Mosley Oswald - My life

Author : Mosley Oswald
Title : My life
Year : 1968

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Ancestry and Childhood. WE began with 'Ernald, a Saxon', who lived in the reign of King John at Moseley, a hamlet in Staffordshire four miles from Wolverhampton. The descendants of this 'Ernald de Moseley' moved to Lancashire and other parts of Staffordshire, married Normans and later added a slight mixture of Scotch and Irish. The 'e' was dropped from the family name in deference to a Latin epigram of the erudite Queen Elizabeth when an ancestor defied the law and organised a privateer fleet against Spain. My own strong feeling that I am a European appears to have some foundation in ancestry and family experience. I have never made a close study of the family lineage, which is on record in various books of reference, but in my youth I remember a great-uncle who was a considerable authority on the subject. Facts no doubt in the course of time had become freely embroidered. It seems clear, however, that our family played a fairly distinguished part in the Civil War, though I have never tested by the record their claim to have defended Tutbury Castle until it was the last Royalist stronghold to fall in that bitter conflict. The reliable witness of my grandfather and great-uncle assured me that they had seen letters written by Cromwell when he was besieging Tutbury, threatening to burn down the nearby family home at Rolleston if we did not surrender the castle. It was in this ancestral pride that I made the daily march of a mile and a half and back from my grandfather's house at Rolleston to Tutbury each afternoon of my Staffordshire childhood under the watchful eye of my first sergeantmajor, a kindly nanny. Fortunately Cromwell did not fulfil his threat, but contented himself with removing all the lead from the Rolleston roof to make bullets. Yet the fate of this fine old Tudor house was only delayed, and it was burned down in the latter half of the last century, together with the Cromwell letters and many other treasures. I never saw it. All that remains of the house is a drawing of the Georgian facade which had been added in the eighteenth century. The main feature was reputedly a long, oak-panelled gallery which contained the best pictures, including several Van Dycks; this may well be, as the period was an apogee of family fortune, though knowledge of the breeding of shorthorns and shire horses was more conspicuous in my immediate forbears. We still have a Stubbs, which must have been tucked away in some back room; a Mosley boy, holding his horse, is accompanied by his dogs on the slopes of Tutbury Castle, perennial scene of reverent recollection and pilgrimage. The Van Dycks have disappeared without trace, except for an odd freak of fate; it may possibly prove that fire gave back what it took away. We suffered a second fire in 1954 at a house we had at Clonfert in Ireland where some of the remaining family pictures were hung. A large portrait which we always believed to be a copy of one of the Van Dycks was badly singed. It was sent to Dublin for cleaning and excision of the unimpaired centre, and in the process was pronounced original by the Irish experts. Because of the burning of Rolleston we have few relics of the Cavalier period. Still less have we any record of the next upheaval in which we were involved. It is in the manner of English families, and indeed of the British nation, that long, slumbering periods of quiet life are followed by moments of abrupt awakening and sometimes of dramatic action. There was always a tradition that we were much engaged in the 1745 rebellion of Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The only evidence of this produced to me in my youth was a pin-cushion embroidered by some ancestress with the words 'Down with the Rump and God bless Prince Charles'. We still possess this pin-cushion, but of course it clearly refers not to Prince Charles Edward of the '45, but to Charles II when he was 'on his travels' as a fugitive from the 'Rump' of the Cromwellian Parliament. I was, therefore, inclined to discount the tradition that in 1745 we were armed and ready to come out with the Young Pretender on his march south as soon as he reached our house at Rolleston. We were saved from the subsequent disaster because he and the Highlanders turned back at Derby, eleven miles to our north. This topic revived vividly when I addressed a public dinner in the thirties at which as usual I expressed my loyalty to the Crown. Sir Compton Mackenzie was present, and subsequently put the teasing question whether this declaration had any reference to the fact that Prince Charles Edward had spent the night in our family house on his secret visit to England the year before the '45. He referred later to this historical incident in a book on the subject of Prince Charles's well-concealed survey of the field of action for the following year. I had never heard this, but it was not difficult to understand how careful the family had been to destroy all record of the period. The romantic tradition of opposition and insurgence - embodied in the grace and charm of the Stuarts and their cause - evidently moved our family at this stage, but the reader would be mistaken in thinking this accounts for the course of my political career. A portentous change followed, when the Mosleys became the incarnation of contrary English qualities. Perhaps we had after all the happy quality, the redeeming grace, of learning from experience. The culmination was my great-great-grandfather Sir Oswald Mosley whose fireinviolate portrait gazes down on me in his red robes of learning with massive reassurance of English stability, albeit with a certain whimsical charm as if he almost admitted it was not quite so serious as he made out. With him we enter a very different period of the family history, an unaccounted metamorphosis from the Jacobite, romantic Tory tradition to the solid, stolid respectable Whig. We are surrounded not by emotional revolutionaries but by squires and parsons, and by professional soldiers of the orthodox variety, like my father's two first cousins who were killed in the First World War, and my own brother Ted, who spent his life in the army. This very worthy person, my great-great-grandfather, was indeed a pillar of the State in the Midland counties. It was he who appears first to have established that our Saxon family could prove its ancestry to the thirteenth century and trace it to before the Norman conquest. It seems in any case that the family is of a respectable antiquity, for works of reference and public monuments show that it was playing some role at least in Elizabethan times. My great-great-grandfather fortified his Saxon lineage by marrying an Every from a neighbouring family of Norman descent; this desirable outcross - in agricultural language - appears to have occurred more than once. Armed then with an imposing presence and a weighty erudition in his own sphere, he entered the House of Commons in the Whig cause during the Reform Bill period. Apart from this concession to progress he showed little sign of possessing a radical frame of mind. I have often been reproached in my political life with the rough part the family played in repressing the Chartist riots in Manchester, although I was never able to understand why I should be held responsible for events so many years before I was born. After