Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet /É'zwÉ"Ëld.ËmoÊzli/ (16 November 1896 â" 3 December 1980) was an English politician, known principally as the founder of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). He was a Member of Parliament for Harrow from 1918 to 1924, for Smethwick from 1926 to 1931 and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government of 1929â"31, a position he resigned due to his disagreement with the Labour Government's unemployment policies. He then formed the New Party which merged with the BUF (which included the Blackshirts) in 1932.
Although relatively well funded, Mosley often overemphasized intellectual fine points that appealed to few voters, opposed free trade and associated closely with Nazi Germany. Mosley was interned in 1940 and the BUF was proscribed. He was released in 1943, and, politically disillusioned in Britain, he moved abroad in 1951, spending most of the remainder of his life in France.
Family and early life
Mosley was the eldest of the three sons of Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet (1873â"1928), and Katharine Maud Edwards-Heathcote (1874â"1950). 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. 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.
On 11 May 1920 he married Lady Cynthia Curzon (known as "Cimmie"), (1898â"1933), second daughter of The 1st Earl Curzon of Kedleston, (1859â"1925), Viceroy of India, 1899â"1905, Foreign Secretary, 1919â"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 â" 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.
He had three children by Cynthia:
- Vivien Mosley (1921â"2002), who married on 15 January 1949 Desmond Francis Forbes Adam (1926â"58), educated at Eton College and at King's College, University of Cambridge, by whom she had two daughters
- Nicholas Mosley (later 7th Baronet of Ancoats; born 1923), a successful novelist who wrote a biography of his father and edited his memoirs for publication; and
- Michael Mosley (born 1932), unmarried and without issue.
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 U.S.-born second wife and widow of Lord Curzon of Kedleston. He succeeded to the Baronetcy of Ancoats on 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, nÃ©e Mitford (1910â"2003). They married in secret in Germany on 6 October 1936 in the Berlin home of Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was one of the guests.
By Diana, he had two sons:
- Oswald Alexander Mosley (born 1938), father of Louis Mosley (born 1983); and
- Max Mosley (born 1940), who was president of the FÃ©dÃ©ration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) for 16 years.
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 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 Seigneur of Sark, to set up a privately owned radio station on Sark.
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. 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.
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 â" 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 FÃ©in 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.
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 suppress the Irish population. 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."
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 77Â 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 1929â"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 (de facto Minister without Portfolio, 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 rightlyâ"as he has certainly acted courageouslyâ"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 â" 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 platformâ"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, 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 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. 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 1936 as "strikingly handsome ... probably the best orator in England. His personal magnetism is very great". 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. 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. 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.
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.
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 Mitford was also interned, 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. Mosley 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.
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. He and his wife were 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 in order 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%.
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 receiving 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.
Death and legacy
Mosley died on 3 December 1980 in his Orsay home, was cremated in Paris and his ashes were scattered on the pond at Orsay. His papers are housed at the University of Birmingham's Special Collections.
In popular culture
- Aldous Huxley's 1928 novel Point Counter Point features Everard Webley, a character who is similar to Mosley in the 1920s, before Mosley left the Labour Party.
- P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves short-story and novel series includes the character Sir Roderick Spode from 1938 to 1971, as a parody of Mosley.
- In H. G. Wells's 1939 novel The Holy Terror, a Mosley-like character called Lord Horatio Bohun is the leader of an organization called the Popular Socialist Party. The character is principally motivated by vanity and is removed from leadership and sent packing to Argentina.
- The original version of the Elvis Costello 1977 song "Less Than Zero" is an attack on Mosley and his politics. Listeners in the United States had assumed that the "Mr. Oswald" in the lyrics was Lee Harvey Oswald, so Costello wrote an alternative lyric to refer to Kennedy's assassin.
- The satirical television programme Not The Nine O'Clock News lampooned the British media's favourable 1980 obituaries of Mosley in a comedic music video, "Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley". The actors, dressed as Nazi punks, performed a punk rock eulogy to Mosley, interweaving some of the positive remarks by newspapers from all sides of the political spectrum, including The Times and The Guardian.
- In 1997, Channel 4 produced a mini-series about Mosley called Mosley, starring Jonathan Cake.
- In a 2002 episode of the British television series Foyle's War entitled "The White Feather", Mosley is referred to as a fascist and Nazi sympathizer, and his detention is noted.
- In 2006, BBC History Magazine selected Mosley as the 20th century's worst Briton.
- The BBC Wales-produced 2010 revival of Upstairs, Downstairs includes a semi-fictional dramatization of Mosley, the BUF and the Battle of Cable Street, set in 1936.
