 1980(1980-12-03) (aged 84)
Orsay, Paris, France
Nationality British
Political party Conservative Party
(1922–1924; 1940–1948)
Labour Party
New Party
British Union of Fascists
Union Movement
Other political
National Party of Europe
Spouse(s) Lady Cynthia Mosley (1920–1933)
Diana Mitford (1936–1980)
Children Vivien Mosley (deceased)
Nicholas Mosley
Michael Mosley
Alexander Mosley (deceased)
Max Mosley
Alma mater Winchester College
Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Awards Victory Medal
British War Medal
1914–15 Star
Military service
Allegiance British Empire
Service/branch British Army
16th The Queen's Lancers
Royal Flying Corps
Years of service 1914–1918
Rank Lieutenant
Battles/wars First World War
Second Battle of Ypres
Battle of Loos

Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet[n 1] (/ɒzwɔːld.ˈmzli/; 16 November 1896 – 3 December 1980) was a British politician. Achieving political prominence at a very early age, and regarded at one point as a potential Labour Prime Minister, he is remembered principally for his role in the 1930s as the founding leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF).[1]

After service in the First World War, Mosley was a Member of Parliament for Harrow from 1918 to 1924, first as a Conservative, then an independent, before joining the Labour Party. He returned to Parliament as Labour MP for Smethwick at a by-election in 1926, and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government of 1929–31. He resigned due to his disagreement with the Labour Government's unemployment policies. He then formed the New Party. He lost his seat at Smethwick in 1931. The New Party merged with the BUF (which included the Blackshirts) in 1932.

Mosley was interned in 1940 and the BUF was proscribed. He was released in 1943, and, politically discredited by his association with fascism, he moved abroad in 1951, spending most of the remainder of his life in France. He stood for Parliament twice in the postwar era, achieving very little support.


Early life

Mosley was the eldest of the three sons of Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet (1873–1928), and Katharine Maud Edwards-Heathcote (1874–1950), daughter of Captain Justinian H. Edwards-Heathcote[2][3][4] and Eleanor Stone (daughter of Spencer Stone, of Collingwood Hall, Burton-on-Trent and Frances Mary Wood).[5][6][n 2] His branch of the Mosley family was the Anglo-Irish family at its most prosperous, landowners in Staffordshire seated at Rolleston Hall near Burton-upon-Trent. In a senior aristocratic Georgian intermarriage, his father was a third cousin to the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, father of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who served alongside King George VI as Queen (of the United Kingdom).

Mosley was born on 16 November 1896 at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, Westminster.[7][8] After his parents separated he was brought up by his mother, who went to live at Betton Hall near Market Drayton, and his paternal grandfather, Sir Oswald Mosley, 4th Baronet. Within the family and among intimate friends, he was always called "Tom". He lived for many years at Apedale Hall in Newcastle-under-Lyme, also in Staffordshire.

Military service

He was educated at West Downs School and Winchester College. In January 1914 he entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but was expelled in June for a "riotous act of retaliation" against a fellow student.[9] During the First World War he was commissioned into the 16th The Queen's Lancers and fought on the Western Front. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer, but while demonstrating in front of his mother and sister he crashed, which left him with a permanent limp. He returned to the trenches before the injury was fully healed, and at the Battle of Loos he passed out at his post from pain. He spent the remainder of the war at desk jobs in the Ministry of Munitions and in the Foreign Office.[9]

Married life

Oswald Mosley and Lady Cynthia Curzon on their wedding day, 11 May 1920

On 11 May 1920 he married Lady Cynthia Curzon (known as "Cimmie"), (1898–1933), second daughter of The 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston, (1859–1925), Viceroy of India, 1899–1905, Foreign Secretary, 1919–1924, and Lord Curzon's first wife, the US mercantile heiress, the former Mary Victoria Leiter.

Lord Curzon had to be persuaded that Mosley was a suitable husband, as he suspected Mosley was largely motivated by social advancement in Conservative Party politics and her inheritance. The 1920 wedding took place in the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace in London – arguably the social event of the year. The hundreds of guests included European royalty such as King George V and Queen Mary; and The Duke of Brabant (later King Leopold III of the Belgians) and his wife, Astrid of Sweden, Duchess of Brabant.[10]

He had three children by Cynthia:

During this marriage he had an extended affair with his wife's younger sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, and with their stepmother, Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston, the US-born second wife and widow of Lord Curzon of Kedleston. He succeeded to the Baronetcy of Ancoats upon his father's death in 1928, which entitles the current holder to the prefix style Sir.