all, Peterloo was a mild exercise in violence compared with some of the British doings in India and elsewhere during subsequent years. For all they knew, my indignant interlocutors on the alleged performance of my ancestors might themselves have been able to trace descent from those who during the Indian mutiny bound Sepoys to the muzzles of guns for the purpose of blowing them into the next world in unidentifiable pieces, thus robbing them not only of life but of their chance of paradise. Many of us Europeans would be in for a thin time in this world or the next if we were held responsible for all the dark deeds which adorn our family trees. The real matter of regret and reproof is that our generation has not progressed beyond the wickedness of our antecedents, and has even regressed by comparison with some of mankind's more enlightened periods. The offence of our family's more impetuous members in restoring order in Manchester by a yeomanry charge rather than by persuasion was, of course, aggravated by the ownership of considerable wealth in the area. This was derived from the agricultural land on which Manchester was built, not entirely by the direct exertions of the family. From my point of view they made one disastrous error when they sold leaseholds for 999 years instead of for 99. That extra nine unhappily made the difference between our wealth and, for example, that of the Grosvenor family, who occupied a similar position in the development of London, but granted shorter leases which fell in sooner. Reflecting upon what might have happened in British politics if I had had so much money to spend, my contemporaries may consider that they can count their blessings. The virtual sale of this land cut both ways, for we lost control over it. It was therefore again wide of the mark when I was frequently attacked in my political life for the subsequent development of Manchester. Not only did this occur before I was born, but the family could not have altered the course of events once they had granted these careless leases. Our last effective influence in Manchester ceased with the sale to the Corporation of the Lord of the Manor rights early in the nineteenth century, this time for quite a tidy sum in a shrewd bargain which left some resentment. These rights, strangely, we had shared from early times with the De La Warr family; strangely, because the present Lord De La Warr was a fellow-member of the 1929 Labour Government. When I last looked, our coats-ofarms were still side by side in the remnants of our old family house at Ancoats; a quaint premonition. These events, and also the cavalier romance, seem well established by the research of forbears. It is difficult for us today to understand this obsession with family trees. I am glad to know that I come from an old English and British family, but there my interest ends. It was different in the last century, when my great-great-grandfather in particular appeared to have shown an inordinate pride in his lineage. During his time in Parliament he is reported to have refused a peerage with the observation that an ancient baronetcy was preferable to a mushroom peerage. Although he was evidently a man of some intellectual attainments and considerable personal prestige, what he had done to merit a peerage is not entirely clear. Still more dubious is the remark concerning the ancient baronetcy, for he was only the second in the line. It appears however that this was the third Mosley creation of a baronetcy, which in earlier years had lapsed because the succession was insufficiently direct. The first creation dated from the reign of James I, so to say it was ancient may have been moderately justified. The story of our family in the Elizabethan period is for the most part clear. Sir Nicholas Mosley was Lord Mayor of London under Queen Elizabeth, and a fine monument testifying to this fact still stands in Didsbury Church near Manchester. A more beautiful monument to another member of the family in a slightly later period can also be found in Rolleston Church. This marks the division of the Mosleys at that time between the earlier Lancashire branch and the migrants to Rolleston, Staffordshire, in the late Elizabethan period. They all seemed to have joined together a little later for the Civil War in the Royalist cause. Throughout, a certain diversity occurred between the Staffordshire owners of agricultural land with a substantial farming tradition and the remaining Lancashire family who seem to have been largely engaged in the early cotton trade. There remained however considerable interplay of interests, for the Rolleston branch derived most of their money from the land on which Manchester was built, and the Lancashire family still carried on farming in the Didsbury and Chorley area. The old family house at Houghend still stands, though in a very dilapidated condition. It was abandoned long before my time, no doubt on account of the approach of Manchester which disturbed the rural habits of these countrymen. When I rediscovered the house it was sadly deserted, open to the wind and rain and stripped of panelling, staircase and all decoration or suggestion of a home. I wandered through the deserted stables and outhouses, which evidently came right up to the front door in the style of the smaller French chateaux. The only living thing appeared to me in the dusk as a ghostly shadow of a peacock perched on a cow-stall. I came nearer, and thought the motionless bird was stuffed, the only remaining relic of the old family life. I stroked it, and the live head turned towards me with a steady, tragic gaze of faraway memories; perhaps we should never have left? How Sir Nicholas Mosley's diverse energies and interests carried him from this quiet country background to the position of Lord Mayor of London is a matter of legend. The job seems to have required a considerable variety of function and of quality in the incumbent. He is reported to have fitted out a privateer fleet against the Spaniards at a time when Elizabeth was at peace with Spain. The Lord Mayor's flagrant breach of the prevailing law was said to have been forgiven to him when the fleet returned with considerable booty, a substantial proportion being placed at the disposal of the pacific queen. Again according to legend, when he appeared before her in some trepidation to explain the situation and to offer a share in the swag, she delivered to him a family motto instead of delivering him to the axe he had merited. The motto was Mos legem regit, which was understood to mean 'Our custom is above the law' and has been proudly held ever since. If the legend is untrue, some explanation is required for this strange device which is, of course, so much at variance with my own habit as the present family representative, who not only keeps the law but has had frequent recurrence to the courts to require others to do the same. The legend is fortified by the Queen's considerable reputation for erudition and wit, which in those days was often expressed in Latin punning. Play on the family name of Mosley is reputed to have given her such satisfaction that she forgot to be angry. It may be that the material recompense of the booty reinforced the purely intellectual pleasure. Who knows? To what extent do truth and legend coincide? Perhaps the most that one can say is that there was probably something in it. ...

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