Attila the Hus

Mary-Kay Wilmers

  • Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley 1896-1933 by Nicholas Mosley
    Secker, 274 pp, £8.95, October 1982, ISBN 0 436 28849 4

Nicholas Mosley’s parents, Cynthia Curzon and Oswald Mosley, were married in the Chapel Royal, St James’s on 11 May 1920: ‘Cimmie’s wedding dress had a design of green leaves in it, in defiance of a superstition that green at a wedding was unlucky: there was also a superstition that it was unlucky to be married in May. Cimmie herself chose the music: during the handing-over of the ring the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde was played; though the organist, a newspaper reported, did his best to make it inaudible.’ She was 21 and sometimes described as ‘wild’; her father, Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, fearing what he called her ‘bolshevick’ tendencies, was relieved that she had chosen a reasonably promising young man whose family he knew. Mosley, Robert Cecil reported to Curzon, was ‘not in the first flight’ but had ‘a good future before him’. He was two years older than Cimmie; very dashing (though Curzon at once remarked on his ‘rather Jewish appearance’), and the youngest MP in the House. He was then a Tory. Cimmie had wanted a small, quiet wedding, but the King and Queen were present, as were the King and Queen of the Belgians, who were flown across the Channel in two two-seater aeroplanes for the occasion. The marriage lasted 13 years and there were three children – Nicholas was the eldest son. In May 1933 Cimmie died. A memorial service was held at St Margaret’s, Westminster, where, once again, the Liebestod was played.

‘It became fashionable in later life,’ Nicholas Mosley records, ‘for people to say that my father was responsible for my mother’s death.’ Whether or not they were right to say this, superstition in the end was vindicated: Cimmie proved to be an unlucky wife. When she died, her sister, who had never much liked Mosley, consoled herself with the thought that ‘she had gone to suffer no more at Tom’s hands.’ (Mosley was always known as ‘Tom’ just as Cynthia was known as ‘Cimmie’.) Mosley himself, in his autobiography, described his marriage to Cimmie as ‘an event in my life of outstanding happiness’ – which leaves open the question of what sort of ‘event’ it was for her. There is no reason to suppose that things would have turned out differently if she hadn’t had those green leaves embroidered into her wedding dress but the gesture was a small indication of her dangerous belief that the marriage would be unlike any others. On the other hand, no one who chooses to have the Liebestod played at their wedding is likely to be interested in happy endings.

It was his nanny who first suggested to Nicholas Mosley that his father might have been responsible for Cimmie’s death; and although he didn’t believe her – ‘I had, for years, thought that much of the grown-up world was mad’ – the remark made him realise how much Mosley was hated. ‘I was glad,’ he says, ‘that he seemed so impervious to this.’ At the time no doubt he was glad, especially since his nanny seemed to be saying that his mother had died because her feelings were hurt. Mosley’s imperviousness to how people felt about him was, of course, one good reason for hating him. His son – ‘not my sort of person,’ Mosley barked as he cut him out of his will – is a great deal less impervious to such things and it might be said that Rules of the Game is the latest – and the best – of many books in which he had tried to come to terms with his parents and their curious ways of behaving.

Mosley himself didn’t believe in complicated explanations of human behaviour: ‘Some odd combination of the genes in this strong country stock made me ... what I am,’ he says in My Life.’ The basic constitution is given to us ... Afterwards the development or atrophy of the constitution depends on continual exertion of the will.’ The strength of the stock, and of the will, was evident in the careers both of Mosley’s father and of his grandfather, though in his father’s case the will was continually exerted in the direction of enjoying himself. He was a bounder, a rake and a gambler, a man with a sadistic sense of humour, whose wife left him after bearing him three sons – of whom Mosley was the eldest – on the grounds, according to family legend, of ‘his insatiable and promiscuous sexual habits’. His grandfather, too, described here as an ‘imposing patriarchal figure’, lived apart from his wife. Robert Skidelsky, Mosley’s respectful biographer, oddly doesn’t mention this fact, stressing instead the grandfather’s Victorian sense of obligation. Both his mother and his grandfather ‘idolised’ the young Mosley: to his mother ‘Tom was God,’ noted a contemporary, her ‘man-child’, as she called him, a substitute for a husband; to his grandfather he was a substitute son. ‘In these relationships,’ Skidelsky suggests, ‘may be found a clue to Mosley’s supreme self-esteem.’

He didn’t do well at school or at Sandhurst; nor did he distinguish himself during the war. Although he did the élite thing in volunteering for the Royal Flying Corps, he won no medals – a matter of some regret for a man who passionately believed in individual heroism. (One of the very few things Mosley says about his son in My Life is that he had a ‘good war’, and in the index to that book Nicholas is listed as ‘Mosley, Nicholas, MC.’) When the war ended Mosley set about making his mark in society, starting with the ladies, at whose parties he met and impressed all the politicians he needed to. He had made some study of history and thought of going to university. In order to decide whether it was worth it, he ‘interrogated’ his Oxford and Cambridge contemporaries ‘to discover if they knew much that I didn’t. The results were reasonably satisfactory,’ so he didn’t bother; and when both the Tories and the Liberals invited him to stand for Parliament he yielded to the greater pressure of the Tories. In December 1918, he was elected MP for Harrow with a majority of 10,000. It hadn’t really mattered to him which party he joined: he went into Parliament, as Nicholas Mosley puts it, ‘to represent the war generation – or himself.’

Mosley fell in love with Cimmie at the end of the following year, when they were both in Plymouth helping Nancy Astor in her campaign to become the first woman MP. There is no reason beyond the obvious ones – she was good-looking, Curzon’s daughter and had an unusual interest in politics – why he should have taken to her. On the other hand, Mosley, with his ‘supreme self-esteem’, was clearly the man Cimmie had been waiting for. When Curzon was appointed Viceroy, Cimmie’s mother, an American heiress (sometimes, wrongly, thought to be Jewish), who also died at least in part of discouragement when her children were very young, had written home to say that she was about to fill ‘the greatest place ever held by an American abroad’. Cimmie, who disliked social pomp, had another kind of greatness very much on her mind. As a young girl, she had written in her diary that what she wanted above all was ‘a Big Solemn Comprehensive idea that holds you and me and all the world together in one great grand universal scheme’. Asking her father for permission to marry Mosley, she assured him – so Curzon wrote to his second wife (another foreign heiress) – that she and Mosley ‘were going to have a great career together’, that ‘he was destined to climb to the very top – with her aid.’ Elinor Glyn, a former mistress of Curzon’s, prophesied that, having married Mosley, Cimmie would ‘one day ... rule England’.

‘In love, as elsewhere,’ Skidelsky remarks, Mosley ‘showed a marked preference for the swift attack’. He proposed within a week of their meeting in Plymouth. Cimmie refused and went off on a skiing holiday, but three months later – after going to bed with him – she accepted. In the first letter he ever wrote to her Mosley had said, ominously: ‘I would surrender the present with the ages to come and those past, just once to make you cry as I have made others cry; and then instead of leaving as I have always left tears, to kiss those tears away.’ No cosmic surrender was necessary. Their marriage was one long bout of crying and kissing.

Cimmie was very useful to Mosley in his political career. ‘I love people loving me,’ she had noted in the same diary entry where she spoke of her need for a Big idea. On her first official visit to Harrow after their marriage, she delivered a short speech to Mosley’s constituents thanking them for their wedding present. ‘Saying just the right thing in the right way,’ the Constituency President wrote to her husband, ‘she gripped ... the heart of her audience at once.’ Mosley was interested in a different sort of popularity. Seeing himself, as he was always to see himself, as the champion of the young against the ‘united muttons’ of the political establishment, he seized every opportunity to blast ‘the old dead men with their old dead minds’, whose ‘mistakes’, he said, had been ‘cleansed in the blood’ of the young men who’d been ‘sacrificed’ in France.

Nicholas Mosley, disposed to be loyal to his father whenever he decently can be, but more interested in the legend he created than the policies he stood for, takes over the details of his father’s career in large part from the faithful Skidelsky. Thus of the early years in Parliament, he says that Mosley ‘was on the “liberal” or progressive side in almost every issue of importance’. Mosley’s vigorous support of the League of Nations is instanced; as are his horror at the British annexation of a former German colony in the Pacific for the sake of its phosphate deposits – a return, Mosley said, to ‘the worst days of predatory imperialism’; his description of the massacre of Indian civilians at Amritsar as an example of ‘Prussian frightfulness inspired by racism’; his dismay at the involvement of British troops in the Russian Civil War – ‘It went to my heart to think of £100,000,000 being spent in Russia supporting a mere adventure while the unemployed are trying to keep a family on 15s a week’; and, later on, his outrage at Mussolini’s occupation of Corfu.

There are several different versions of Mosley’s political career. Fellow politicians, Michael Foot and Richard Crossman among them, took the view that, like themselves, he was interested in power but that, unlike them, unlike Foot and Crossman at any rate, he was too impatient to wait his turn. For Skidelsky, though there are signs that he may now repent it, Mosley was a more heroic figure, a latter-day Coriolanus, whose line, for better or worse, was an aristocratic ‘take me or leave me.’ In his son’s opinion, he simply saw himself as being above the ‘rules of the game’. The incomparable John Vincent has his own interpretation of the supposed liberalism of Mosley’s early days: ‘There were no depths of idealism to which he would not stoop in his attempt to find a winning formula for controlling the post-war mind.’ Inflamed by the Government’s use of the Black and Tans, a group whom, Skidelsky concedes, he might well have admired at another time and in other circumstances, Mosley left the Conservative benches in November 1920 to take his place as an Independent. According to his second wife, Diana Guinness, he was already being unfaithful to Cimmie.

Their former Tory friends, like the Tory Party itself, were too hidebound, or merely fuddy-duddy, for the young Mosleys. Always interested in having a good time (they talk about ‘fun’ in their letters as if it were something athletes train for), they moved into a smarter, faster set and began to go abroad, to France and to Italy, ‘for their amusements’. The winter of 1922/23, for instance, was spent on Cap Ferrat. Cimmie was pregnant for the second time (‘the child she was pregnant with, was myself), and Mosley was having an affair with a mutual friend with whom they had been in Venice the previous summer. (Georgia Sitwell: ‘Of course we all went to bed with him, but afterwards we were rather ashamed.’) Anxious to speak in Parliament about a crisis in Mesopotamia, Mosley returned to England ten days before his wife. The following quotations are from the letters they wrote each other while they were apart; Mosley’s first letter was posted when his train reached Cannes: Cimmie had written to him before he even left the house.

Cimmie: You haven’t gone yet but my heart is aching ... Be happy, be happy ... I do love you so frightfully.

Tom: Please, please do not be too sad ... You have brought all the beauty and holiness and wonder with you that my life has ever known or will know.

Cimmie: I really have no ‘me’ to speak of, only you you you: a you to adore, a you a look after, a you I admire, a you that fills my entire horizon.

Tom: Shall be so mis without you but terribly realise how much you mean.

Cimmie: I really have been abnormal in everything connected with you – too proud too intricate too naked too introspective too violent.

Tom: Terrible lot of requests for me to speak etc. Bless you my own beautiful treasure.

Cimmie: Blessed heart I wonder if you acutely miss me as I do you, if you have an ache all the time.

Tom (who often spoke of himself in the third person): Rather glad he came back – speech apparently immense success. Elsa Maxwell in London. Very bored with everything except his Cim. Cimmie: I am so glad we are like we are and not just ordinary hus and wife.

Tom: Last night very amusing dinner party of about 20. Viola Tree funnier than you would believe. A new stunt – ‘learning to skate’. Everyone was at very zenith of form. Did so long to see his round-eyed one honking out her pleasure or looking in pawky disapproval as occasion might arise.

Cimmie: I am dotty potty about you almost (I believe this to be very nearly true) to insanity.

Tom: I realise so terribly through this parting how tragically dependent I am on you.

Cimmie: Went to lunch at Maryland today, found Princess Louise, Lady Londesburgh, Jack Wilson ... I tried desperately hard to be friendly and gay.