Cynthia died of peritonitis in 1933, after which Mosley married his mistress Diana Guinness, née Mitford (1910–2003). They married in secret in Germany on 6 October 1936 in the Berlin home of Germany's Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was one of the guests.

By Diana, he had two sons:

Mosley spent large amounts of his private fortune on the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and tried to establish it on a firm financial footing by various means including an attempt to negotiate, through Diana, with Adolf Hitler for permission to broadcast commercial radio to Britain from Germany. Mosley reportedly struck a deal in 1937 with Francis Beaumont, heir to the Seigneurage of Sark, to set up a privately owned radio station on Sark.[12][13]

Member of Parliament

By the end of the First World War, Mosley had decided to go into politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament, as he had no university education or practical experience due to the War. He was 21 years of age and had not fully developed his own politics. He was driven by, and in Parliament spoke of, a passionate conviction to avoid any future war, and this seemingly motivated his career. Largely because of his family background and war service, local Conservative and Labour Associations preferred Mosley in several constituencies – a vacancy near the family estates seemed to be the best prospect. However, he was unexpectedly selected for Harrow first. In the general election of 1918 he faced no serious opposition and was elected easily.[14] He was the youngest member of the House of Commons to take his seat, though Joseph Sweeney, an abstentionist Sinn Féin member, was younger. He soon distinguished himself as an orator and political player, one marked by extreme self-confidence, and he made a point of speaking in the House of Commons without notes.[15]

Crossing the floor

Mosley was at this time falling out with the Conservatives over Irish policy, objecting to the use of the Black and Tans to combat the IRA. Eventually he crossed the floor to sit as an Independent Member on the opposition side of the House of Commons. Having built up a following in his constituency, he retained it against a Conservative challenge in the 1922 and 1923 general elections.

The Liberal Westminster Gazette wrote that Mosley was:

the most polished literary speaker in the Commons, words flow from him in graceful epigrammatic phrases that have a sting in them for the government and the Conservatives. To listen to him is an education in the English language, also in the art of delicate but deadly repartee. He has human sympathies, courage and brains."[16]

By 1924 he was growing increasingly attracted to the Labour Party, which had just formed a government, and in March he joined it. He immediately joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) as well and allied himself with the left.

When the government fell in October, Mosley had to choose a new seat, as he believed that Harrow would not re-elect him as a Labour candidate. He therefore decided to oppose Neville Chamberlain in Birmingham Ladywood. Mosley campaigned aggressively in Ladywood; and accused Chamberlain of being a "landlords' hireling".[17] The outraged Chamberlain demanded that Mosley retract the claim "as a gentleman".[17] Mosley, whom Stanley Baldwin described as "a cad and a wrong 'un", refused to retract the allegation.[17] It took several recounts before Chamberlain was declared the winner by 77 votes and Mosley blamed poor weather for the result.[18] His period outside Parliament was used to develop a new economic policy for the ILP, which eventually became known as the Birmingham Proposals; they continued to form the basis of Mosley's economics until the end of his political career.

In 1926, the Labour-held seat of Smethwick fell vacant, and Mosley returned to Parliament after winning the resulting by-election on 21 December. Mosley felt the campaign was dominated by Conservative attacks on him for being too rich, including claims that he was covering up his wealth.[19]

Mosley and his wife Cynthia were committed Fabians in the 1920s and at the start of the 1930s. Mosley appears in a list of names of Fabians from Fabian News and the Fabian Society Annual Report 1929–31. He was Kingsway Hall lecturer in 1924 and Livingstone Hall lecturer in 1931.


Mosley then made a bold bid for political advancement within the Labour Party. He was close to Ramsay MacDonald and hoped for one of the great offices of state, but when Labour won the 1929 general election he was appointed only to the post of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a position without Portfolio and outside the Cabinet. He was given responsibility for solving the unemployment problem, but found that his radical proposals were blocked either by his superior James Henry Thomas or by the Cabinet.

