Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, 6th Baronet, the English politician of noble descent disillusioned with mainstream politics who became the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), died on December 3rd, 1980 in the French commune of Orsay near Paris.
Born into an old, rich aristocratic family on November 16th, 1896 in London, Mosley was the eldest of the three sons of Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet (1873–1928), and Katharine Maud Edwards-Heathcote (1874–1950). His two younger brothers, Edward (1899–1980) and John (1901–1973) never assumed public roles.
An enthusiastic fencer all of his life, during World War I Mosley first joined a cavalry unit, participating in two major battles on the Western Front, and then the Royal Flying Corps. While demonstrating his aviation skills in front of his mother he crashed, which left him with a permanent limp and soon afterwards got him removed from the front-line.
On 11 May 11th, 1920 Mosley married Lady Cynthia Blanche Curzon (1898-1933), second daughter of George Nathaniel Curzon (1859-1925), Viceroy of India and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
The hundreds of guests at the social event of the year included King George V (1865-1936) and Queen Mary (1867-1953) as well as foreign royalty such as the Duke and Duchess of Brabant, the future kings of Belgium.
The tall, handsome and self-confident womanizer started affairs with his wife’s younger sister Lady Alexandra Naldera Metcalfe (1904-1995) and even with their stepmother Grace Elvina, Marchioness Curzon of Kedleston (1885-1958).
Following the early death of his first wife, in 1936 tied the knot in secret with Diana Guinness (1910–2003), a daughter of David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford (1878–1958), 2nd Baron Redesdale, on October 6th, 1936 in Berlin, while trying to obtain permission to broadcast commercial radio to Britain from Germany.
Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) was a guest of honor at the ceremony, which took place at the home of German Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945).
Mosley had five children: Vivien Elisabeth (1921–2002), Nicholas (1923-2017), who wrote a biography of his father and edited his memoirs, Michael (1932–2012), Alexander (1938–2005) and Max (born 1940), president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) for 16 years.
Elected Conservative Member of Parliament at the age of 21 with no university education or practical experience, he spoke with a passionate conviction of avoiding any future bloodshed because of his four-year military service.
Mosley fell out with the Conservatives over its Irish policy and in March 1924 joined the Labour Party, which had just formed a government. Following the Wall Street Crash in September 1929, as minister without portfolio outside the Cabinet, he was given the task of finding ways to solve the joblessness problem, but his radical proposals were rejected.
On February 28th, 1931 Mosley left Labour, launching the New Party the following day. Realizing the nation’s economic uncertainty, he eventually put forward his whole scheme in the “Mosley Memorandum”.
It called for high tariffs to protect British industries from international finance, for the nationalization of main industries and for a program of public works to solve unemployment.
Furthermore, the memorandum laid out the foundations of the corporative state which intended to combine businesses, workers and the Government into one body as a way to “Obliterate class conflict and make the British economy healthy again”.
Mosley published it because of his dissatisfaction with the laissez-faire attitudes by both main parties, and their passivity towards the increasing globalization of the world.
After failing badly at the 1931 elections, Mosley toured Italy, where “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) had seized absolute power in 1925. Impressed by what he had seen, he formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) on October 1st, 1932, into which the New Party subsumed itself and blending his economic vision with an explicit Antisemitism that openly challenged Jewish interests in Britain.
Facing growing problems with the disruption of his mass meetings by anti-Fascists and Jews, Mosley in August 1933 instituted the Fascist Defence Force (FDF), a corps of black-uniformed paramilitary stewards, nicknamed the Blackshirts.
He achieved some success and got a handful of councilors elected. At one point the BUF claimed 50,000 members and was initially supported by parts of the press.
At a large rally at London’s Olympia Exhibition Centre on June 7th, 1934, his bodyguards’ violence caused bad publicity, which together with purges in National Socialist Germany led to a big loss of mass support.
Mosley attempt to stage a march through a Jewish area of East End resulted in the famous “Battle of Cable Street” on October 4th, 1936. In consequence, the Public Order Act of December 18th, 1936 led to a ban on political uniforms.
Still, Mosley remained quite popular as late as summer 1939 with the Mind Britain’s Business campaign to keep the United Kingdom out of a looming new war on the continent.
His Britain First rally at the Earls Court Exhibition Hall on July 16th, 1939 remains the biggest indoor political rally in British history, with a reported 30,000 attendees.
After the outbreak of World War II, Mosley led the campaign for a negotiated peace. A suspected enemy sympathizer, he was arrested on May 23rd, 1940, along with 740 other fascists, and interrogated.
It was widely assumed that, had the Germans successfully invaded the UK, he would have been installed as head of a pro-German government.
He would be interned under Defense Regulation 18B together with Diana in a house on the grounds of Holloway prison in the British capital until November 1943, when Mosley was released because of illness.
Mosley’s attempted to revive his discredited ideas by founding the Union Movement, an amalgam of 51 organizations, on February 7th, 1948. His call for a single nation-state to cover all of Europe met with little success and in 1951 he left for Ireland.
In the wake of the race riots between Caribbean Blacks and Whites in Notting Hill, an impoverished district of West London between August 29th and September 5th, 1958, Mosley stood for local election on an anti-immigration platform, but achieved no break-through.
After another failure in the 1966 general election, also in London, he retired with Diana to France, where he wrote his long autobiography, My Life, published in 1968.
A multifaceted man and an exceptional speaker able to deliver without notes, his brilliant rhetoric never translated into a real mass movement. Otherwise, Mosley would have changed the history of the Old Continent.
P.D.: Mosley’s personal papers are held at the Special Collections Archive of the University of Birmingham.