It was the fashion in the Mosleys’ circle for husbands to try to get off with other people’s wives: this was another of the ‘rules of the game’ to which Nicholas Mosley’s title refers. But if the game was to be played properly, with the maximum fun all round, their own wives had somehow to contrive both to be aware of what was going on and not to be aware of it. It isn’t clear whether Cimmie knew about Mosley’s affair when she wrote these letters – but she found out at some point because Mosley subsequently told Diana Guinness not only that she had been upset but that he believed her being upset had affected the unborn Nicholas. Perhaps it was her inability to do what was expected of her – to notice and not to notice, to mind and not to mind – that Cimmie blames herself for when she refers, as she does again and again in these letters, to her ‘abnormal’ state of mind. What is certain is that Mosley himself managed beautifully both to notice and not to notice what was happening to her and to get pleasure from it either way.

Nicholas was born a few months later and ‘almost immediately became very ill’. (Maybe Mosley was right: maybe he had already sensed in the womb that everything was not as it should be between his parents.) His mother and father went off to Venice for their summer holiday and while they were having their fun, Nanny Hyslop, who ‘represented everything steadfast, trustworthy, down-to-earth in our childhood’, took the baby to the doctor (who put him on a diet of ‘sherry whey’). In the story of his parents’ lives the young Nicholas plays a role such as a chorus of the people might play in some old-fashioned drama about kings and queens: he is there to remind us of ‘the real world’ and ‘real values’. The steadfastness of Nanny Hyslop is set against ‘the world of our parents’ which ‘seemed to be to do with ambitions and passions like that of the gods on Mount Olympus’. When the gods are plotting, Nicholas and his sister are ‘telling themselves stories about how to get somewhere on a raft’; and when the gods are dying, the children are riding their bicycles ‘round and round the paths between the flowerbeds’. Sometimes it is hard to remember that this biography isn’t a novel.

Nicholas Mosley doesn’t say that much about his childhood – the impression he gives is that a large part of it was spent ‘looking down at grown-ups out of windows’ – but the wise and watchful child can see things that his parents don’t see; and is alert to dangers that they aren’t aware of. He develops a stammer and wonders, looking back on it now, whether this wasn’t a necessary precaution against his father’s ‘too easy flow of words’. The child who observes his parents but also guards himself against them is clearly recognisable in the adult who gives away his parents’ secrets, on the grounds, if I have understood some rather cryptic remarks he makes in his Foreword, that it is the job of the novelist to try to explain what people do by explaining what they are like. (In an introduction to the new edition of his biography of Mosley, Robert Skidelsky admits that he failed to portray ‘the dark side’ of Mosley’s character because he failed to understand it: ‘it requires,’ he says, ‘the touch of the creative artist.’) It’s possible that the hidden hand of psychoanalysis has played some part in creating the resemblance between the observant child and the grown-up novelist; and if this is the case, if there has been some recourse to psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic thinking, it can be seen, though this isn’t how it was intended, as an appropriate act of revenge by the son on the father, since Mosley, always ready to confuse his desires with rational expectations, didn’t believe that anything other than intelligence was required to understand his behaviour. And if, as some people have thought, giving away his parents’ secrets is itself an act of revenge, then one can only say that Nicholas Mosley has every justification for wanting to have his say about a father who caused him so much embarrassment (even at his prep school he was known as ‘Baby Blackshirt’) and a mother who only once put her arms around her son and then abandoned him because his father had broken her heart. His attitude to his parents is in fact conscientiously forbearing. Nonetheless, Lord Boothby, a close friend of Mosley’s for most of his life, finds reason to complain about Nicholas Mosley’s discussion of his parents: ‘a cruel book for a cruel age’ is how he describes it – the comment of a man who one day hopes to meet Mosley in heaven.

