A Look at the Lives and Loves of the Mitford Sisters

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last surviving member of the Mitford sisters, recently passed away at the age of 94. With her ends the intriguing lives and loves the Mitford sisters had in their younger days.

The Mitford sisters – Nancy, Diana, Unity, Jessica [or Decca as she was known], Pamela and Debo [Deborah, the Dowager Duchess] – were born between the years 1905 to 1920. Growing up, they moved within an aristocratic circle which included prolific figures like the infamous German dictator Adolf Hitler, the WWII British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and even the assassinated American President John F. Kennedy.

The Mitford Sisters: The Story Stirrers

The six sisters were raised in elegant homes but in relative isolation as their father, the 2nd Baron Redesdale David Freeman-Mitford, believed that they did not have to be sent to schools to get their education.

However, their being raised in isolation did not stop them from being news stirrers in their heydays.

The oldest of the siblings, Nancy, went on to become a successful writer. She started writing entertaining accounts which featured eccentric characters based on her own family’s members. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are two of her works.

The second eldest, Pamela, was reportedly the only one among the Mitford sisters who was not shrouded with controversies. Accordingly, she was more at home at a farm rather than in balls and cocktail parties. Pamela is described as the most rural of the Mitfords.

Diana [above photo] during the Nuremberg Nazi Rally; Unity with Hitler. They are two of the six Mitford sisters.
Diana [above photo] during the Nuremberg Nazi Rally; Unity with Hitler. They are two of the six Mitford sisters.
In contrast to Pamela, Diana Mitford became the most hated of women in England at one time. She was, arguably, the most controversial among the Mitford brood. Diana, known by her nickname Honks, left her first husband just so she could get hitched up with Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists. The couple said their wedding vows in the drawing room of Joseph Goebbel’s house, who was a key Nazi member, in 1936. And their union’s only guest was none other than the German fuehrer himself, Adolf Hitler.

Because of her actions, Diana Mitford was locked up in Holloway Prison and was considered an enemy to the Allies when WWII broke out.

Still, another of the Mitford sisters, Unity, was so enamored with Hitler. When Diana went to attend the Nuremberg Nazi rally in 1933, Unity was with her and had her first glimpse of the Fuehrer. After that first time, Unity got hooked.

Eventually, this Mitford lady and Hitler became great friends. Some even believed that the couple were more than that; that they really were lovers. When the Second World War broke out, Unity was in Germany. She shot herself in the head using a silver pistol. Fortunately, she survived but was already brain damaged. She was sent back home to be taken care of by her family. She died only several years later – in 1948 – due to meningitis.

The Mitford sisters may be related by blood but it didn’t mean that they shared the same views in everything. If Diana and Unity leaned on to fascism, one of the Mitford sisters, Jessica – or Decca, as she was fondly called – relinquished her privileged life as an English lady of nobility and went on to become a communist activist. In the end, she migrated to the United States and became a civil rights advocate.

She was the same Mitford sister who eloped with a second cousin who also happened to be a nephew of then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The year was 1937. Decca was 19 at that time when she met Esmond Romilly. The young couple, then, ran away to Spain at the height of the civil war. This caused the British government to sent in a war ship to the said country just to bring them back home.

Deborah or Debo, like Pamela, led a less scandalous, less talked life compared to what the other Mitford sisters had. She did enjoy a close relationship with former US President John F. Kennedy, was acquainted with the WWII British PM Winston Churchill, had the opportunity to spend tea with the notorious German dictator Adolf Hitler at 17 and was in attendance when the Queen was crowned.

Debo, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, went on to marry and oversee Chatsworth House, which is, by far, one of England’s grandest estates. Though her family had polarizing political views, Debo managed to be in good terms with each of them. She even stated one time that their [her family] politics had nothing to do with her.

The Sole Brother of the Mitford Sisters

The Mitford sisters had one brother, Tom, who tended to be pushed to the shadows of his sisters’ controversial lives. Tom died during the Second World War while in Burma.

In today’s society, many have said the Mitford sisters would have been equated with the Kardashians and such other celebrities with their scandal and controversy-filled lives. But the Mitford sisters also showed how each of them shaped up their own lives within the strictly-stitched society of their time. Amidst the scandals they into, these sisters remained an epitome of wit and strong personality.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE