Bryan Walter Guinness
Second Lord Moyne. Educated at Eton and Christ Church College, Oxford. Called to the English bar 1930. Married Diana Mitford in 1929, divorced in 1934, and married Elizabeth Nelson in 1936. He served in the Second World War as liaison officer with the Free French administration in Syria.
After his father was assassinated in Cairo in 1944 he succeeded as second Baron. He became vice-chairman of Guinness, the family firm, and chairman of the Iveagh and Guinness Housing Trusts; also a governor of the National Gallery and a Commissioner of Irish Lights. He combined these public duties with authorship of a considerable body of prose and poetry, publishing nine novels, two plays, three books for children, five collections of poetry, and two volumes of autobiography. His work was critically appraised as written with charm, wit, and delicacy.
He was elected MIAL and awarded honorary DLitt by the University of Dublin and NUI. He spent a good part of each year on his estate at Knockmaroon, near the Phoenix Park. Died at Biddesden, Hampshire, on 6 July 1992, survived by his second wife, two sons of his first marriage, and a son and five daughters by his second wife.
With this goal in mind she became engaged only months after her official debut, choosing a young man who was kind, rich, intelligent, spectacularly eligible, and deeply antipathetic to her own personality. Bryan Guinness was twenty-two years old when they met, a popular member of her social circle, and heir to the fabulous Guinness Brewery fortune. They had only known each other three months when he proposed, and it seems clear that they misread one another from the start: Bryan “loved in [her] the fresh country girl he took her to be” while Diana, desperate for independence, persuaded herself that she really cared for this pleasant, undemanding man who offered it to her.
They were married in January 1929 at a huge society wedding, honeymooned in Paris, and returned to a pretty house in Westminster. Less than two years earlier, Diana had been considered too young to come downstairs for a dinner party; now she had a rich husband and a large establishment, and she quickly became one of the leading younger hostesses, entertaining constantly both in London and at their country house. She had plenty of avid admirers—Waugh, depressed at the breakup of his first marriage, fell in love with her during her first pregnancy, a situation he described in his aborted novel Work Suspended—but she was not, nor would she ever be, interested in casual affairs. It was not until she met the mesmeric Mosley that she turned away from Bryan.
It was the spring of 1932: her new lover was thirty-five, she not yet twenty-two, with two baby sons. Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley, sixth baronet, was a member of the old aristocracy. Expelled from Sandhurst in 1914 for the kind of violent altercation that would later make him notorious, he was hurriedly recalled two months later with the outbreak of World War I, in which he served until invalided out in 1916.
It was at this point that he and Diana met. For her it was, as her son Jonathan Guinness later wrote, “the passion of Juliet and … the conversion of St. Paul; emotion and conviction were inseparable.” “In politics, as in everything else, Diana had a taste for the extreme,” Dalley comments, and Mosley— whom most people called Tom but whom Diana dubbed Kit—satisfied that taste, both on the personal and political levels. Mosley had no intention of losing Cimmie; if Diana wanted him, she had to accept him on his terms. She accepted them, and in an extraordinarily risky and, for the era, outrageous move she left Bryan and set up on her own, living openly as Mosley’s mistress, with small hope of marriage.
Mosley possessed an enviable gift for eating his cake and having it too. He squired Diana about with little care for the effects their romance was having on Cimmie; he continued to sleep with other women, too, including Cimmie’s younger sister Baba (who was married to a man with the wonderfully Wodehousian name of Fruity Metcalfe). Then in 1933, very unexpectedly, Cimmie Mosley died.
This was a stroke of luck for Diana, but at the time she was afraid to interpret it as such; Mosley was devastated, and Diana “realized straight away that Cimmie’s death, with all its ramifications of guilt and grief and family concerns, might spell trouble for her relationship.” Cimmie’s sisters, Baba Metcalfe and Lady Irene Ravensdale, rallied round Mosley and did their best to expel Diana from his life.
