These Great Ladies


‘Oh dear,’ said Evelyn Waugh of his society friends, ‘these great ladies.’ In this book of pen portraits the reader is introduced to obscure ladies who were society stars in their day. From the Churchills to the Mitfords, British and European Royals, to international playboys and film stars, these ladies knew everyone. And everyone knew them, for better or worse.



Margaret, Duchess of Argyll: Famous for her naughty polaroids, and whose divorce from her Duke saw 88 men named as her lovers.

Mariga Guinness: A bewitching German princess with a harrowing childhood, who fought to preserve Irish buildings and became an icon.

Sylvia Ashley: A girl from the wrong side of the tracks who married two English lords, two Hollywood stars, and a Russian prince.

Joan Wyndham: A bohemian aristocrat who shunned a debutante existence to live a life of debauchery in Chelsea.

Enid Lindeman: An Australian wine heiress who married four rich and titled men, and buried them all.

Venetia Montagu: A society girl who moved at the centre of H.H. Asquith’s wartime government.

Irene Curzon: A ‘poor little rich girl’ who dared to break the rules and challenge her brother-in-law, Sir Oswald Mosley.

Jean Massereene: A dazzling viscountess whose association with Sir Edward Carson almost ruined her reputation. A true eccentric, fashion icon, and champion of the spiritualist movement.



Meet my character by Lyndsy Spence

Hello Mitties! I was nominated by the talented Diana Birchall to take part in this lovely blog post called Meet My Character, please feel free to nominate your fellow writer friends/bloggers to also carry on the theme. It was started by author Debbie Brown of the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog and writers around the world are answering questions about the main character of their work in progress. In my case, the character is the non-fictional, infamous and complex Diana Mitford!


1) What is the name of your character? Is she fictional or a historic person?

A historic person, born Diana Freeman-Mitford, later the Hon. Mrs. Bryan Guinness and Lady Mosley. Judging by the Mitford canon, Diana could also be perceived as a fictional person!

2) When and where is the story set?

The story begins on the day of Diana’s birth in June 1910. She was born at the family’s small London house on Graham Street. The afternoon of Diana’s birth was as dramatic and conflicting as the life she would go on to lead. Diana was born during a ferocious thunder storm which eventually gave way to a blistering hot afternoon. Her mother, Sydney (later Lady Redesdale) cried for she wanted a boy, and the nurse announced: ‘She’s too beautiful, she can’t live long.’ Needless to say, it was not a happy day. When Diana was six she moved with her family to Oxfordshire and experiencing the gradual decline of her father’s fortunes she lived in a series of country houses. Paris, Rome, Naples, Capri and Germany are other locations mentioned in the book.

3) What should we know about her?

Readers familiar with the Mitford story are also familiar with Diana’s story. It is a double edged sword for a biographer because, unfortunately, everything known about Diana is less than flattering. Her friendship with Hitler pre-1939 and her affair with Sir Oswald Mosley is well documented, however, there was a different side to Diana prior to meeting those dangerous men, and I hope to covey that in my book. Clever men fell in love with Diana and amongst her admirers were Helleu, James Lees-Milne, Bill Astor, Randolph Churchill, Professor Lindemann, and of course, ‘Cousin’ Winston Churchill. The latter was not in love with Diana as such, but he adored her when she was a girl.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Diana’s non-conformist outlook, an attitude honed in the nursery, would eventually become her downfall. Randolph Churchill bemoaned Diana’s lack of morals and the fact that she did not see a problem in sinning. To escape the boredom of family life in the countryside Diana quickly married Bryan Guinness when she was just 18. By the age of 21 Diana had outgrown her husband and her outlook on life conflicted with Bryan’s gentle, easy-going ways. Diana’s affair with Oswald Mosley, and leaving Bryan to become his full time mistress, was the ruin of her. Her actions provoked scandal, and a lack of sympathy from her once devoted friends, when Mosley’s wife, Lady Cynthia ‘Cimmie’, died. In theory it left Mosley free to marry Diana but he did just the opposite – he strung her a long whilst he carried out an affair with his sister-in-law. During this dubious interval in their romance, Diana decided to go to Munich with her younger sister, Unity Mitford, and the casual trip changed their lives forever. Aside from Diana’s involvement with Mosley and his British Union of Fascists, Diana befriended Hitler, although there was nothing odd in this given that many important people did, in fact, visit the Fuhrer. As an old lady, Diana never denounced her friendship with Hitler (in her later years she condemned his actions in an audio interview) and given the murder of the Jews and the other evil deeds the Nazis committed, quite naturally, not a lot of people were prepared to listen to Diana’s tales of Hitler’s lovely manners, charming conversations and faultless hospitality.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

In my opinion the personal goal of Diana was to live as she pleased. Unfortunately, given the era when Diana was a young woman, and being the mother of two little boys when she made this decision ‘to live for pleasure’ social views on the matter were very dim. And due to this delicate situation, Diana’s goal to have complete independence became warped and she ended up a prisoner, literally and socially, in every sense of the word.

6) Is this a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

Yes, the novel is titled Mrs. Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford. You can read more about it on my agent’s website by clicking here.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

The book will be published in March 2015 by The History Press.


I nominate my fellow authors on The Mitford Society.

Guest Blog: The Mitford Girls by Dr. Peter Hancock

The Mitford Girls


The Mitford girls, the Mitford girls

Not enmeshed in jewels and pearls

But decked with jibes and witty barbs

And silly names like muvs and farves


In France a writer we behold

Mocking love in climates cold

Pursing love in all its verdure

Gaining nothing but its urdure


Quiet Pam of Betjeman fame

Never in the ‘Mitford game’

Woman of deep caudle green

Seldom heard and rurally scene


Goddess fair we drink to thee

Toasting thy canardary

Paramour of Mosley

Chaste and caught so furiously


Bobo oh! you Valkyrie

Hitler’s girl and Nazi bride

Searched for Nordic Unity

But failed to practice suicide


Tempestuous, red sheep, little D

Leaning socialistically

Lost a husband in the sea

Fought for us right civilly


Duchess Debo Darling D

Not as tall nobility

But doyenne of the orangery

She kept a house you can now see


Swinbrook is a pretti-place

Of past indulgence little trace

In Mitford graves without a fence

Lies natural ends to decadence



Professor Hancock is the author of over seven hundred refereed scientific articles and publications as well as writing and editing fifteen books including: Human Performance and Ergonomics in the Handbook of Perception and Cognition series, published by Academic Press in 1999. Stress, Workload, and Fatigue, published in 2001 by Lawrence Erlbaum and Performance under Stress published in 2008 by Ashgate. He is the author of the 1997 book, Essays on the Future of Human-Machine Systems and the 2009 text, Mind, Machine and Morality also from Ashgate Publishers.