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Sir Oswald Mosley
|Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster|
7 June 1929 – 19 May 1930
|Prime Minister||Ramsay MacDonald|
|Preceded by||Ronald John McNeill|
|Succeeded by||Clement Attlee|
|Member of Parliament |
21 December 1926 – 27 October 1931
|Preceded by||John Davison|
|Succeeded by||Roy Wise|
|Member of Parliament |
14 December 1918 – 29 October 1924
|Preceded by||Harry Mallaby-Deeley|
|Succeeded by||Sir Isidore Salmon|
Oswald Ernald Mosley
16 November 1896
Mayfair, Westminster, London, England
|Died||3 December 1980 (aged 84)|
Orsay, Essonne, France
|Political party||Conservative Party|
British Union of Fascists
|National Party of Europe|
|Alma mater||Winchester College|
Royal Military College, Sandhurst
|Awards|| Victory Medal|
British War Medal
|Service/branch|| British Army|
• 16th The Queen's Lancers
• Royal Flying Corps
|Years of service||1914–1918|
|Battles/wars||First World War|
• Second Battle of Ypres
• Battle of Loos
Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley of Ancoats, 6th Baronet[n 1] (16 November 1896 – 3 December 1980) was a British politician who rose to fame in the 1920s as a Member of Parliament and later in the 1930s became leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Mosley was never knighted, inheriting the title 'Sir' as the sixth Baronet of a title that was in his family for centuries.
After military service during the First World War, Mosley was one of the youngest Members of Parliament, representing Harrow from 1918 to 1924, first as a Conservative, then an independent, before joining the Labour Party. He returned to Parliament as the MP for Smethwick at a by-election in 1926, having stood as a Labour candidate, and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government of 1929–31. He was considered a potential Labour Prime Minister, but resigned due to discord with the Government's unemployment policies. He then founded the New Party. He lost his Smethwick seat at the 1931 general election. The New Party became the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932.
Mosley was imprisoned in May 1940 and the BUF was banned. He was released in 1943, and, politically disgraced by his association with fascism, he moved abroad in 1951, spending the majority of the remainder of his life in Paris. He stood for Parliament twice in the postwar era, achieving very little support.
Mosley was born on 16 November 1896 at 47 Hill Street, Mayfair, Westminster, He 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 of Apedale Hall, Staffordshire. He had two younger brothers: Edward Heathcote Mosley (1899–1980); John Arthur Noel Mosley (1901–1973).
The family traces its roots to Ernald de Mosley of Bushbury, Staffordshire in the time of King John in the 12th century. The family was prominent in Staffordshire and three baronetcies were created, two of which are now extinct. His five-time great-grandfather John Parker Mosley, a Manchester hatter, was made a baronet in 1781. 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. 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).
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 his grandparents' stately home, Apedale Hall, and was educated at West Downs School and Winchester College.
In January 1914, Mosley entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, but was expelled in June for a "riotous act of retaliation" against a fellow student. During the First World War he was commissioned into the British cavalry unit the 16th The Queen's Lancers and fought in France 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, as well as a reputation for being brave and somewhat reckless. He returned to the trenches before the injury had fully healed, and at the Battle of Loos (1915) 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.
On 11 May 1920, he married Lady Cynthia "Cimmie" Curzon (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 U.S. 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.
During this marriage he began an extended affair with his wife's younger sister Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, and with their stepmother, Grace Curzon, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston, the American-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.
Among his many travels, Mosley travelled to India accompanied by Lady Cynthia in the winter of 1924. His step-father's past as Viceroy of the British Raj allowed for the acquaintance of various personalities along the journey. They travelled by P. & O. boat and stopped shortly in Cairo.
Having initially arrived in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), the journey then continued along mainland India. They spent these initial days in the government house of Ceylon. Followed by Madras and then Calcutta, where the Governor at the time was Lord Lytton.
Mosley met Gandhi through C.F. Andrews, a clergyman and an intimate friend of the Indian Saint, as Mosley described him. They met in Kadda, where Gandhi was quick to invite him to a private conference in which Gandhi was chairman. They enjoyed each other's company for the short time they were together. Mosley later further described Gandhi as a 'sympathetic personality of subtle intelligence'.
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.
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.
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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 old and had not fully developed his own political views. 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. 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.
Mosley was at this time falling out with the Conservatives over Irish policy. 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 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."