Mosley’s career as Independent MP for Harrow survived two elections and lasted three years. Again he flirted with the Liberals but he also flirted with MacDonald and when, at the beginning of 1924, MacDonald was in a position to form a government Mosley applied to join his party. The decision wasn’t merely cynical, though there were plenty of people around at the time to say it was. His interest in the working class may well have been slight but there wasn’t any other class who needed a saviour. He joined the Labour Party, and later left it, because he wanted a platform from which to say that one way or another everything ought to be different and be applauded for saying so. Cimmie too joined the party and about her political convictions there were fewer doubts.

The Labour Party by and large were over-joyed to receive them – Mosley had invitations from more than seventy constituencies to stand as their candidate. There may have been unease about his commitment to socialism but he was undoubtedly thought to be a good catch. ‘His eloquence,’ according to a Birmingham newspaper, ‘made even hardened pressmen gasp.’ Party stalwarts like Morrison and Hugh Dalton resented him, but then they didn’t have his looks. The Daily Mail carried a report of a meeting in the Midlands where ‘a series of quarrels were in progress among the audience about whether Mr Mosley was a duke, a knight or a commoner. The chairman attempted a compromise by describing him as “Comrade Mosley”, but this found disfavour with a row of young women in the front ... One of them put his titular dignity beyond doubt by exclaiming – “Oh! Valentino!” ’ Even party intellectuals like Beatrice Webb allowed themselves to be charmed by him, but then thought the worse of him for it: ‘So much perfection,’ she said, ‘argues rottenness somewhere.’ Ellen Wilkinson was more amusing: ‘The trouble with Oswald Mosley is that he is too good-looking ... He is not the kind of hero who rescues the girl at the point of torture but the one who hisses “at last we meet.”’ In the general election at the end of 1924, the Zinoviev election, he failed by 77 votes to beat Neville Chamberlain in one of the Chamberlain family’s Birmingham strongholds. It was two years before he had a chance to stand again, this time in Smethwick. The run-up was extremely unpleasant, largely because his opponents chose to make his wealth the central issue of their campaign (his father, interviewed by the Daily Express, helpfully told them that his son ‘had been born with a golden spoon in his mouth ... lived on the fat of the land, and had never done a day’s work in his life’), but he got in with a much increased majority.

‘Mosley,’ Skidelsky writes, ‘always tried to maintain the old English distinction between public life and private life’ – which is a generous way of talking about the discrepancies between life in Smethwick and life with the Mosleys. It wasn’t so much a matter of their wealth (although until 1932 they were very rich) as of the effort they put into being frivolous. They bought a large country house, Savehay Farm, near Denham in Buckinghamshire.

On Saturday mornings garden-beds of wood and webbing would be set out in front of the loggia: mattresses and coloured cushions would be arranged; there would be a gramophone and perhaps an umbrella; it was as if a stage-set were being prepared for some ballet. Then in twos and threes from the house where they had arrived the night before ... there would emerge the people who were my mother and father’s special friends ... They would gather round the beds in front of the loggia; they would laugh, talk, recline; they would sway in front of each other like reeds ... A man might go down on one knee, a hand on his heart, as if making some passionate declaration: a woman would lean back, kick her legs in the air ... There would be lunges, shrieks, and cumbersome runnings-after. The portable gramophone would be wound up ... People might dance a little ... A few games would begin ...

When one day their friend Dick Wyndham slipped off a pogo-stick and broke his jaw, ‘there was a queer funeral cortege down to the river – to throw in not Dick Wyndham, but the pogo-stick.’ There were two tennis courts where mixed doubles were played, and sometimes the men fought duels in which wax bullets were fired. The only thing Boothby ‘couldn’t take’, he says now, were the practical jokes: ‘for instance, serving cheese savouries made of soap, which made everyone sick’. There were family jokes too: one evening before going to dinner at Buckingham Palace Mosley appeared in the night nursery with his medals pinned onto his bum. Nicholas Mosley remembers thinking this ‘enormously funny’. There was ‘something magical’, he says, in his father’s willingness to ‘laugh at his own pretensions’ – but in fact it was other people’s pretensions he was laughing at. He also remembers his father intoning ‘And bluer the sea-blue stream of the bay’ when he went into the sea to swim: it meant he was having a pee. Mosley, it should be said at least in passing, scrupulously adhered to the old English distinction between public life and private life at all times (or very nearly): ‘Vote Labour; sleep Tory’ was the slogan he coined after a brief fling with one of the wives at an ILP summer school.