Mosley was always impatient and eventually put forward a whole scheme in the "Mosley Memorandum", which called for high tariffs to protect British industries from international finance, for state nationalisation of main industries, and for a programme of public works to solve unemployment. However, it was rejected by the Cabinet, and in May 1930 Mosley resigned from his ministerial position. At the time, the weekly Liberal-leaning paper The Nation described his move: "The resignation of Sir Oswald Mosley is an event of capital importance in domestic politics... We feel that Sir Oswald has acted rightly — as he has certainly acted courageously — in declining to share any longer in the responsibility for inertia."[16] In October he attempted to persuade the Labour Party Conference to accept the Memorandum, but was defeated again. Thirty years later, in 1961, Richard Crossman described the memorandum: "... this brilliant memorandum was a whole generation ahead of Labour thinking."[16]

New Party

Dissatisfied with the Labour Party, Mosley quickly founded the New Party. Its early parliamentary contests, in the 1931 Ashton-under-Lyne by-election and subsequent by-elections, arguably had a spoiler effect in splitting the left-wing vote and allowing Conservative candidates to win. Despite this, the organisation gained support among many Labour and Conservative politicians who agreed with his corporatist economic policy, and among these were Aneurin Bevan and Harold Macmillan. It also gained the endorsement of the Daily Mail newspaper, headed at the time by Harold Harmsworth (later created 1st Viscount Rothermere).[20]

The New Party increasingly inclined to fascist policies, but Mosley was denied the opportunity to get his party established when during the Great Depression the 1931 Election was suddenly called – the party's candidates, including Mosley himself, lost the seats they held and won none. As the New Party gradually became more radical and authoritarian, and as critics of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War emerged in the press, art and literature, many previous supporters defected from it. Shortly after the 1931 election, Mosley was described by the Manchester Guardian:

When Sir Oswald Mosley sat down after his Free Trade Hall speech in Manchester and the audience, stirred as an audience rarely is, rose and swept a storm of applause towards the platform — who could doubt that here was one of those root-and-branch men who have been thrown up from time to time in the religious, political and business story of England. First that gripping audience is arrested,[n 3] then stirred and finally, as we have said, swept off its feet by a tornado of peroration yelled at the defiant high pitch of a tremendous voice.[16]


Italy's Duce Benito Mussolini (left) with Oswald Mosley (right) during Mosley's visit to Italy in 1936.

After his failure in 1931 Mosley went on a study tour of the "new movements" of Italy's Benito Mussolini and other fascists, and returned convinced that it was the way forward for Britain. He was determined to unite the existing fascist movements and created the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. The BUF was protectionist, strongly anti-communist, and nationalistic to the point of advocating authoritarianism. It claimed membership as high as 50,000, and had the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror among its earliest (though short-lived) supporters.[20][21][22] The Mirror piece was a guest article by Daily Mail owner Viscount Rothermere and an apparent one-off; despite these briefly warm words for the BUF, the paper was so vitriolic in its condemnation of European fascism that Nazi Germany added the paper's directors to a hit-list in the event of a successful Operation Sea Lion.[23] The Mail continued to support the BUF until the Olympia rally in June 1934.[24]

John Gunther described Mosley in 1936 as "strikingly handsome ... probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great".[25] Among Mosley's supporters at this time were the novelist Henry Williamson, military theorist J. F. C. Fuller and the future "Lord Haw Haw", William Joyce.

Mosley had found problems with disruption of New Party meetings, and instituted a corps of black-uniformed paramilitary stewards, nicknamed blackshirts. The party was frequently involved in violent confrontations, particularly with Communist and Jewish groups and especially in London.[26] At a large Mosley rally at Olympia on 7 June 1934 mass brawling broke out when hecklers were removed by Blackshirts, resulting in bad publicity.[25] This and the Night of the Long Knives in Germany led to the loss of most of the BUF's mass support. The party was unable to fight the 1935 general election.

Plaque commemorating the Battle of Cable Street

In October 1936 Mosley and the BUF attempted to march through an area with a high proportion of Jewish residents, and violence resulted between local and nationally organised protesters trying to block the march and police trying to force it through, since called the Battle of Cable Street. At length Sir Philip Game the Police Commissioner disallowed the march from going ahead and the BUF abandoned it.

