Original name: Diana Freeman-Mitford
birth place: Belgravia, Westminster, London, UK
birth date: 7 January 1910
death place: Paris, France
death date: 11 August 2003
Diana Mitford was one of the Mitford sisters.
She was first married to Bryan Walter Guinness, heir to the barony of Moyne, and upon her divorce from him married Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, leader of the British Union of Fascists. This her second marriage took place at the home of Joseph Goebbels in 1936, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour. Subsequently, her involvement with Fascist political causes resulted in three years' internment during the Second World War. She later moved to Paris and enjoyed some success as a writer. In the 1950s she contributed diaries to Tatler and edited the magazine The European. In 1977, she published her autobiography, A Life of Contrasts, and two more biographies in the 1980s. She was also a regular book reviewer for Books & Bookmen and later at The Evening Standard in the 1990s.
Diana Mitford was the fourth child and third daughter of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale (1878–1958), and his wife, Sydney (1880–1963), daughter of Thomas Gibson Bowles, MP. She was a first cousin of Clementine Churchill, second cousin of Angus Ogilvy, and first cousin, twice removed, of Bertrand Russell.
Diana Mitford was born in Belgravia and raised in the country estate of Batsford Park, then from the age of 10 at the family home, Asthall Manor, in Oxfordshire, and later at Swinbrook House, a home her father had built in the village of Swinbrook. She was educated at home by a series of governesses except for a six-month period in 1926 when she was sent to a day school in Paris.
At the age of 18, shortly after her presentation at Court, she became secretly engaged to Bryan Walter Guinness, an Irish aristocrat, writer and brewing heir, who would inherit the barony of Moyne.
They married on 30 January 1929, and the couple had an income of £20,000 a year (the equivalent of £1,132,535.70 in 2016, adjusted for inflation), an estate at Biddesden in Wiltshire, and houses in London and Dublin.
The couple was well known for hosting aristocratic society events involving the Bright Young People. The writer Evelyn Waugh exclaimed that her beauty "ran through the room like a peal of bells", and he dedicated the novel Vile Bodies, a satire of the Roaring Twenties, to the couple. Her portrait was painted by Augustus John, Pavel Tchelitchew and Henry Lamb.
The couple had two sons, Jonathan (b. 1930) and Desmond (b. 1931).
In February 1932, Diana Mitford met Sir Oswald Mosley at a garden party at the home of the society hostess Emerald Cunard. He soon became leader of the newly formed British Union of Fascists, and Diana's lover.
Diana left her husband, 'moving with a skeleton staff of nanny, cook, house-parlourmaid and lady's maid to a house at 2 Eaton Square, round the corner from Mosley's flat', and was briefly estranged from most of her family. Her affair and eventual marriage to Mosley also strained relationships with her sisters.
Nancy Mitford, sister of Diana Mitford satirised Mosley and his beliefs in her novel Wigs on the Green published in 1935, and the relations between the sisters became strained to non-existent until the mid-1940s.
Diana Mitford and Oswald Mosley wed in secret on 6 October 1936 in Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels' drawing room.
After the war, the couple first lived in Ireland then settled permanently in France, at the Temple de la Gloire (built in 1801 to honour the French victory of December 1800 at Hohenlinden, near Munich) , a Palladian temple in Orsay, southwest of Paris, and became neighbours then close friends of Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who lived in the neighbouring town Gif-sur-Yvette. The Duchess of Windsor, upon seeing the "Temple de la Gloire" for the first time, was said to have remarked, "Oh, it's charming, charming but where do you live?"
Once again Diana Mitford and her husband were well known for entertaining, but were barred from all functions at the British Embassy. During their time in France, the Mosleys quietly went through another marriage ceremony.
Mosley was also shunned in the British media for a period after the war and the couple established their own publishing company, Euphorion Books, named after a character in Goethe's Faust. Diana initially translated Goethe's Faust. Other notable books published by Euphorion under her aegis included La Princesse de Clèves (translated by Nancy, 1950), Niki Lauda's memoirs (1985), and Hans-Ulrich Rudel's memoirs, Stuka Pilot.
Diana also edited the fascist cultural magazine The European for six years, and to this magazine she herself sometimes contributed material. She provided articles, book reviews, and regular diary entries.
In 1965, Diana Mitford was commissioned to write the regular column Letters from Paris for the Tatler. She was an avid reader and critic of contemporary literature, reviewing for many publications, such as the London Evening Standard, The Spectator, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Sunday Times and Books & Bookmen. She specialised in reviewing autobiographical and biographical accounts as well as the occasional novel. Characteristically she would provide commentary of her own experiences with and knowledge of the subject of the book she was reviewing. She was the lead literary reviewer for the London Evening Standard during A.N. Wilson's tenure as literary editor.
She also wrote the foreword and introduction of Nancy Mitford: A Memoir by Harold Acton. She produced her own two books of memoirs: A Life of Contrasts (1977), and Loved Ones (1985). The latter is a collection of pen portraits of close relatives and friends such as the writer Evelyn Waugh among others. In 1980, she released The Duchess of Windsor, a biography.
In 1989 Diana Mitford was invited to appear on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs with Sue Lawley, Her choices of music to be played on Desert Island Discs were: Symphony No. 41 (Mozart), "Casta Diva" from Norma by Vincent Bellini, "Ode to Joy" by Beethoven, Die Walküre and Liebestod by Wagner, "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Carmen of Bizet, "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum and Polonaise in F-sharp minor by Chopin.
In 1998, due to her advancing age, Diana Mitford moved out of the Temple de la Gloire and into a Paris apartment. Temple de la Gloire was subsequently sold for £1 million in 2000. Throughout much of her life, particularly after her years in prison, she was afflicted by regular bouts of migraines. In 1981, she underwent successful surgery to remove a brain tumour. She convalesced at Chatsworth House, the residence of her sister Deborah. In the early 1990s, she was also successfully treated for skin cancer. In later life, she also suffered from deafness.
Diana Mitford died in Paris in August 2003, aged 93. Her cause of death was given as complications related to a stroke she had suffered a week earlier, but reports later surfaced that she had been one of the many elderly fatalities of the heat wave of 2003 in mostly non-air-conditioned Paris.
Diana Mitford was buried at St Mary's Churchyard, Swinbrook, Oxfordshire,alongside her sisters.