Unity Valkyrie Mitford, the daughter of David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale, was born on 8th August 1914. Unity was the sister of Diana Mitford, Nancy Mitford and Jessica Mitford. Her sister, Nancy, later recalled: "She was christened Unity, after an actress my mother admired called Unity Moore, and Valkyrie after the war maidens. This was Grandfather Redesdale's idea; he said these maidens were not German but Scandinavian. He was a great friend of Wagner's and must have known."
David Pryce-Jones, the author of Unity Mitford (1976) has argued: "Lord Redesdale was a brave man, distinguished as a soldier, a simple patriot, with puzzled contempt for those not like himself, such as Catholics, Jews or foreigners, especially Germans, a church-goer, in short every inch a gentleman. Lady Redesdale matched him, full of the domestic virtues and good works, with enough dottiness to stop her being insipid. Knowing nothing of the world at large in all its complexity, they had neither the inclination nor the intellectual means to find out about it. They preferred their home, and its pursuits."
The artist, Frances Bazley, knew the Redesdale family well during this period: "The Redesdales were terribly grand but were quite approachable... Dancing class was twice a week at Hatherop. All the little Mitford girls came on a Wednesday. They were all dressed up in white, with sshes and beautiful shoes. Nurses and under-nannies were there, it was a matter of prestige, we didn't have time to talk, we had to watch. I noticed Unity a lot, she was so beautiful, she was more silent than the others, quite an innocent face, with china-blue eyes."
Unity was mainly educated at home by her mother and a governesses. Jessica Mitford later recalled: "Her immense, baleful eyes, large, clumsy limbs, dead straight tow-coloured hair, sometimes in neat pig-tails but more often flowing loose, gave her the appearance of a shaggy Viking or Little John." Joan Ferrer commented: "Uncle David (Baron Redesdale) was frightfully pleased to have such brilliant and clever daughters, but he was mad about Unity. We used to stay with them in London... In 1928, Unity and I were schoolgirls, and went with Muv (Lady Redesdale) by train on an educational trip, for about a week, to Bruges."
Unity went briefly to Queen's Gate School in London. A fellow pupil was Nina Sturdee: "I was a year younger than her. She wasn't very bright. She was impervious to everyone else's feelings. I never saw her cry.... Her talent was for drawing. She drew naked figures in her rough note-book, an Adam and an Eve, and you can guess what they were doing. That was not at all the thing, she was told to stop, and that if she persisted she would have to get a new rough notebook at her own expense. Which made no impression. The wilful flaunting of the rules became too much for the school in the end" and Unity was expelled.
Unity's biographer, Richard Davenport-Hines, disagrees with Nina's views on Unity's intelligence: "This farouche child, however, matured into a bold, generous, quick-witted, and amusing young woman. She was incapable of deviousness or dissimulation: her preferred occupation, she averred, would be gangster or airman; her besetting sin was boastfulness. She was an avid but discriminating reader, who memorized reams of esoteric poetry and created intricate collages."
Julia Strachey introduced Dora Carrington to Diana Mitford. On 28th July 1931, she wrote to Lytton Strachey about visiting the Mitfords: "I went with Julia (Strachey) to lunch with Diana (Mitford) today. There we found 3 sisters and Mama Redesdale. The little sisters were ravishingly beautiful, and another of sixteen (Unity) very marvellous and grecian. I thought the mother was rather remarkable, very sensible and no upper-class graces... The little sister was a great botanist and completely won me by her high spirits and charm."
Elizabeth Powell became a friend of Unity's in 1932: "I came out in January 1932. I made friends with Unity at Queen Charlotte's Ball. We were both nearly six feet tall, bringing up the back of that procession with the cake, rebellious girls in white, it was ghastly. That was a great bond, we were both what was called at the time very bolshie. I saw her quite a lot... Unity used to stay in our house in Hyde Park Gate... she was always rushing off to the East End to play ping-pong with the boys. It wasn't allowed by her parents, they tried to stop her, that's why she came to us, she was quite different from everyone else, more in her extraordinary behaviour than her character."
The Daily Express reported on 10th March 1932 that "Unity Mitford... will find it difficult to retain her obvious clear-eyed freshness throughout the season, which year by year seems to become for debutantes more of an endurance test than a period of social delights." A few days later The Daily Mail commented: "Miss Unity Mitford who is one of this year's debutances has the unusual second name of Valkyrie. She possesses the most lovely natural colouring and is very attractive. Doubtless her elder sister Nancy will be able to advise her throughout the season if necessary."