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". The outraged Chamberlain demanded that Mosley retract the claim "as a gentleman". Mosley, whom Stanley Baldwin described as "a cad and a wrong 'un", refused to retract the allegation. It took several recounts before Chamberlain was declared the winner by 77 votes and Mosley blamed poor weather for the result. 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.
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." 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."
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).
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 running in Stoke which had been held by his wife, 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 2] 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.
After his failure to be elected 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, strongly anti-zionist and nationalistic to the point of advocating authoritarianism. However, it seems not to have been anti-Semitic; movement founder Arnold Leese mocked the BUF as "Kosher fascists". It claimed membership as high as 50,000, and had the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror among its earliest (though short-lived) supporters. 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. The Mail continued to support the BUF until the Olympia rally in June 1934.
John Gunther described Mosley in 1940 as "strikingly handsome. He is probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great". Among Mosley's supporters at this time included John Strachey, 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, the Fascist Defence Force, nicknamed blackshirts. The party was frequently involved in violent confrontations, particularly with Communist and Jewish groups and especially in London. At a large Mosley rally at Olympia on 7 June 1934, his bodyguards' violence caused bad publicity. This and the Night of the Long Knives in Germany led to the loss of most of the BUF's mass support. Nevertheless Mosley continued espousing anti-Semitism. At one of his New Party meetings in Leicester in April 1935, he stated, "For the first time I openly and publicly challenge the Jewish interests of this country, commanding commerce, commanding the Press, commanding the cinema, dominating the City of London, killing industry with their sweat-shops. These great interests are not intimidating, and will not intimidate, the Fascist movement of the modern age." The party was unable to fight the 1935 general election.
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. 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. Mosley remained popular as late as summer 1939. His Britain First rally at the Earls Court Exhibition Hall on 16 July 1939 was the biggest indoor political rally in British history.
After the outbreak of war, Mosley led the campaign for a negotiated peace, 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.
Unbeknownst to Mosley, the British Security Service and Special Branch had deeply penetrated the BUF and were also monitoring him through listening devices. Beginning in 1934, they were increasingly worried that Mosley's noted oratory skills would convince the public to provide financial support to the BUF, enabling it to challenge the political establishment. His agitation was officially tolerated until the events of the Battle of France in May 1940 made him too dangerous. Mosley, who at that time was focused on pleading for the British to accept Hitler's peace offer of March, was detained on 23 May 1940, less than a fortnight after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. Mosley was interrogated for 16 hours by Lord Birkett but never formally charged with a crime, instead being interned under Defence Regulation 18B. The same fate met the other most active fascists in Britain, resulting in the BUF all but disappearing from the political horizon. His wife, Diana, was also interned in June, 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. The BUF was proscribed later that year.
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, were accompanying Unity. The internment, particularly that of Lady Mosley, resulted in significant public debate, although most of the public supported the government's actions. Others demanded a trial, either in the hope it would end the detention or in the hope of a conviction.
In November 1943, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison ordered the release of the Mosleys, angering much of the public. After a fierce debate in the House of Commons, Morrison's action was upheld by a vote of 327–26. Mosley, who was suffering with phlebitis, spent the rest of the war under house arrest. On his release from prison, he first 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. He and his wife remained the subject of much media attention. The war ended what remained of Mosley's political reputation.
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."
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 7.6%.
In 1961 he took part in a debate at University College London about Commonwealth immigration, seconded by a young David Irving. He returned to politics one last time, contesting the 1966 general election at Shoreditch and Finsbury, and received 4.6% of the vote. After this, Mosley retired and moved back to France, 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.
By his first wife, Lady Cynthia Curzon, Mosley had three children. His first son, born his second child, inherited the baronetcy, and in 1966 he became the third Baron Ravensdale, a title that passed through his mother's line.
Mosley died on 3 December 1980 at Orsay outside Paris, France. His body was cremated in a ceremony held at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, and his ashes were scattered on the pond at Orsay. His son Alexander stated that they had received many messages of condolences but no abusive words. "All that was a very long time ago," he said.
Mosley's personal papers are held at the University of Birmingham's Special Collections Archive.
|Ancestors of Oswald Mosley|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oswald Mosley.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Oswald Mosley|
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|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
| Member of Parliament for Harrow
| Member of Parliament for Smethwick
The Lord Cushendun
| Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
|Baronetage of Great Britain|
Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet