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Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet (16 November 1896 – 3 December 1980) was a Britishmarker politician, known principally as the founder of the British Union of Fascists. He was a member of Parliament for Harrow from 1918 to 1923 and for Smethwickmarker from 1926 to 1931.


Family and early life

Mosley was the eldest of three sons of Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet of Ancoatsmarker (1874–1928), and his wife Katharine Maud Edwards-Heathcote (1874–1950), the second child of Captain Justinian Edwards-Heathcote, of Market Draytonmarker, Shropshiremarker. Mosley's family were Anglo-Irish but his branch were prosperous landowners in Staffordshire.

His grandfather was a son of Sir Tonman Mosley, 3rd Baronet, and his wife, Catherine Wood. Their son, Tonman Mosley, was the 1st Lord Anslow, and grandson of Sir Oswald Mosley, 2nd Baronet, son of Sir John Parker Mosley, 1st Baronet, and his wife, Elizabeth Bayley, and grandson of Nicholas Mosley and his wife Elizabeth Parker. The first Baronet also had a daughter, Frances Mary Mosley, who married George Smith, being the parents of Oswald Smith, married to Henrietta Hodgson and father of Frances Dora Smith, wife of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the grandparents of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Mosley was born in Rolleston Hall, near Burton-on-Trentmarker. When his parents separated he was brought up by his mother, who initially went to live in Betton Hall near Market Drayton, and his paternal grandfather, Sir Oswald Mosley, 4th Baronet, of Ancoats. Within the family and among intimate friends, he was always called 'Tom'. He lived for many years at Apedale Hallmarker near Newcastle-under-Lymemarker.

He was educated at West Downsmarker in Winchestermarker, and Winchester Collegemarker. In January 1914 he entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurstmarker but was expelled in June for a 'riotous act of retaliation' against a fellow student. During World War I he was commissioned in the 16th The Queen's Lancers and fought on the Western Front. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer but while showing off 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 the pain. He spent the remainder of the war at desk jobs in the Ministry of Munitions and in the Foreign Office.

Personal life

Mosley was a noted philanderer and had numerous affairs, including, before his first marriage, a short romance with his first wife's elder sister Mary Irene Curzon.

In May 1920 he married Lady Cynthia Curzon (known as 'Cimmie'), second daughter of George Curzon, Lord Curzon of Kedleston and Lord Curzon's first wife, the American 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 and her inheritance. The wedding was the social event of the year, attended by many branches of European royalty, including King George V and Queen Mary.

He had three children by Cynthia: Vivien (b. 1921), Nicholas Mosley (b. 1923), a successful novelist who wrote a biography of his father and edited his memoirs for publication, and Michael (b. 1932).

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 American-born second wife and widow of Lord Curzon of Kedleston.

Cynthia died of peritonitis in 1933, after which Mosley married his mistress Diana Guinness, née Mitford, (one of the celebrated Mitford sisters). They married in secret in 1936, in the Berlinmarker home of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Adolf Hitler was one of the guests. By Diana Mitford, he had two sons: Alexander (b. 1938) and Max Mosley (b. 1940), who was president of the Fédération 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 negotiating, through Diana, with Adolf Hitler for permission to broadcast commercial radio to Britain from Germany. Mosley also reportedly in 1937 struck a deal with Francis William Lionel Collings Beaumont, the heir to the Seigneur of Sark, to set up a privately owned radio station on Sarkmarker.

Elected Member of Parliament

At the end of World War I Mosley decided to go into politics as a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), although he was only 21 years old and had not fully developed his politics. He was driven by a passionate conviction to avoid any future war and this motivated his career. Largely because of his family background, he was considered by several constituencies; a vacancy near the family estates seemed to be the best prospect. Unexpectedly, he was 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 Commonsmarker to take his seat (there was an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP who was younger). He soon distinguished himself as an orator and political player, one marked by extreme self-confidence. 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 the issue of Irishmarker policy, and the use of the Black and Tans to suppress the Irish population. Eventually he 'crossed the floor' and sat as an Independent MP 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 he 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. 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 Ladywoodmarker. An energetic campaign led to a knife-edge result but Mosley was defeated by 77 votes. 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 Smethwickmarker fell vacant and Mosley returned to Parliament after winning the resulting by-election on 21 December.

Mosley and his wife Cynthia were ardent Fabian Socialists in the 1920s and 1930s. Mosley appears in a list of names of Fabians from Fabian News and Fabian Society Annual Report 1929–31. He was Kingsway Hallmarker 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' to find it rejected by the Cabinet; he then resigned in May 1930. At the time, the weekly liberal 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." He attempted to persuade the Labour Party Conference in October, but was defeated again. The memorandum called for high tariffs to protect British industries from international finance, for state nationalisation of industry and a programme of public works to solve unemployment. Thirty years later, in 1961, R. H. S. Crossman described the memorandum: "... this brilliant memorandum was a whole generation ahead of Labour thinking".

