Childhood & Early Life
Oswald Mosley was born on November 16, 1896, at Mayfair, Westminster, to Sir Oswald Mosley, 5th Baronet. The title ‘Baronet’ meant that all the male members of the family were liable to use the prefix ‘Sir’ if they wished to do so. Oswald was the eldest among his siblings. He had two younger brothers, Edward and John.
His family had a long history, dating back to 12th century. His was one of the most respected families of commoners in Westminster. Oswald’s parents separated while he was a kid, and this led him to move to his paternal grandfather’s house, along with his mother. His close friends and family members know him as Tom.
His grandparents lived in a massive mansion named ‘Apedale Hall’ and Oswald spent most of his teenage years there. He attended the ‘West Downs School’ and ‘Winchester College.’ With time, he developed a passion for the military. The First World War further motivated him to join the army.
His background in sports, especially in fencing, helped him become a combat expert. He practiced the sport all through his life.
He was admitted to the ‘Royal Military College’ in 1914, but his brash behavior had him expelled. The First World War brought him onto the battlefield at at the age of 20.
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Military & Political Career
He was commissioned by ‘16th The Queen’s Lancers’ and fought on the western front in France. He exhibited brash behavior on the battlefield and was considered to be reckless, yet brave. He was severely injured in the war and was subsequently sent on duty as an observer. He recovered and returned to the battlefield at the ‘Battle of Loos’ and fainted due to an injury. Following this, he was given a desk job at the ‘Foreign Office.’
By the time the World War was over, Mosley was determined to make a career in politics. He became a ‘Conservative’ member of parliament, but his lack of higher education and experience became the biggest roadblock for his political success.
His family background and history as an army man helped him to gain a strong line of followers in the areas where his family had a strong reputation. By then, he was 21 years old but had not yet developed any stable political ideologies. He fought the general election of 1918 from Harrow and won easily.
Thus, he became the youngest member of the ‘House of Commons.’ He proclaimed himself as a ‘great orator.’ He did not prepare any notes before speaking in the ‘House of Commons’ and displayed immense self-confidence.
Overtime, he started comprehending what the ‘Conservative Party’ was all about, and it did not suit him well. He strongly abhorred the ‘Irish policy’ and as a result, severed his ties with the ‘Conservative Party’ and joined their opposition in the ‘House of Commons.’ In the general elections of 1922 and 1923, he was able to retain his seat, owing to the great support he had gained from his constituency by then.
By the mid-20s, his loyalty had started drifting toward the ‘Labour Party,’ which had formed the government in 1924. He approached them and joined the ‘Independent Labour Party’ in March 1924, becoming a member of the British political left.
Following his party’s victory in the general elections of 1929, he expected to be given one of the most significant offices of state, but was instead given the post of the ‘Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.’ His post was inconsequential and did not allow him to sit in the cabinet.
One of his duties was to bring down the unemployment rate. He suggested a scheme called the ‘Mosley Memorandum,’ which asked for high tariffs. However, the scheme was rejected by the cabinet. Miffed by this incident, Mosley resigned from his position in 1930.
Soon, he laid the foundation of a party, the ‘New Party.’ The party supported corporatist economic policies, which were also supported by some of the ‘Labour’ and ‘Conservative’ politicians. The leading news publication house ‘Daily Mail’ too supported Oswald’s ideas.
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The Great Depression called for the 1931 elections in a jiffy, and the ‘New Party’ lost badly, without winning a single seat. Slowly, the party’s views turned more radical and bordered on fascism. This was at a time when both the liberals and the conservatives abhorred fascism. Thus, many experienced politicians left the party. Following the failure in 1931, Oswald went to Italy to study Mussolini’s fascist practices and was further convinced that this was the way to go for Britain.
The BUF was founded by Oswald in 1932. It began with 50,000 members and created ripples in the media, especially with the two leading publications ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘Daily Mail.’
His party held several protests on the streets in the next few years, but most of them ended up becoming violent. This maligned their reputation to a great degree. One of those protests was called the ‘Battle of Cable Street,’ where Mosley marched with the BUF on the streets which were filled with Jewish residents. He was then ordered by the police commissioner to stop his march.
Once the Second World War broke out, Mosley asked for peace, a step which was first appreciated by the commoners. However, as the war intensified and Mosley kept preaching peace, his views became hostile. There was also a huge chunk of population which was drifting toward fascism.
In 1934, Mosley’s popularity was at an all-time high. However, he was detained on March 23, 1940, at a time when he was in the process of asking the British government to side with Hitler. Mosley was released toward the end of 1943. By then, his political popularity had significantly reduced.
Miffed by the amount of disrespect in the political bubble of Britain, he left for Ireland and later moved to Paris in 1951. However, he tried contesting for the general elections in 1959 and 1966. He failed both the times and permanently retired from politics.
In May 1920, Oswald Mosley got married to Lady Cynthia, the second daughter of a former Viceroy of India. However, he was not a very loyal man and had an infamous affair with his wife’s younger sister, Lady Alexandra Metcalfe, and with her stepmother, Grace Curzon. He had three children with Lady Cynthia.
After the untimely death of his first wife, he married his mistress, Diana Mitford, in October 1936 and had two children with her.
He was a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, and after their meeting in 1924, he famously stated that Gandhi was a “sympathetic personality of subtle intelligence.”