Chicago’s British Aristocracy
Lady Cynthia Curzon on the day of her wedding to Sir Oswald Mosley.
By Megan McKinney
The Curzon presence would not be absent from British politics long, although the post-World War I involvement of Mary and George’s daughters would be in a very different government. Stirrings of massive economic upheaval had begun to send tremors through the Western world in the late 1920s, seismic vibrations that would bring years of turmoil to their quiet island. When the effects of the 1929 Wall Street Crash swept across the Atlantic, English unemployment quickly doubled, rising to more than two and a half million by the end of 1930. Even more sinister in retrospect was the German figure of more than five million men without jobs.
The Curzon sisters were genuinely sympathetic to the plight of the English working classes, especially Cimmie, who had met her politically active husband, Oswald Mosley, in 1919, when both were campaigning on behalf of her “older sister/godmother” Nancy Astor for Lord Astor’s vacated Plymouth seat.
Nancy Astor won her campaign for her husband’s Plymouth seat and became the first woman in the British House of Commons.
Within a year, Cimmie had fallen in love with Mosley and would remain so for the rest of her life. Although there is little doubt that Sir Oswald empathized with the difficulties of the unemployed, it is more evident that he saw personal expediency in the human misery — as he did in all things. Politics would simply add a new dimension to his colossal opportunism.
Sir Oswald Mosley.
Even in a nation and an era in which Don Juanism among the aristocracy and upper classes was endemic, Mosley’s excessive womanizing was conspicuous. Although not handsome — described by Curzon as “tall, slim, dark, rather big nose, little black mustache” — his sexual power quickly became renowned. Before marrying Cimmie, he had seduced both her stepmother, Grace, and her older sister, Irene. Little Baba — who at 16 held a fervent schoolgirl crush on her magnetic brother-in-law — would not be far behind.
Grace Curzon, seduced by her future stepson-in-law.
Operating within the courtly tradition of the period, Mosley did not prey on virgins, but there was scarcely a young married woman of his class with whom he had not been intimate. Not long after his marriage, he established a bachelor flat at 22b Ebury Street in Pimlico, where he entertained his prey in an apartment that was little more than a large bedroom dominated by an immense bed. The flat’s major amenity was an artificial breeze that wafted over the bed with the touch of a button.
22b Ebury Street has quite a history; a later occupant would be James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Mosley was no less inconstant in his political career, which had begun when he stood for a Conservative seat from Harrow during the general election of 1918 and emerged the youngest MP in the House. His leftward movement began two years later when he stood as an Independent, and, in March 1924, with the success of the first Labour government, he formally applied to join that party. Regardless of where his capricious nature led him politically, Cimmie followed, certain her husband was a great man with a calling of magnitude. Her job was to assist him in fulfilling his destiny.
Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.
She was so effective in support of Mosley’s political career — not only in speaking for him during campaigns but also through the garden parties she hosted for the Labour Party — that she stood for Parliament herself in the general election of May 1929. Her stunning good looks and smart wardrobe made her an appealing candidate; she had also formed a close platonic relationship with the Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald. Her victory was a triumph, capturing the devotion of those of her own rank as well as the less fortunate who admired her style and did not resent her obvious wealth and privilege.
The Mosleys with Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the future United States president’s yacht in 1926.
Meanwhile, Oswald Mosley, with or without Cimmie, was continuing to march swiftly through English politics with a personal mission that matched the contagion of civil unrest spreading across the land. Labour was not acting quickly enough to suit him, and, impatient with the party and his role in it, he drafted the Mosley Memorandum, a Keynesian plan for massive public works and the mobilization of national resources to combat unemployment.
When his party rejected the proposal, Oswald left Labour and formed the New Party, taking Cimmie and other Labour stalwarts with him, much to the displeasure of their constituents. The New Party collapsed with the election of 1931, and both the Tories and Labour Party immediately courted Mosley to rejoin them, but he kept marching — taking time only to about face, now heading in the direction of fascism.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.
He began studying the German Youth Movement and he carefully observed Benito Mussolini, even visiting Il Duce in Rome; he mentally designed a quasi-military uniform and actively envisioned the efficiency of power consolidated in one charismatic leader.
The fundamentally saddened Cimmie Mosley.
Cimmie, whose carefree, sunny disposition had been slowly eroded by her husband’s blatant womanizing, was further bewildered by his capricious political stance as he rotated from the extremes of right to left, then back again, and beyond. She was even more confused when his Casanova-like behavior appeared to dissolve, possibly with contemplation of the seduction of an entire nation.
However, this sublimation of sexual energy for supreme political power was only an illusion. Mosley’s remarkable libido was now concentrated on a conquest even more threatening to his wife’s happiness than the possession of his country and all its people — he was now determined to forsake all other women to possess just one, possibly the most desirable Englishwoman of their generation.
The object of Oswald Mosley’s new pursuit.
It was to be a profound and far-reaching mission, one with devastating costs. Mosley’s ultimate quest and its consequences will be examined in the next segment of this series.
The Leiters: Chicago’s British Aristocracy, Megan McKinney’s series of articles on this remarkable dynasty, will continue in Classic Chicago over the next several weeks.
Next Sunday: The Curzon Daughters Meet the Mitfords
Robert F. Carl