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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Obituary: Lady Diana Mosley

Lady Diana Mosley
Lady Diana Mosley: A controversial beauty

Diana Mosley's life changed from that of glamorous society hostess to one of notoriety as wife of the founder of the British Union of Fascists, the Blackshirts.

It led to her wartime imprisonment as a possible security risk - she knew Hitler - and voluntary exile from Britain.

Diana was the third of Lord and Lady Redesdale's six daughters, the Mitford girls who dazzled London society in the 1920s and 30s.

She was considered to be the most beautiful woman of the era, and aged 18 she married Bryan Guinness, later Lord Moyne, and had two sons.

Life-changing encounter

The couple moved among the artistic elite of the day.

Their friends included Augustus John, the Sitwell family, Lytton Strachey, John Betjeman and Evelyn Waugh, who dedicated his novel, Vile Bodies, to "Bryan and Diana".

The Mitford Sisters
The Mitford girls, Diana in the centre

Diana was immortalised in her sister Nancy's novel, Love in a Cold Climate.

But in 1932 she met Oswald Mosley, an encounter which was to change her life, taking her from the glamour of London society to a prison cell.

A charismatic figure, he had been the youngest MP at Westminster, before deserting the Conservatives for, in turn, the Liberals and the Labour Party.

He then alienated all the established parties by founding the British Union of Fascists.

'Exceptional' guest

Within months of their meeting, Diana, aged just 22, left her husband for him. Mosley's wife, the daughter of Lord Curzon, died in 1933, but the couple did not marry for another three years.

The ceremony was held at the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler among the guests. His wedding present to the couple was a signed photograph of himself in a silver frame.

Sir Oswald Mosley
Sir Oswald Mosley, Britain's fascist leader

Diana had been introduced to Hitler in 1934 by her sister Unity, who was mesmerised by him. Diana described him as exceptionally charming, clever and original.

British intelligence units were convinced she acted as a go-between between Hitler and Mosley. They described Diana as "far clever and more dangerous" than her husband.

Years later she called the Nazi leader a very cruel man with unbounded ambition, but she thought Britain should have ignored him and protected its own interests and the Empire, so long as they were not affected by the German dictator.

Denied racism

In 1940, after the outbreak of war, Mosley and his wife were imprisoned under emergency regulations and without trial.

He was taken to Brixton Prison, she to Holloway, leaving their four children - two of them babies, aged 18 months and 11 weeks.

Lady Diana with a swastika flag behind her
Diana at a Nazi rally in pre-war Germany
The Mosleys spent three and a half years in jail and, after the war, moved to France, where he died in 1980.

In 1977 Lady Mosley wrote her autobiography, A Life of Contrasts, and in 1981 a slim biography of her neighbour in Paris, the Duchess of Windsor.

Lady Mosley denied being a racist, although she believed races were best kept apart to avoid disputes and war.

She always maintained her husband had campaigned for a negotiated peace, and dismissed allegations of their support for Hitler.

And when secret MI5 reports, published in 2002, described her as "wildly ambitious, a danger to the public, who will stick at nothing", Lady Mosley called this just a further distortion of the past.

Oswald Mosley's widow dies
13 Aug 03  |  UK

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