Now Mosley began to toy with Baba and Diana as he had once toyed with Diana and Cimmie, and Diana knew that she would have to play her own hand with restraint. With Mosley and Baba off to France and her Guinness children on holiday with their father, she made what was to be a fateful plan: she and Unity, by now an awkward and unpopular debutante, would pay a visit to Germany at the invitation of Putzi Hanfstaengl, Hitler’s foreign press secretary, whom Diana had met at a London party.
The two soon-to-be-infamous sisters set off for Munich, arriving just in time for the 1933 Parteitag, the first Nuremberg rally of the Nazi era. Diana’s later contention that her trip had nothing to do with the BUF is dubious; so is her claim that “We heard the speeches Hitler made, most of them very short, and we understood not a single word.” That’s as may be, but since these speeches formally launched Hitler’s campaign for racial purity, it seems odd that she heard or comprehended no talk about Kultur, Rasse, and Volk on this German trip. She was deeply admiring of everything she witnessed there.
Unity was more than admiring: she was besotted, and from the spring of 1934 she spent most of her time in Germany, providing Diana and Tom Mitford, also a budding fascist, with a convenient home away from home. (David Pryce-Jones’s Unity Mitford  provides a vivid chronicle of these prewar years.) Unity, who seems to have been emotionally if not mentally retarded, developed a whopping crush on the Führer and was an assiduous stalker, sitting in his favorite Munich restaurant for hours and gaping at Hitler until he eventually befriended this big, blonde, Aryan goddess. Unity introduced Diana to Hitler in 1935, and for next four years the sisters were regularly seen in his company, by his side at every Parteitag, at every Bayreuth Festival, and at the 1936 Olympic Games. Hitler was even a guest—one of the very few—at the Mosleys’ wedding.
Diana thought her ties with the German regime would be helpful to Mosley. In the end, they merely added extra tarnish to the violence, the racist oratory, and the contempt for democracy that fatally discredited the BUF. Mosley had many gifts, but good judgment in choosing his associates was not one of them, and from the beginning he entrusted vital duties within the BUF to the unstable extremists in his camp, for example handing over the movement’s official organ, The Blackshirt, to the crazed anti-Semite William Joyce (who was executed in 1946 for his seditious wartime broadcasts as “Lord Haw-Haw”). The famous BUF roughhouses—the Olympia rally of 1934, the Battle of Cable Street—continued to attract the worst sort of riffraff to the BUF cause, and to drive the more thoughtful and respectable elements away from the party. As early as 1937 Goebbels privately dismissed Mosley as a “busted flush,” and was on the lookout for new and more powerful allies in England.
Mosley and Diana were secretly married in 1936, at the Goebbels home in Berlin. Three years had passed since Cimmie’s death, during which time Diana and Baba (now known to her friends as Baba Blackshirt) had continued to enjoy Mosley’s company on a time-share basis. Thanks to its own excesses, the BUF was on its way to bankruptcy and disgrace; the wearing of Blackshirt regalia was outlawed and the BBC put a ban on appearances by Mosley that was not lifted until 1968. Mosley devoted his waning influence to a doomed campaign for peace, which he carried on right up to the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. In May of 1940, he was arrested under Defense Regulation 18b, a wartime suspension of habeas corpus, and sent to Brixton Prison.
For the time being Diana, who had a newborn baby, was left alone, but there was a growing movement to have this sinister character put behind bars as well: among those who insisted that she was dangerous and urged the government to lock her up were Diana’s sister Nancy and her former father-in-law, Lord Moyne. She was eventually arrested in late June and taken to Holloway.
Her privations, at least at first, were real enough, though it is hard to feel much sympathy for this privileged woman who happily condoned murder and concentration camps. At the end of 1941 she and Mosley, at Churchill’s personal request, were granted permission to be together, moving to the Preventive Detention Block at Holloway where they lived with four other couples. Sex offenders (“because they are so clean and honest”) were sent to do their housework, and Diana befriended a pretty bigamist. The prisoners were allowed to grow produce in the sooty soil; Diana, in her inimitably Marie Antoinette-ish tone, remarked that she “never grew such fraises de bois again.”