In June 1933 Unity and her sister, Diana Mitford, joined the British Union of Fascists, the extreme right-wing group founded by Oswald Mosley the previous year. Mosley described her as "young, ingenuous, full of enthusiasm, in a way stage-struck by the glamour and panoply of the national socialist movement and the mass admiration of Hitler" She was active in the women's section headed by Esther Makgill, the daughter of John Makgill: "I created the women's section of the BUF... Unity Mitford didn't mean anything to me in those days. She was swept in by her sister." Her friend, Mary Ormsby-Gore, said that she sold The Blackshirt on the streets of London: "She began to go to the East End, and I went to one meeting with her... One day she took me to Selfridges saying, let's make a record, and she spoke into it, The Yids, The Yids, We've gotta get rid of the Yids."
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Unity and her sister, Diana Mitford visited Nazi Germany with Nigel Birch and Victor Montagu. Unity decided to stay and learn the German language. On 31st August 1933, Unity attended the "Party Day of Victory". She was part of the English delegation that included William Joyce and Alexander Raven Thomson. Unity recalled: "The first moment I saw him (Hitler) I knew there was no one I would rather meet."
In 1934 Unity Mitford became friends with Ernst Hanfstaengel. According to Armida Macindoe: He (Hanfstaengl) was more of a means than an end, he introduced her to Nazis." Hanfstaengel admitted that Unity and Diana were outstanding Nordic beauties: "They were very attractive but they made-up to the eyebrows in a manner which conflicted directly with the newly proclaimed Nazi ideal of German womanhood." As a result he insisted they removed some of it: "My dears, it is no good, but to stand any hope of meeting him (Hitler) you will have to wipe some of that stuff off your faces."
Unity told Armida Macindoe that she was determined to meet Hitler: "She used to go to the Osteria Bavaria restaurant and sit waiting for Hitler. She'd sit there all day long with her book and read. She'd say, I don't want to make a fool of myself being alone there, and so she'd ask me to go along to keep her company, to have lunch or a coffee. Often Hitler was there. People came and went. She would place herself so that he invariably had to walk by her, she was drawing attention to herself, not obnoxiously but enough to make one slightly embarrassed. But the whole point was to attract his attention. She'd talk more loudly or drop a book. And it paid off."
Jessica Mitford later explained: "Unity explained that it had been fairly simple; she had reserved a nightly table in the Osteria Bavaria restaurant, where they often went. Evening after evening she sat and stared at them, until finally a flunkey was sent over to find out who she was. On learning that she was an admirer of the Nazis, and a member of the British Union of Fascists Hitler invited her to join them at their table. Thereafter she became one of their circle, saw them constantly in Munich, accompanied them to meetings and rallies."
After engaging Adolf Hitler in a conversation on 9th February 1935 she commented that it was "the most wonderful and beautiful day of my life". Hitler told newspapers in Germany that Unity was "a perfect specimen of Aryan womanhood". Otto Dietrich, the author of The Hitler I Knew (1934) saw Hitler and Unity Mitford together many times. At the same table in the Osteria Bavaria Hitler made the acquaintance of the Englishwoman Unity Mitford... an enthusiastic follower of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and a fervent admirer of Hitler. She had many private conversations about Anglo-German relations with Hitler, whose secret itineraries she usually guessed with great acuteness. Over the years Hitler frequently included her among the guests who accompanied him on his travels. She introduced Hitler to her father and her brother, when the two were passing through Munich."
Albert Speer also spent time with Unity Mitford and Hitler at the Osteria Bavaria. "I met her in the Osteria Bavaria. She was very romantic. The Osteria was a small inn, it is still there, and hasn't changed much. Small tables. There was a wooden partition, and behind it a table to seat eight. An adjutant would phone the owner to warn that Hitler might be coming and to have the table clear. There was also a courtyard, with one table under a pergola and this was Hitler's favourite seat when the weather was not cold. Unity was quite often there, I was invited only every second or third time. Like me, Mitford would be invited by the adjutant Schaub. She was highly in love with Hitler, we could see it easily, her face brightened up, her eyes gleaming, staring at Hitler. Hero-worship. Absolutely phenomenal. And possibly Hitler liked to be admired by a young woman, she was quite attractive - even if nothing happened he was excited by the possibility of a love affair with her. Towards an attractive woman he behaved as a seventeen-year-old would. She was influential with Hitler in that she was of the group in the Osteria."