Labour returned to power in May 1929: Cimmie became MP for Stoke on Trent and Mosley was given the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster with responsibility (under J.H. Thomas) for unemployment. A year later he resigned his ministerial post, and in January 1931, he and Cimmie resigned from the Labour Party. The first resignation was a triumph: the second ruined his career. At the time of the election there were over a million unemployed. ‘Before we leave this mortal scene,’ Mosley promised, ‘we will do something to lift the burdens of those who suffer. Before we go, we will do something great for England.’ By July there were two million unemployed. The Government responded with calls for tariff reductions. Mosley, who didn’t believe, as the Treasury under Philip Snowden believed, that increasing exports would offer any immediate help, was dismayed. During the Christmas recess, he worked out his own solution, contained in the famous Mosley Memorandum which proposed the creation of an all-powerful state finance corporation to administer huge schemes of public works: the plan was a mixture of Keynesian economics and, if you like, socialism – or, if you prefer, fascism. The Treasury opposed it; the Cabinet rejected it; and on 20 May 1930 Mosley resigned. Eight days later, he explained his decision in the House of Commons. While Cimmie cried, everyone else, on both sides of the House, cheered. The Evening Standard called it ‘one of the most notable Parliamentary achievements of recent times’. Beatrice Webb wondered whether MacDonald had ‘found his superseder in OM’. A £50,000 cheque from Lord Nuffield put paid to that possibility. Instead of waiting to become leader of the Labour Party, Mosley immediately founded and became leader of the New Party.

A by-election at Ashton-under-Lyne provided the first test of the New Party’s popularity. ‘I have seldom seen so many young people so excited and so pleased,’ a journalist reported. But their candidate only just saved his deposit and a safe Labour seat went to the Tories. As a crowd of Labour militants, believing that the New Party had been responsible for their defeat, shouted for vengeance outside the Town Hall, Mosley turned to John Strachey: ‘That,’ he said, ‘is the crowd that has prevented anyone doing anything in England since the war.’ The fascist bully boys who would deal with crowds like that were already insight. A few months later, Mosley was attacked in Glasgow by a group of communists with razors. ‘Tom,’ Harold Nicolson noted in his diary, ‘says that we no longer need hesitate to create our own trained and disciplined force. We discuss their uniforms: I suggest grey flannel trousers and shirts.’ In the event, the uniform was modelled on Mosley’s fencing jacket rather than Harold Nicolson’s trousers.

In July a rally was held at – of all improbable venues – the Sitwells’ ancestral home in Yorkshire. Forty thousand people attended. ‘The worst economic crisis for a hundred years’ was in view: Mosley, who had always been contemptuous of people who, ‘even for the few years at the height of their responsibilities, cannot be serious’, invited his audience to participate in ‘something new, something dangerous’ – and then went off to Antibes for his summer holiday. Harold Nicolson, who had manfully stayed behind to prepare the first issue of Action, the New Party’s weekly paper which he was to edit, wrote to Mosley: ‘I recognise that people may say that at the gravest crisis in present political history you prefer to remain upon the Mediterranean. On the other hand ... I feel that it is more dignified to be absent and aloof than to be present and not consulted.’ No doubt, Mosley did have an appropriately Roman sense of his own dignity – certainly he was to spend the rest of his life waiting for the call which he was sure would one day come – but maybe he stayed in Antibes because, as usual, he was having a good time.

