At the outbreak of World War II, the British government introduced indefinite detention without charge for people deemed a threat to national security. The legislation, known as Defence Regulation 18B, effectively suspended the right to a fair trial. Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), leader of the British Union of Fascists, was imprisoned under this legislation in May 1940, as was his wife, Diana (née Mitford) (1910-2003), a month later.
In this correspondence Diana’s mother, Lady Redesdale (1880-1963), wrote to Lord Cranborne (1893-1972), Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to protest against her daughter’s incarceration and the legislation that allowed it. For Redesdale, Regulation 18B had ‘broken the Constitution’ and ‘broke Magna Carta’ by taking away ‘an Englishman’s right to trial’. Despite holding personal sympathies towards fascism and the Nazis, Lady Redesdale clearly saw no contradiction in invoking Magna Carta to defend her daughter. Indeed, Magna Carta was often used by Britons sympathetic to fascism during World War II to protest against Regulation 18B.
In Lord Cranborne’s opinion, releasing Diana Mosley was out of the question. One of the famous Mitford sisters, with close connections to Adolf Hitler, Diana was regarded by the security services as cleverer and more dangerous than her husband. Cranborne regarded the Mosleys’ imprisonment without trial as ‘not, truly viewed, an attack upon liberty, but rather action which the community feels to be essential for the preservation of liberty’. Oswald and Diana Mosley remained in prison for a further three years until their release on medical grounds in 1943.
- Full title:
- Letters of Sydney Freeman-Mitford and Viscount Cranborne on the detention of Oswald Mosley
- December 1940
- Manuscript / Letter
- Sydney Freeman-Mitford, Viscount Cranborne
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© Cadbury Research Library: Special Collections, University of Birmingham
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- University of Birmingham Special Collections
- Article by:
- Alex Lock
Throughout the 20th century, Magna Carta inspired figures across the political spectrum, from suffragists and fascists to those drafting human rights legislation. Dr Alexander Lock explores the charter’s relationship to the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and modern America.