Mosley continued to organise marches policed by the Blackshirts, and the government was sufficiently concerned to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which, amongst other things, banned political uniforms and quasi-military style organisations and came into effect on 1 January 1937. In the London County Council elections in 1937 the BUF stood in three wards in East London (some former New Party seats), its strongest areas, polling up to a quarter of the vote and Mosley made most of the Blackshirt employees redundant, some of whom then defected from the party with William Joyce. As the European situation moved towards war, the BUF began to nominate Parliamentary by-election candidates and launched campaigns on the theme of Mind Britain's Business. After the outbreak of war he led the campaign for a negotiated peace, a stance popularly acceptable but after the invasion of Norway and the commencement of aerial bombardment (see The Blitz) overall public opinion of him turned to hostility. In mid May 1940 Mosley was nearly wounded by assault.[27]


On 23 May 1940 Mosley, who was then mostly focused on negotiated peace advocacy, was interned under Defence Regulation 18B along with most active fascists in Britain. The BUF was proscribed later that year. His wife Diana was also interned,[28] shortly after the birth of their son Max; they lived together for most of the war in a house in the grounds of Holloway prison.

Mosley used the time to read extensively on classical civilisations. He refused visits from most BUF members, but on 18 March 1943 Dudley and Norah Elam (who had been released by then) accompanied Unity Mitford to see her sister Diana. Mosley agreed to be present because he mistakenly believed Diana and Unity's mother Lady Redesdale was accompanying Unity.[29]

The Mosleys were released in November 1943, when Mosley was suffering with phlebitis, and spent the rest of the war under house arrest. On his release from prison he stayed with his sister-in-law Pamela Mitford, followed shortly by a stay at the Shaven Crown Hotel in Shipton-under-Wychwood. He then purchased Crux Easton House, near Newbury, with Diana.[30] He and his wife were the subject of much media attention.[31] The war ended what remained of Mosley's political reputation.

Post-war politics

After the war Mosley was contacted by his former supporters and persuaded to return to participation in politics. He formed the Union Movement, which called for a single nation-state to cover the continent of Europe (known as Europe a Nation) and later attempted to launch a National Party of Europe to this end. The Union Movement's meetings were often physically disrupted, as Mosley's meetings had been before the war, and largely by the same opponents. This led to Mosley's decision, in 1951, to leave Britain and live in Ireland. He later moved to Paris. Of his decision to leave, he said, "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it."[32]

Shortly after the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, Mosley briefly returned to Britain to stand in the 1959 general election at Kensington North. Mosley led his campaign stridently on an anti-immigration platform, calling for forced repatriation of Caribbean immigrants as well as a prohibition upon mixed marriages. Mosley's final share of the vote was 8.1%.[33]

In 1961 he took part in a debate at University College London about Commonwealth immigration, seconded by a young David Irving.[34] He returned to politics one last time, contesting the 1966 general election at Shoreditch and Finsbury, and receiving 4.6% of the vote.[33] After this, Mosley retired and moved back to France,[33] where he wrote his autobiography, My Life (1968).

In 1977, by which time he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, he was nominated as a candidate for Rector of the University of Glasgow in which election he polled over 100 votes but finished bottom of the poll.

Death and legacy

Mosley died on 3 December 1980 in his Orsay home, and was cremated in Paris. His ashes were scattered on the pond at Orsay. His papers are housed at the University of Birmingham's Special Collections.


In alternative history film and literature

See also


  1. A baronetcy is not a peerage and does not entitle its holder to a seat in the House of Lords. In this case follows a territorial designation: "of Ancoats in the county of Lancashire"
  2. Katharine was the second child (1881 census lists Eleanor Marian Heathcote age 9, Katherine Maud Heathcote age 8, Justinian John Heathcote age 6 and James Spencer Heathcote age 4 living at Apedale Hall, Audley Parish, Staffordshire, England. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1881. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1881.) of Captain Justinian Edwards-Heathcote of Market Drayton, Shropshire.
  3. Arrested in the sense of stunned or gripped