In alternative history film and literature
- Works of Harry Turtledove:
- In the Southern Victory Series, Mosley serves as Minister of War under Prime Minister Winston Churchill in an authoritarian and revanchist Britain after the Entente lose the First World War. Taking power in about 1932, the Churchill/Mosley government joins the Kingdom of France and the Russian Empire in attacking the German Empire in an analog to the Second World War.
- The Colonization trilogy sees Mosley, still an MP in 1963, spearheading an effort to pass legislation revoking the citizenship of all Jews; the plan fails in the short term.
- In the Presence of Mine Enemies empowers Mosley as British leader in a scenario in which Nazi Germany won the Second World War.
- In the 1964 film It Happened Here, which depicts a Nazi-occupied Britain in the mid-1940s, Mosley is never mentioned by name, but a British fascist leader strongly resembling Mosley is shown in faux documentary footage from the 1930s, and Mosley's portrait can be seen alongside Hitler's in government offices. The fictional "Immediate Action Organisation" in the film also seems to be inspired by Mosley's British Union of Fascists, with members referred to as "blackshirts" and the symbol of the BUF appearing on their uniforms.
- In Guy Walters's The Leader, Mosley has taken power as "The Leader" of Great Britain in 1937. King Edward VIII is still on the throne after his marriage, Winston Churchill is a prisoner on the Isle of Man, and Prime Minister Mosley is conspiring with Adolf Hitler about the fate of Britain's Jewish population.
- In Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, a secret pact between Charles Lindbergh who has become President of the United States and Hitler includes an agreement to impose Mosley as the ruler of a German-occupied Britain with America's blessing after a ruse in which Lindbergh convinces Churchill to negotiate peace with Hitler, which deliberately fails â" mirroring the dishonesty and repudiation of key Hitler-signed treaties, the Munich Conference Accord and Molotovâ"Ribbentrop Pact.
- In Kim Newman's The Bloody Red Baron, Mosley is shot down and killed in 1918 by Erich von Stalheim (from the Biggles series by W. E. Johns) and a character later comments that "a career has been ended before it was begun."
- In C. J. Sansom's novel Dominion, the Second World War ends in June 1940, when the British government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Lord Halifax, signs a peace treaty with Nazi Germany in Berlin. By November 1952, Mosley is serving as Home Secretary in the cabinet of Lord Beaverbrook, who leads a coalition government consisting of the pro-Treaty factions of the Conservatives and Labour as well as the BUF.
- In the Elseworlds comic Superman: War of the Worlds, Mosley becomes Prime Minister after the defeat of the Martian invasion of 1938.
- In the alternate history novel The Man Who Prevented WW2 by Roy Carter, Mosley became Prime Minister when the British Union of Fascists won the 1935 general election and remained in office until his death in March 1980. He forged an alliance with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Empire of Japan and went to war with the Irish Free State, France, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Greece. During the war with Greece, his government dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Salonika on 17 January 1941.
- In Lavie Tidhar's A Man Lies Dreaming (2014), Mosley is running for (and eventually becomes) Prime Minister, in a world where the Communists, rather than the Nazis, rose to power in Germany in 1933.
- The European
- Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Notes and references
- Macklin, Graham (2006). Chamberlain. Haus Books. ISBNÂ 978-1-904950-62-2.Â
- Dorril, Stephen.Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism, Viking Publishing (2006), ISBN 0-670-86999-6
- Farndale, Nigel. Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, Macmillan (2005), ISBN 9780333989920
- Pugh, Martin.Hurrah for the Blackshirts!': Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars, Random House (2005), ISBN 0-224-06439-8
- Skidelsky, Robert. Oswald Mosley, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1975), ISBN 9780030865800
- Worley, Matthew. Oswald Mosley and the New Party, Palgrave Macmillan (2010), ISBN 978-0-230-20697-7
- Primary sources
- Mosley, Oswald, My Life, Arlington House (1968), ISBN 9780870001604
- Mosley, Nicholas, Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley, 1896â"1933 Secker & Warburg (1982), ISBN 9780436288494
- Mosley, Nicholas, Beyond the Pale: Sir Oswald Mosley and Family, 1933â"1980, Secker & Warburg (1983), ISBN 9780436288524
- Friends of Oswald Mosley, containing archives of his speeches and books
- Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
- Mosley and the BUF: Exploring 20th Century London
- "The Problem of Mosley: Why a Fascist Failed" by Robert Skidelsky; Encounter (1969) Vol. 33, #192, pp.Â 77â"88
- Hansard 1803â"2005: contributions in Parliament by Oswald Mosley
- Metropolitan Police records of the BUF incident at Olympia, 1934 at the British National Archives
- Mosley Asserts Anti-semitic Propaganda Forbidden by His Organization
- BBC report on MI5 surveillance of Mosley
- Oswald Mosley on Balder Ex-Libris
- Oswald Mosley at the Notable Names Database
- Oswald Mosley at the Internet Movie Database