This is a short note on Tilly Losch and the Mitford Family

The Mitford Society have a very readable and interesting website


Tilly Losch and the Mitfords and Tilly cautioned  not to marry Edward James

Through Tilly Losch’s early relationship ( professional and personal)  with Adele Astaire[i] she came to know Lord  Charles Cavendish[ii] ( Adele’s first husband, from 1932 ). This later  rolled over to  occasional contact with several of the six  famous Mitford sisters[iii]  and a much closer liaison with  their one brother, Tom, who became Tilly’s regular lover.  The contact was later continued   through  Charles’s nephew  Andrew Cavendish [iv] who married  Deborah ( Debo) Mitford [v]in 1941.   During the late 1920s  and early 1930s Tilly also  came into contact with the Mitfords   through Edward James[vi] pursuing her constantly and proposing marriage. Edward was a contemporary of Tom, and Tom a chaperone to his sisters.   Almost always these meetings were at the gatherings during  the London Season. There is evidence of Tilly  meeting with ( the novelist)   Nancy Mitford[vii] in 1929.[viii]  The two of them got on rather well.    She also met  Tom [ix],  Diana[x]  and Unity[xi] Mitford at about this same time, but her contact with Jessica[xii] and Pam[xiii] was always slight. Tilly was on show at  first nights ( she appeared in several of CB Cochran’s West End shows ) and attracted followers in London from 1928. She met anyone who was up and coming at  after show parties, at social evenings  at the Austrian Legation ( where Tilly danced for charity and British and European Royals downwards were in attendance ). Other contacts were made  in swanky  London  restaurants and at  nightclubs and the grand dining functions such as at Claridges and The Ritz hotels.   Tilly was often chatted up  here by  Nancy and  her literary coterie  [xiv] and by Tom and his young fellows, all of the latter keen to lose their virginity to a famous actress. This social contact  overflowed  into meets at country retreats like Cecil  Beaton’s Ashcombe,  Lord Berners’  Faringdon,   the Duchess of  Westminster’s country house at Eaton and  the Cavendish rural retreat of Lismore Castle in Ireland. Published albums of photographs bear this out. [xv] Concurrently with this was the rise of Tilly’s  friendship with the Society clicker  Cecil  Beaton. [xvi] He simply adored  showing Tilly off to his group of Society clingers and  chums.  Tilly was photographed “ again and again in Beaton’s ‘My Royal Past’, a spoof on Countess Larisch’s My Past.” [xvii]   Beaton was temporarily  pushed aside by Randolph Churchill[xviii] drooling over Tilly and   Nancy’s brother Tom Mitford[xix] was another hopeless follower  among her impish, juvenile  loves.  [xx]  Beaton hit back at both  these young upstarts, he and Tilly were solid friends, and they were  often seen  together; both dressed provocatively at parties  to shock and clearly offered themselves to men and to women.  On one occasion even  the flamboyant homosexual Stephen Tennant[xxi] swooned over Tilly “ dressed boyishly in a carmine sweater”.[xxii] Always in the horns of a dilemma over her latest  affair Tilly  carried through her flings with Randolph Churchill and Tom Mitford ( and others)  largely to irritate the over- eager Edward James, whose proposals of marriage were offered  almost week in and week out during 1930. The snub on James in favour of several  men ( whom she slept with and she often revealed the details to James )  was Tilly as her most bitchy, but she knew James was putty in her hands, and she could hold out for a marriage on crude financial and sexual terms.  Despite  Tilly being cautioned not to marry James the pair eventually married in New York in 1931.The Mitford family were terrified that Tilly was going to marry  Tom, who was always tucked up in Tilly’s bed, even after marrying James.  According to Charlotte Mosley[xxiii] “ Tom [ Mitford] did not want to marry Tilly but thought, (rightly) that she would be unhappy with Edward James.”[xxiv]  In a letter from Nancy to her sister Diane[xxv] on 6 November 1933 she records “he  [ Tom] gave me his solemn word that never –even if Edward died and she were free tomorrow – would he marry Tilly.”[xxvi]  Once married to Tilly, another lover,  Prince Serge Obolensky [xxvii] was found as a scapegoat in the James’ divorce petition  and  out of  a promise made  Tom Mitford  avoided being cited as a party in this acrimonious divorce suit because of Diana’s [ Diana Mitford first Mrs Guinness later Lady Mosley]  friendship with Edward James, [ which was a particularly  close one ].   [Nonetheless]…  both.. [ Tom]  and Nancy were.. called as witnesses…” [xxviii]  in the seedy divorce proceedings of 1934,  to speak for Tilly’s side.  In the end Tilly lost her game of chance, but Edward James was branded too, and Tilly scorched by an award of damages against her for £10,000. Randolph Churchill came to Tilly’s aid immediately, Tom Mitford kept his head down and moved on to new partners of both sexes.  Nancy Mitford’s Letters[xxix] provide some further insight into Tom Mitford’s personality  traits  (which often seem contradictory ).  The early volumes of diaries by James Lees-Milne[xxx] contain a smattering of   references to Tom ( with whom Lees- Milne was  smitten from his Eton schooldays  onwards). Some years after Tom’s death ( as a war casualty  in Burma in 1945)  one of Tom’s war time loves, Barbara Moray[xxxi],  speaks of    “ his attitude to women, whom at bottom he despised.”  [xxxii] Tilly taught Tom a thing or two. It remains a tantalizing question of what if ( or what might have been ) had Tilly Losch actually married Tom Mitford.  But that said,  neither of them was ever actually  in love with the other. 

[i]Adele Astaire, ( 1896-1981). American dancer and entertainer. Sister of Fred Astaire.

[ii]Lord Charles Cavendish( 1905-1944)  Second son of the 9th Duke of Devonshire. Died aged 38 from acute alcoholism.

[iii] Described wonderfully  as “… the most scandalous bunch of sisters of the 20th century. Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover, Nancy the Novelist, Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur.

[iv] Andrew Cavendish ( 1920-2004),  From 1950 the 11th Duke of Devonshire. Married Deborah Freeman Mitford. Andrew’s older brother William was killed in action in 1944.

[v]Deborah Mitford ( born 1920) 11th  Duchess of Devonshire, now  Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

[vi] Edward James ( 1907-1984). Millionaire art collector and recluse.

[vii]Nancy Mitford ( 1904-1973). Writer and novelist. Eldest of the famous Mitford Girls.

[viii] See The Sketch Magazine, Volume 147. ( 1929). “Miss Nancy Cunard wore a chic red evening dress, and the John family were well represented, and all favoured styles of ... had a striped fancy dress ; Mrs. Evelyn Waugh was in white ; and the company also included Miss Tilly Losch in red.”

[ix]Tom Mitford ( 1909-1945). Known as Tud.

[x] Diana Mitford ( 1910-2003).

[xi]Unity Mitford ( 1914-1948).

[xii]Jessica Mitford ( 1917-1996).

[xiii] Pam Mitford ( 1907-1994)

[xiv]Max Egremont lists “ Osbert Sitwell, Nancy Mitford, Cecil Beaton, Tilly.. and Randolph Churchill some of [ London’] greatest gossips. ”  See Egremont, Max. Siegfried Sassoon.    ( 2006).

[xv]See  Photographs in Beaton, Cecil  Ashcombe. The Story of a Fifteen Year Lease. Dovecote Press ( 1999). Vickers, Hugo. Cocktails & Laughter. The Albums of Loelia Lindsay ( Loelia, Duchess of Westminster ). Hamish Hamilton (1983).

[xvi]Cecil Beaton ( 1904-1980). Society Photographer and diarist.

[xvii] See Robertson, Wilmot. Instauration. Howard Allen Enterprises. Inc. ( 1985).   

[xviii]Randolph Churchill ( 1911-1968). Son of Winston Churchill.  Politician and drunkard.

[xix]Tom Mitford ( 1909-1945). Only son of Lord and Lady Redesdale. Known to his sisters as ‘ Tud’.  Trained as a lawyer. German speaking and good looking. He was bisexual.

[xx]  See Robertson, Wilmot. Instauration. Howard Allen Enterprises. Inc. ( 1985)..  

[xxi]Stephen Tennant ( 1906-1987). Dandy and homosexual.

[xxii]Hoare Philip. Serious pleasures: the life of Stephen Tennant.  Hamish Hamilton. ( 1990).

[xxiii] Charlotte Mosley : nee Marten, born 1952. Widow of  Oswald Alexander Mosley, son of Diana and Oswald Mosley.

[xxiv] Mitford Nancy and Mosley, Charlotte. Love from Nancy: the letters of Nancy Mitford. Houghton Miffin.  ( 1993).

[xxv]Diana Mitford was first Mrs Guinness and later Lady Mosley

[xxvi]   Mitford Nancy and Mosley, Charlotte. Love from Nancy: the letters of Nancy Mitford. Houghton Miffin.  ( 1993).

[xxvii]  Prince Serge Obolensky ( 1890-1978). Russian, three times married including to the heiress Alice Astor. 

[xxviii]Mitford Nancy and Mosley, Charlotte. Love from Nancy: the letters of Nancy Mitford. Houghton Miffin.  ( 1993).


[xxx]James Lees- Milne ( 1908-1997). Writer, diarist and historian.  See  Ancestral Voices, 1942-3 ; Prophesying Peace, 1944-5; Caves of Ice, 1946-7; and Midway on the Waves, 1948-9.

[xxxi]Barbara Moray ( 18th Countess of Moray, Dowager Countess from 1943). American born Barbara Murray died 16 April 1996.

[xxxii]Lees-Milne, James. Midway on the Waves. Diaries 1948-1949.  Michael Russell (Publishing) Ltd (2005) Entry for 1 February 1949.

More details about the relationship between Tilly Losch and Tom Mitford can be found in the book            " Catherine and Tilly : Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives" By William Cross, FSA Scot, Contract Will by e-mail for further details.  


 Will's e-mail address

Left to Right : Tilly Losch, Tom Mitford and Dorothy Paley