New Party

Determined that the Labour Party was no longer suitable, Mosley quickly founded the New Party. Its early parliamentary contests, in the Ashton-under-Lyne by-election, 1931 and subsequent by-elections, were successful only in splitting the vote and allowing the Conservative candidate to win. Despite this, the organisation gained support among many Labour and Conservative MPs, who agreed with his corporatist economic policy - among those who agreed were Aneurin Bevan and Harold Macmillan. It also gained the endorsement of the Daily Mail newspaper. The New Party increasingly inclined to fascist policies, but Mosley was denied the opportunity to get his party established when the 1931 election was suddenly called. All its candidates, including Mosley, lost their seats. As the New Party gradually became more radical and authoritarian, many previous supporters defected from it. Shortly after the election, he was described by the Manchester Guardian:


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 him and for Britain. He determined to unite the existing fascist movements and created the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. The BUF was anti-communist and protectionist. It claimed membership as high as 50,000, and had the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror among its earliest supporters. Among his followers 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.
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 Streetmarker. An eyewitness, Bill Fishman, 15 at the time of the battle, recalled: "I was moved to tears to see bearded Jews and Irish Catholic dockers standing up to stop Mosley. I shall never forget that as long as I live, how working-class people could get together to oppose the evil of racism." 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 of its East London strongholds, polling up to a quarter of the vote. Mosley then made most of the employees redundant, some of whom then defected from the party with William Joyce. As the European situation moved towards war, the BUF began nominating Parliamentary 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. He was at first received well but, after the invasion of Norwaymarker this gave way to hostility and Mosley was nearly assaulted.

He was a friend of Edward VIII, who approved of the BUF campaign for Edward to keep his throne.


On 23 May 1940 Mosley, who had continued his peace campaign, was interned under Defence Regulation 18B, along with most active fascists in Britain, and the BUF was later proscribed. 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 prisonmarker. Mosley used the time to read extensively on classical civilisations. The couple 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-Wychwoodmarker. He then purchased Crux Easton, near Newbury, with Diana. He and his wife were the subject of much media attention. The war ended what remained of his political reputation.

Post-war politics

After the war Mosley was contacted by his former supporters and persuaded to rejoin active politics. He formed the Union Movement, calling for a single nation-state covering 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 Irelandmarker. He later moved to Parismarker. Of his decision to leave, he said, "You don't clear up a dungheap from underneath it."

Mosley briefly returned to Britain in order to fight the 1959 general election at Kensington North, shortly after the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. Concerns over immigration were beginning to come into the spotlight for the first time and Mosley led his campaign on this issue. When Mosley's final share of the vote was less than he expected, he launched a legal challenge to the election on the basis that the result had been rigged. The result was upheld. In 1961 he took part in a debate at University College Londonmarker about Commonwealth immigration, seconded by a young David Irving. He contested the 1966 general election at Shoreditch and Finsbury, where he fared even worse than he had in 1959. He wrote his autobiography, My Life (1968), and made a number of television appearances before retiring. In 1977, by which time he was suffering from Parkinson's disease, he was nominated for the post of Rector of the University of Glasgow. In the subsequent election he polled over 100 votes but finished bottom of the poll.


Mosley died of natural causes on 3 December 1980 in his Orsay home, aged 84. He was cremated in Parismarker and his ashes were scattered on the pond at Orsay. His papers are housed at the University of Birminghammarker Special Collections.

Cultural impact

Mosley's rising influence before the Second World War provoked alarm and reaction against would-be populist dictators by major cultural figures of the time:
  • Aldous Huxley's Point Counter Point features Everard Webley, a character modelled on Mosley.
  • A character in the novel The Holy Terror (1939) by H. G. Wells is a bombastic British fascist with an aristocratic background, strikingly similar to Mosley.
  • "Sir Roderick Spode" in P.G. Wodehouse's novels parodies Mosley. Spode, a blustering bully who is described as an "amateur dictator", heads a British fascist "Black Shorts" organization.
Mosley's attempts to promote his views after the war resulted in continued critical reaction:


  • My Life, Mosley's autobiography.
  • Oswald Mosley, Robert Skidelsky
  • Fascism in Britain, Richard Thurlow
  • Blackshirt, Stephen Dorril, Viking Publishing, ISBN 0-670-86999-6
  • Rules of the Game, Beyond the Pale, Nicholas Mosley, ISBN 0-7126-6536-6
  • Haw-Haw: the tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, Nigel Farndale, Macmillan, London, 2005
  • Hurrah for the Blackshirts!': Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars, Martin Pugh, Random House, 2005
ISBN 0-224-06439-8


  1. Philip Rees. Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. University Press. Cambridge.
  2. 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 Mosely and Beaumont dating from 1937.
  3. Chris Horrie, Revealed: the fascist past of the Daily Mirror, The Independent, 11 November 2003
  4. Day the East End said 'No pasaran' to Blackshirts by Audrey Gillan, The Guardian, 30 September 2006. Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  5. Rules of the Game, Beyond the Pale by Nicholas Mosley p503
  7. 'Worst' historical Britons list
  8. Not The Nine O'Clock News: "Baronet Oswald Ernald Mosley", Some of the Corpses are Amusing

See also

External links

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