  1. Carlson, J. R. (1951). Cairo to Damascus. S.l, s.n., note page 24.].
  2. UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941 [database on-line]. Original data: Midlands Historical Data collection of Trade Directories. Tony Abrahams. Midlands Trade Directories 1770–1941. Midlands Historical Data, Solihull, West Midlands.
  3. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 1, by Sir Bernard Burke, Ashworth Peter Burke Harrison, 1894. Page 926. Note: when reading the reference - a "pomeis" in heraldry is a roundel vert, representative of an apple.
  4. His father became a prebendary. The Official Year-book of the Church of England. Church of England Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1883. Page iii.
  5. Ancestry.com. England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: England, Births and Christenings, 1538-1975. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.
  6. FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office.
  7. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 39. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 469.Article by Maurice Skidelsky.
  8. General Register Office Index of Births in England and Wales for October, November and December 1896 (Registration district: St George, Hanover Square, Middlesex), p. 399
  9. 1 2 Philip Rees. Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. Cambridge University Press.
  10. Jones, Nigel (September 2004). Mosley. Haus Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 1-904341-09-8.
  11. "Oswald Alexander Mosley". The Peerage. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  12. Amato quotes national archive document HO 283/11, which states that among the property seized following Mosley's arrest by the British government in 1940 was correspondence between Mosley and Beaumont dating from 1937. Amato, Joseph Anthony (2002). Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 278–79. ISBN 978-0-520-23293-8. 9780520232938. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  13. Barnes, James J.; Patience P. Barnes (2005). Nazis in Pre-War London, 1930–1939: The Fate and Role of German Party Members and British Sympathizers. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-053-8. 9781845190538. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 31147. p. 1361. 28 January 1919. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  15. Mosley, Oswald (1968). My Life. London. p. 166.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Mosley, Diana (1977). A Life of Contrasts. Hamish Hamilton.
  17. 1 2 3 Macklin 2006, p. 24.
  18. Macklin 2006, p. 25.
  19. Sir Oswald Mosley, My Life, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1968, p. 190.
  20. 1 2 "Daily Mail". British Newspapers Online. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  21. Cameron, James (1979). Yesterday's Witness. British Broadcasting Corporation, p. 52.
  22. Chris Horrie, "Revealed: the fascist past of the Daily Mirror", The Independent, 11 November 2003.
  23. "Darkness in the mirror". Tribune. 20 July 2010.
  24. Cyprian Blamires, World Fascism: a historical encyclopedia, Volume 1 (Google eBook), pp. 288 and 435.
  25. 1 2 Gunther, John (1936). Inside Europe. Harper & Brothers. pp. 263–265.
  26. Mark Gould (22 February 2009). "Last reunion for war heroes who came home to fight the fascists". The Independent.
  27. "The Times". 20 May 1940: 3: "Disturbances at Fascist Meeting".
  28. "The Times". 1 July 1940: 2: "Lady Mosley detained".
  29. McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette – A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6.
  30. Joseph Anthony Amato, Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History (2002), p. 390.
  31. Nicholas Mosley, Rules of the Game, Beyond the Pale, p. 503.
  32. Jonathan Guinness, Catherine Guinness, The House of Mitford (1985), p. 540.
  33. 1 2 3 Barberis, Peter; McHugh, John; Tyldesley, Mike (2005). Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 194. ISBN 9780826458148. Retrieved 1 May 2013.
  34. "Mosley Packs Them In", Pi Newspaper, 2 February 1961.
  35. Atkin, Nicholas (2009). Themes in Modern European History, 1890–1945. Taylor & Francis. p. 260. ISBN 0-415-39145-8.
  36. Jones, Charlotte (20 December 2013). "The Code of Woosters, by PG Wodehouse: Splendid, Jeeves!". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  37. Thomson, Graeme (2004). Complicated Shadows: The Life and Music of Elvis Costello. New York: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-796-8.
  38. Not The Nine O'Clock News: "Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley", Some of the Corpses are Amusing. Archived 22 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  39. "'Worst' historical Britons list". BBC News. 27 December 2005. Retrieved 21 June 2010.
  40. Pierre Sorlin (1991). European Cinemas, European Societies, 1939–1990. Psychology Press. pp. 65–66. Retrieved 9 February 2014.

Further reading

Primary sources
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Oswald Mosley
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Harry Deeley
Member of Parliament for Harrow
Succeeded by
Isidore Salmon
Preceded by
John Davison
Member of Parliament for Smethwick
Succeeded by
Roy Wise
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Cushendun
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Clement Attlee
Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet
(of Ancoats)
Succeeded by
Nicholas Mosley

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