The Crazy Real-Life Story Of The Mitford Sisters

You might be obsessed with the Kardashian-Jenners now, but had you lived in the early to mid-1900s, you would have craved news about the Mitford sisters.

The six Mitford girls, daughters of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale, and his wife Sydney Bowles, were Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. They also had a brother, Thomas. Each sister became famous for their political and social leanings, writes The Times. It was Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler lover, Nancy the Novelist, Deborah the Duchess, and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur.

The sisters, though aristocrats, lived eccentrically reports the BBC. They lived in a grand home but their parents, who were not Jewish, encouraged Kosher diets in the belief Jews did not get cancer. They did not go to school and were instead educated by governesses. Their parents also let them develop their individual ideals. Jessica and Unity were the closest but they were also the two who broke apart early on. The Times said the sisters divided their room in half. Jessica decorated hers with the hammer and sickle while Unity put up Nazi posters.

Though their parents were staunch conservatives, at least two of the daughters were fascinated by fascism. But it was the advent of World War II that put their political differences in stark contrast.

The political sisters

Diana and Unity gravitated towards fascism, but it was Unity who took it so far. Unity fancied herself in love with Hitler and moved to Germany to meet him, Time writes. She found herself in his inner circle, with rumors that she was his mistress. When Britain declared war with Germany, Unity was distraught and tried to commit suicide with a pistol given to her by Hitler. She was unsuccessful and was sent back to Britain — Hitler paid the bills. She eventually died of meningitis around the bullet in her head. 

Diana married the heir to the Guinness brewery but left him to become the mistress of Sir Oswald Mosely, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. At some point, she was imprisoned due to her beliefs. Diana was also mildly interested in Nazism but did acknowledge in later years that the Holocaust was "a dreadfully wicked thing."

Jessica was the sister that was most politically divergent among the more politically-minded siblings. She joined the Communist party and eloped with her cousin Esmond Romilly, per the BBC. She moved to the United States and became a civil-rights activist. A profile of her in The New Yorker showed she mellowed her Communist beliefs, even leaving the party in 1958. Her first husband died in the war and she married Robert Treuhaft. Eventually, she became a writer and talked openly about her life. It is said that Jessica and Diana rarely spoke to each other.

Living the life of socialites

But what about the less politically-inclined sisters? The remaining Mitford sisters were also a force of nature. Nancy relished being in the spotlight. Time writes Nancy had an enviable life. After divorcing her husband in the 1940s, she moved to Paris to an apartment filled with designer clothes. She wrote a lot about aristocracy and upper-class manners and her novels often satirized them. She was not without politics. The BBC reports Nancy spied on her Nazi sympathizer sisters and hated Diana's Fascist husband because she herself was anti-Fascist.

Pamela remained tied to the countryside where she was reared. The BBC explained she married millionaire scientist Derek Jackson. She was adventurous, becoming one of the first women on a transatlantic flight. After her divorce, she became the life-long companion of Italian horsewoman Giuditta Tommasi and possibly her lover as well.

It was Deborah the youngest though who lived up to the aristocratic life of the Mitfords. According to Vanity Fair, her sisters treated her as the runt of the litter but she'd have her last laugh when she married Andrew Cavendish. He was the second son of the Duke of Devonshire and when Andrew's older brother, who was married to a Kennedy, died, he inherited the title. Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, devoted her life to making her home Chatsworth House one of the most famous houses in England. If you've ever seen any Pride and Prejudice movie, you've probably seen Chatsworth stand in for Pemberley.

The Mitford sisters rival any famous sisterhood today. Their political leanings divided them, their wealth afforded them mystique — and boy could they hold grudges. There's no way any of the Kardashians could top what these six women did.