According to David Pryce-Jones, the author of Unity Mitford (1976) Unity Mitford was not alone in finding Hitler physically attractive: "Women by the thousand abased themselves at Hitler's feet, they tried to kiss his boots, and some of them succeeded, even to the point of swallowing the gravel on which he had trod, according to Reck-Malleczewen, whose fastidious hatred of the vulgarian Hitler was genuinely conservative. As a figurehead, as a male in absolute power, Hitler's aphrodisiac effect was scarcely even sublimated in the more impressionable women who constituted his beloved mass audience. They moaned, they were hysterical, they fainted, for an introspective bachelor deficient in sexuality.... In one respect Hitler was a final item in an intimate treasure-hunt, the object which could never be brought home, and in another respect he was a historical Big Daddy, patting the heads of blonde children. Restraint was impossible, in the frustration of apparently approaching the unapproachable; this was, so to speak, a masturbation of the spirit. She had herself to display."
Albert Speer pointed out that Unity Mitford was disliked by most of Hitler's inner-circle: "For those close to Hitler it was a nuisance. Schaub was angry that she was coming again. It was amazing that someone not German was around Hitler and could listen to details of party politics and far-ranging policy. Hitler made no secret of his thoughts, and astonishingly a Britisher was sitting there and listening. I heard only afterwards that she was a follower of Mosley. Hitler thought nothing of Mosley. I had the impression that she was British, you know, in this circle. The others round Hitler were cautious and did not want to say anything, but she was straight and said things Hitler didn't like. She had cheek. Hitler's line was to get along with the British. She pressed the point. He was sympathetic. They would argue and he appreciated frankness in her - he said, That's the British way. Though I wouldn't say his interest in her was from the political point of view; simply part of his admiration for the British was confirmed by her. If somebody made a remark, and then Hitler replied, No, well, that person did not counter, but she did, back and forth. I was astonished that Hitler did not say that he had no wish to see her again. Of course it was dangerous to have somebody talking to Hitler like that about problems, he was easily influenced by small episodes, so if Mitford brought something to his attention, he could get furious about it and a huge effort would be required to settle things."
Henriette Hoffman, the daughter of Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's official photographer, got to know Unity during this period. She claimed that Hitler "raved over Unity's personification of perfect German womanhood". She believes that Hitler had good reasons to encourage his relationship with Unity: "He was aware of the value, for propaganda purposes, of Unity and her blind devotion to him... with every fibre of her being she yearned to see Britain and Germany closely united. She often said to me, she dreamed of an impregnable and invincible alliance between the Ruler of the Seas and the Lord of the Earth; the land of her birth with the country of her hero could, she was convinced, achieve a world domination."
Princess Carmencita Wrede was a member of the inner-circle and does not believe Unity had a physical relationship with Hitler and was very jealous of Eva Braun. As Princess Carmencita points out: "Hitler calculated exactly the correct distance between him and Unity. Class differences were basic. Unity, Diana, Sigi von Laffert, Hella Khevenhuller, were too fine, really too aristocratic for him. Eva Braun was at his social level. My sister and I knew Eva and her sister, Gretl, well. In 1937 I was with Nevile Henderson - this idiot Henderson, Unity called him - at the Parteitag. Hitler was there, and Eva stood by herself, wearing a little raincoat. Hitler looked round and his gaze fell on her without change of expression. No other woman would have put up with that. Unity could not bear it. She was always badgering me, How is this Eva Braun? What does she have that I don't? How does she do it? She said to me, He never asks me to the Obersalzberg because Eva is always there. She's not in the Reichskanzlei, I replied, so you aren't on the Obersalzberg, fair's fair. There was a proper rivalry between them. Unity was thoroughly jealous."
Princess Carmencita also claims that Unity was also very jealous of Hitler's relationship with Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, the mistress of Lord Rothermere and Fritz Wiedemann: "She complained that Stephanie Hohenlohe was Jewish, and how she had told Hitler, Here you are, anti-Jewish yet you have a Jew around you the whole time, this Princess Hohenlohe. Hitler said nothing. She simply hated the Hohenlohe for a rusée, going to tell Lord Rothermere what Hitler was up to. I asked her why she got so upset about it and the answer was short: jealousy again." However, Princess Stephanie denies that she have a sexual relationship with Hitler and in her unpublished memoirs she says that she assumed he was homosexual.
The historian, Alan Bullock suggests in his book, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962), that Hitler was incapable of normal sexual intercourse. He quotes Ernst Hanfstaengel, a close intimate of Hitler. In his book, Hitler: The Missing Years (1957) Hanfstaengel argues: "The abounding nervous energy which found no normal release sought compensation first in the subjection of his entourage, then in his country, then of Europe... In the sexual no man's land in which he lived, he only once nearly found the woman, and never even the man, who might have brought him relief." Albert Speer was convinced that Hitler did not have a sexual relationship with Unity: "She would have slept with him, of course, she was more than willing but he would not have gone to bed with her. I doubt if he ever did more than take her hand in his. And think too, that he was in a difficult position, even if he had ever found himself alone with her."
Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's official photographer, argued in his book, Hitler was My Friend (1955) that he was not even sure Hitler had a sexual relationship with Eva Braun: "Eva moved into his house, became the constant companion of his leisure hours and, to the best of my knowledge, that was all there was to it... Not at any time was there any perceptible change in his attitude towards her which might have pointed to the assumption of more intimate relations between them; and the secrecy which surrounded the whole affair is emphasized by the profound astonishment of all of us in his most intimate circle when, at the bitter end, the marriage was announced."
Unity Mitford was very close to Julius Streicher. According to her biographer, Richard Davenport-Hines :"The fixity of her admiration for Nazidom was unreasonable: her conduct and conversation became exaggerated. She saluted the postmistress of Swinbrook, Oxfordshire, with raised hand, ‘Heil Hitler!’, collected Nazi trophies, chanted blackshirt rhymes about Jews, and agreed with her friend Julius Streicher that Jews should be made to eat grass."
Joan Ferrer was shocked by Unity Mitford's anti-Semitism: "Like all Mitfords. she had a one-track mind, she became completely caught up in fascism - there was a vacuum and that was what rushed in to fill it. Once she was off with Oswald Mosley and Diana, and away to Germany, she could think of nothing else, and neither could Diana. Oh Rudbin (unity's nickname for Joan), they're Jews, she would say when I was in a fury at the way they were being treated. They're just Jews and must be got rid of. She talked a lot about the Fuhrer, and said that he was very celibate... I asked her what would happen if there was a war. She said she would kill herself." Another friend, Armida Macindoe, later recalled: "Unity was very anti-Jewish anyway, being a Mosleyite. About Jews being beaten up, she used to say, jolly good, serves them right, we should go and cheer." Princess Carmencita Wrede agreed that Unity's "anti-semitism was extreme".
David Pryce-Jones, the author of Unity Mitford (1976) has argued that it was Unity who persuaded her parents to be followers of Hitler: "Nothing is more curious in their lives than the way that this innocent-minded couple were converted by her from hating the Germans to admiring them, becoming enthusiastic Hiterites themselves, to the point of disaster, their marriage eventually breaking upon these rocks." Her parents both joined the British Union of Fascists and the Anglo-German Fellowship.
Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe believes that Unity Mitford was used by Hitler to communicate with the British establishment. In her unpublished memoirs she argued: "In 1938 during the September crisis Hitler sent for Unity Mitford. When she arrived he told her that in view of the gravity of the situation he wanted her to leave Germany. Though it would seem that such a gesture was prompted only by friendly concern towards one of his most ardent admirers, his intention was of a different nature. His real purpose in sending for Unity Mitford was to make her return to England and impress her people and all those she would naturally talk to with the gravity of the situation. This is an example of his cunning and supreme ability to make use of even the slightest incident. He is a master at the understanding of, and playing upon, the psychology of people, which I consider his greatest gift and asset."
Unity Mitford told her friend Rudi von St Paul that she would commit suicide if Britain declared war on Germany. "On the Sunday morning Bobo (Unity) telephoned me, just at eleven o'clock, and said there would now be a war. She said that she heard through the British Consul that war was certain. I was frightened because three or four months beforehand, when the possibility of war had been discussed, she had been trying to persuade Hitler that there could be no war - she had said then that unless she could stop the war, she would have to shoot herself. She had shown me the pistol, not as big as any army pistol, something rather small, we shot a lot with it. I had a much heavier one which I had bought on my permit to have sporting guns. We had shot at targets in the park at Seeseiten. I think she had bought her pistol in Belgium on one of her trips. She came back with it one day, anyhow, and that was her story about it. Now I spoke to her for a long time on the telephone. I was terrified for her. I asked her what she was going to do. I would be coming into Munich from Seeseiten on the Monday morning. I urged her not to do anything until then and we would think what should be done for the best. There was no need to shoot herself at all, I told her, I beseeched her to wait until we could meet."
Unity shot herself in the head with her pistol in Munich on 3rd September 1939. Henriette Hoffman has argued: "The declaration of war was the final, cataclysmic explosion which shattered for ever and beyond repair everything that she had hoped and lived for." She was unconscious for two months. German surgeons saved her life but were unable to extract the bullet from her brain. Albert Speer commented: "It was a shock to Hitler when she shot herself. He felt responsible for her committing suicide, I remember that was his reaction."
On Hitler's instructions she was moved to Switzerland, and then returned to England on 3rd January 1940. Her mental and physical powers were impaired, and she lived under the protection of her mother. James Lees-Milne visited her in 1944 and reported: "She has become rather plain and fat, and says that she weighs 13½ stone. Her mind is that of a sophisticated child, and she is still very amusing in that Mitford manner".