The first number of Action appeared at the beginning of October 1931. Its task, according to Mosley, was ‘to imbue the nation with a new idea and a new faith.’ Whether Harold Nicolson, inviting Osbert Sitwell, Raymond Mortimer, Peter Quennell and Alan Pryce-Jones to contribute to its pages, saw the ‘new faith’ in the same light as Mosley isn’t quite clear. ‘Week by week,’ Mosley exclaimed on the front page, ‘we shall put before you new vistas into the future. Week by week, you will see the sunlight glimmering at the end of this dark tunnel.’ Inside, Harold Nicolson reviewed The Waves and Vita Sackville West, who seems to have had a whole page to herself, explained ‘How to plant and design beds’. By December the circulation had plummetted from 160,000 to under 20,000: the paper was losing £340 a week. ‘We shall win; or at least we shall return upon our shields,’ Mosley wrote in the last number – but he did neither. All that was left by then of the New Party was a propaganda film called Crisis, which was banned on the grounds that its shots of snoring MPs might bring Parliament into disrepute – that and an embryonic fascist youth movement.

Cimmie’s involvement with politics more or less ended with her efforts to launch the New Party. Like Mosley, she had lost faith in the established parties and procedures, but although from time to time she made an effort to see things his way, she was wary of his attraction to fascism. ‘Cimmie wants to put a notice in the Times to the effect that she dissociates herself from Tom’s fascist tendencies,’ Harold Nicolson recorded. Nicholas Mosley makes a great effort to understand his parents and their contentious, unhappy marriage. Both of them, he realises, depended on the other’s continuing adoration. For Mosley the situation was simple: he wanted to have his cake and eat it too and believed that an endless stream of baby-talk (‘My own darling Moo-moo’, ‘my soft-nosed wog-tail’) would make it possible. What made things much more difficult for Cimmie was that she needed to go on feeling she loved Mosley, despite his incessant provocation, as much as she needed to feel he loved her. She had invested so heavily in the idea that it was a privilege to be married to him that she could see no role for herself other than that of the perfect wife: ‘What am I? I forget. Is it your soft-nosed squash tail?’

At the end of the summer of 1930 she made her one effort to stand away from him by going on a trip to Eastern Europe without him, but much of the time was spent cooking up exploits which she could then report back. For instance, she surprised everyone by going to see Trotsky at Prinkipo (‘Cynthia Mosley, the wife of the adventurer and daughter of the notorious Curzon, visited me,’ Trotsky recorded in his diary); and when she swam across the Bosphorus, she told Mosley that she ‘thought it so terribly in the Grand Style and Byronic and even’, she hoped, ‘rather Mosley’. But these exploits turned to ashes as she received news of him which suggested that he was up to no good in Le Lavandou. ‘Hell Hell Hell,’ she wrote. ‘If it’s true, I think you and Paula are unspeakable cads.’ Which is just what he was.

At the beginning of 1932 the New Party was formally disbanded and from then on there was no more talk of Mosley as a future prime minister. He began work on The Greater Britain, which was to be his statement about British fascism, and he met Diana Guinness, the third Mitford sister, then married to Bryan Guinness. (She was to marry Mosley in 1936 in Berlin.) Before long she had left her husband and set up house with her children in Eaton Square. More ‘Mosley’ than either of the Mosleys, she wanted, she said later, to ‘nail her colours to the mast’. Mosley, of course, could see no reason why he shouldn’t have Cimmie as his wife and Diana as his mistress, dividing his time between the two of them. Cimmie, still unable to imagine life without Mosley, continued to try to behave as she thought she should behave. In one of her last letters to him, shaped like the inscription on a tombstone, she was still saying that she would ‘TRY & TRY & TRY’.

At the beginning of May 1933, she took Nicholas back to school: ‘After she had said goodbye and was going past the rhododendrons she turned to wave – her brown felt hat like the cup of an acorn – that figure which I suppose meant much of the world to me.’ Five days later she was taken to hospital with acute appendicitis; on 16 May she died. The doctor told her sister that ‘she had never fought from the start.’ No one who was close to him thought that Mosley’s grief wasn’t genuine – though Nancy Astor was sure it would ‘pass like a mirage’. Edwin Lutyens was commissioned to design Cimmie’s tomb – a pink sarcophagus set in a sunken garden by the river at Savehay Farm. But Mosley told Harold Nicolson that he considered his movement her memorial and that he was ‘prepared willingly to die for it’. As always, it wasn’t what she wanted. In July he and his mother led a big fascist march around London – ‘by chance or by design’, it began close to Diana Guinness’s house in Eaton Square.