Mosley’s health began to deteriorate in prison, and in November 1943 he and Diana were released by order of the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, who told parliament that there was “no undue risk to national security” and that he had no wish to “make martyrs of persons undeserving of the honour.” They spent the rest of the war under house arrest, getting reacquainted with their various children, including the two new little boys who hardly knew them.
Diana was thirty-three when she was released from prison. The greater part of her life was still in front of her, but, as Dalley remarks, “what she and Mosley had lived for—their political dreams and ideals, their guiding sense of purpose—was already over.” She exercised her considerable energies in decorating and running their various houses in England, Ireland, and France, and in making life comfortable and pleasant for Mosley. He continued rather half-heartedly in politics, founding the Union Movement whose main platform was a campaign against non-white immigration. Diana became a part-time writer and editor, launching The European, the organ for the Union Movement, writing a book about the Duchess of Windsor and a group portrait of some of her interesting friends, Loved Ones, and editing Mosley’s “surprisingly readable” and successful autobiography, My Life (1968). Mosley died in 1980. In 1982 his son Nicholas published Rules of the Game, the first volume of a searching and honest biography of his father. It was a little too honest for Diana, who never spoke to Nicholas again.
Mosley and Diana remained defiant and unapologetic for the rest of their lives. The Holocaust was regrettable, but it was none of their doing: Diana professed a belief that “it was all part of the appalling price innocent people pay for a misguided war, and … it never would have happened if Britain and France had not declared war on Hitler”—a position, as Dalley comments, of “breathtaking illogic.” They simply “never,” as Diana herself wrote, “considered that Hitler’s excesses were anything to do with [them].”
It must be admitted that fascism, whatever subsequent high line Diana has chosen to take, destroyed the Mitford family. Lady Redesdale, under the influence of Unity, Diana, and Tom, became an enthusiastic convert to the creed. Lord Redesdale, who unconditionally loved and admired Tom, went along for the ride at first, but was soon repelled by events in Germany. His relationship with his wife never recovered, and from the early days of the war they lived apart. Unity was irreparably brain damaged by her attempted suicide in 1939 and lived with the bullet lodged in her head until she died from aftereffects of the wound in 1948. Tom, the golden boy, was killed in Hitler’s war; Jessica, who despised her sisters’ politics, became an exile and to some extent an outcast from the family.
Lady Gladwyn (formerly Mrs. Gladwyn Jebb) remarked in her diary in 1947 that “Both Diana and Oswald Mosley are evil characters, Lucifer fallen from Heaven, and he in particular has a sinister and almost hypnotic power.” Jan Dalley has valiantly tried to muster some sympathy for Diana, but in vain. Diana didn’t have the excuse of stupidity, like Unity; she was intelligent, cultivated, and intimately connected with some of the most brilliant and admirable people in England. Just as some people are mentally handicapped, she seems to have been morally so, and if, for a short, ugly time, she became a visible symbol of the rottenness at the heart of Western civilization, she has no one to blame but herself.
Bryan and Diana were divorced in 1933 and Diana moved to live nearer to her family, including her sisters, Unity and Decca. At the time Diana was the family's black sheep. Diana was divorced, which in their parent's eyes, brought deep shame upon the family. The younger Mitford girls were told that it was now unlikely that they would ever marry, because no respectable man would associate with a sister of a divorcee. To Unity and Decca, it made Diana all that more exotic.
Unity began sneaking over to Diana's apartment where she met
Oswald Mosley. Besides being Diana's lover, he was also the charismatic
leader of the British Union of Fascists -- the English equivalent of the
Nazi party. Unity joined up, and confided to Decca that she planned to learn
German, travel to Germany and meet Hitler. Finally, her family agreed
to send her to Munich; after all, she was expected to have her Year Abroad
Jonathan Bryan Guinness
Jonathon and Diana Guinness
This site was last updated 06/20/03