Oswald Ernald Mosley, eldest son of Oswald Mosley and Katherine Maud Heathcote, was born on 16 November 1896. He attended Winchester school and Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the 16th Lancers cavalry regiment at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, but later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. He injured his leg in a flying accident while in England, shortly after gaining his pilot's certificate and was recalled to his former regiment, spending the winter of 1915-1916 in the trenches. He was invalided out of the war due to his damaged leg in 1916, and spent the last two years of the war working in London in the Ministry of Munitions and in the Foreign Office.
He was elected Unionist MP for Harrow in 1918 and was a member of the National party coalition led by Lloyd George. He rapidly became disillusioned with the government and in November 1920 he left the government over the Black and Tan atrocities in Ireland, which he condemned in the House of Commons. His political outlook at the time, informed by his experiences during the war, his sympathy for ordinary working people, and his concern to improve social conditions, was thought to be more suited to the Liberal party, and he was involved in discussions with Robert Cecil during the early 1920s to form a Centre Party, but he was re-elected as an Independent MP for Harrow in the General Elections of 1922 and 1923. He joined the Labour party in 1924, and stood for election in Ladywood, Birmingham that year, being narrowly defeated by Neville Chamberlain. He was supported in his political career by his first wife, Cynthia Curzon, whom he married in 1920. Cynthia also joined the Labour party, and accompanied Mosley on visits to India in 1925 and the USA in 1926 to study labour conditions. The couple had three children, Vivien (b. 1921), Nicholas (b. 1923), and Michael (b. 1932). Cynthia Mosley died of peritonitis in 1933.
Mosley was elected Labour MP for Smethwick in 1926, and was elected to the party's National Executive Committee the following year. He was re-elected in the general election of 1929, and was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster by Ramsay MacDonald, with special responsibility for unemployment. In response to the economic crisis and large scale unemployment of the period, Mosley proposed a programme, known as the 'Mosley Memorandum', which aimed to stimulate the economy and provide employment by using public funds to promote industrial expansion. When the Cabinet rejected these proposals, Mosley resigned from the government. He formed the New Party in 1931, supported by Cynthia, and by other former Labour MPs including John Strachey, John Beckett and Robert Forgan, as well as others including Harold Nicolson and Cyril Joad. The New Party contested several seats at the 1931 General Election but failed to win any. Mosley was drawn to the success of Italian fascism in solving some of the economic and social problems of the early 1930s, and made several visits to Rome, meeting Mussolini in January 1932. He disbanded the New Party and formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932. Some of those who had supported the New Party became officials in the BUF, but others were uneasy about Mosley's adoption of fascism, and by the anti-semitic views increasingly expressed by the movement. The BUF was initially successful, and attracted large numbers of new members and some mainstream support. However, a meeting at Olympia in June 1934 was disrupted by political opponents, and the ensuing violence had an adverse effect on BUF support.
The militaristic elements of the BUF, such as the uniforms, fascist salute and organised marches, together with the movement's willingness to exploit existing tensions by employing anti-semitic rhetoric and campaigning in Jewish areas in the East End of London, highlighted sinister parallels with the Nazi regime in Germany, and BUF activities were undermined by the passing of the Public Order Act in 1936 which outlawed the wearing of political uniforms, and the use of threatening and abusive language, and restricted rights to organise marches.
The BUF campaigned against war with Germany, and held a Peace rally at Earls Court in the summer of 1939. After the outbreak of war, the movement continued with its peace campaign. Mosley, along with many other BUF members and supporters, was imprisoned under Defence Regulations 18B in May 1940 amidst fears of a German invasion of Britain. He was initially held in Brixton prison, but in 1941 he was moved to Holloway to join his second wife, Diana. Mosley had married Diana, one of the Mitford sisters, and the divorced wife of Bryan Guinness, in 1936 in Berlin, although they had been in a relationship for some years before this. Mosley had two sons with Diana, Alexander (born 1938) and Max (born 1940). Oswald and Diana Mosley were released from prison in 1943 on the grounds of Mosley's ill health, and the couple were placed under house arrest. They settled first at Crux Easton in Hampshire, and moved to Crowood in Wiltshire in 1945 where Mosley ran a farm.
In February 1948, following the publication of his book 'The Alternative', he established the Union Movement, which advocated British integration in Europe, with the exploitation of British colonies in Africa to provide foods and other raw materials that European countries lacked. The Union Movement also campaigned against immigration to Britain from Commonwealth countries. Mosley established the Euphorion Press in an attempt to publish the works of right-wing authors, and Diana Mosley edited a monthly right-wing journal, 'The European' between 1953 and 1959. The Mosleys left England in 1949 and settled first in Ireland at Clonfert in County Galway, and afterwards in France at 'La Temple de la Gloire' in Orsay. They continued to make regular visits to England, and Mosley stood for election for the Union Movement in North Kensington in 1959 and Shoreditch and Finsbury in 1966. He resigned from active leadership of the movement in 1966, at the age of 70, and began to focus on the rehabilitation of his character, through the publication of his autobiography, 'My Life' in 1968, and his appearances on television and radio. A biography of Oswald Mosley was published by Robert Skidelsky in 1975. Oswald Mosley died on 3 December 1980.
Sources: Administrative history for the British Union Collection held at the University of Sheffield Library, http://www.shef.ac.uk/library/special/bunion.html Accessed March 2005; Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, 1975; Nicholas Mosley, The Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley, 1896-1933, 1982; Nicholas Mosley, Beyond the Pale: Sir Oswald Mosley and Family, 1933-1980, 1983.