Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere

Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere

Harold Harmsworth, the son of an English barrister, was born in London in 1868. Harold joined with his brother, Alfred Harmsworth, to publish Answers to Correspondents. The brothers told his readers that every question sent in would be answered by post, and the answers of those of general interest would be published in the magazine. It was a great success and helped them finance the children's paper, Comic Cuts and a woman's magazine, Forget-Me-Nots.

It has been claimed that the partnership worked well because whereas Alfred had good journalistic skills, Harold was an impressive accountant. In 1894 the Harmsworth brothers purchased the Evening News. With the help of Kennedy Jones, the brothers dramatically changed the fortunes of the newspaper.

After the success of the Evening News, Alfred Harmsworth suggested producing a newspaper like those being published in the USA. The Daily Mail was published for the first time on 4th May, 1896. The eight page newspaper cost only halfpenny. Slogans used to sell the newspaper included "A Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny" and "The Busy Man's Daily Newspaper". It was the first newspaper in Britain that catered for a new reading public that needed something simpler, shorter and more readable than those that had previously been available. One new innovation was the banner headline that went right across the page. Considerable space was given to sport and human interest stories. It was also the first newspaper to include a woman's section that dealt with issues such as fashions and cookery.

The Daily Mail was an immediate success and circulation quickly achieved 500,000. With the strong interest in the Boer War in 1899 sales went to over a million. The brothers continued to expand and purchased the Sunday Dispatch and several other provincial newspapers.

In 1903 the brothers produced the first newspaper aimed at women. Kennedy Jones was put in charge of the project and spent £100,000 in publicity, including a gift scheme of gilt and enamel mirrors. On its first day, the circulation of the Daily Mirror was 276,000. However, sales dropped dramatically after the initial launch and by January, 1904, circulation was down to 24,000 and the newspaper was losing £3,000 a week.

Alfred Harmsworth decided to change his original plan. The editor, Mary Howarth, was replaced by Hamilton Fyfe, who changed it to a picture paper for men as well as women. As Harmsworth later recalled: "Some people say that a woman never really knows what she wants. It is certain she knew what she didn't want. She didn't want the Daily Mirror. I then changed the price to a halfpenny, and filled it full of photographs and pictures to see how that would do." Within a month sales had increased sevenfold.

Fyfe also experimented with using different types of photographs on the front-page. On 2nd April, 1904, the Daily Mirror published a whole page of pictures of Edward VII and his children, Henry, Albert and Mary. This was a great success and Harmsworth now realised the British public had an intense interest in photographs of the Royal Family.

Another successful innovation was the sponsorship of special events. In June, 1904, the Daily Mirror paid D. M. Weigal to drive a twenty-horse power Talbot on a 26,000 mile motor run. A month later the newspaper offered a hundred guinea prize for the first person to swim the Channel. This approach was popular and later that year the circulation of the newspaper had reached 350,000.

In 1914 Alfred, now Lord Northcliffe, decided to sell his share in the Daily Mirror to Harold Harmsworth. In the First World War the Daily Mirror became the most popular newspaper on the Western Front. The soldiers particularly liked the fact that the newspaper included so many pictures of life back home. The newspaper also published a large number of pictures of the war. Probably the most dramatic example was the German daylight air raid over London in 1917.

Rothermere loyally gave support to the British government in the war and in 1917 David Lloyd George appointed Rothermere as his Air Minister. The war was an unhappy time for Rothermere with two of his sons, Vyvan Harmsworth and Vere Harmsworth, being killed in action.

In November 1918, at the end of the war, he was invited to a Downing Street luncheon by Winston Churchill to gather press support for David Lloyd George. He was made a viscount in 1919, but by 1922 he turned against the Lloyd George coalition. According to his biographer, D. George Boyce: "In 1922 he was believed to be seeking a step in the peerage as the price of his support for a Conservative government led by Andrew Bonar Law." After the death of Lord Northcliffe in 1922, Rothermere took full control of the Daily Mail as well as the Daily Mirror. He also ran the Evening News, the Sunday Pictorial and the Sunday Dispatch.

In the 1923 General Election, the Labour Party won 191 seats. Although the Conservatives had 258, Ramsay MacDonald agreed to head a minority government, and therefore became the first member of the party to become Prime Minister. As MacDonald had to rely on the support of the Liberal Party, he was unable to get any socialist legislation passed by the House of Commons. The only significant measure was the Wheatley Housing Act which began a building programme of 500,000 homes for rent to working-class families.

Members of establishment were appalled by the idea of a Prime Minister who was a socialist. As Gill Bennett pointed out: "It was not just the intelligence community, but more precisely the community of an elite - senior officials in government departments, men in "the City", men in politics, men who controlled the Press - which was narrow, interconnected (sometimes intermarried) and mutually supportive. Many of these men... had been to the same schools and universities, and belonged to the same clubs. Feeling themselves part of a special and closed community, they exchanged confidences secure in the knowledge, as they thought, that they were protected by that community from indiscretion." This was definitely true of Lord Rothermere who announced his anti-socialist views.

In September 1924 MI5 intercepted a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. Hugh Sinclair, head of MI6, provided "five very good reasons" why he believed the letter was genuine. However, one of these reasons, that the letter came "direct from an agent in Moscow for a long time in our service, and of proved reliability" was incorrect.

Vernon Kell, the head of MI5 and Sir Basil Thomson the head of Special Branch, were also convinced that the letter was genuine. Kell showed the letter to Ramsay MacDonald. It was agreed that the letter should be kept secret but someone leaked news of the letter to the Times and the Daily Mail. Four days before the 1924 General Election Rothermere decided publish what became known as the Zinoviev Letter and contributed to the defeat of MacDonald and the Labour Party. In a speech he made on 24th October, MacDonald suggested he had been a victim of a political conspiracy: "I am also informed that the Conservative Headquarters had been spreading abroad for some days that... a mine was going to be sprung under our feet, and that the name of Zinoviev was to be associated with mine. Another Guy Fawkes - a new Gunpowder Plot... The letter might have originated anywhere. The staff of the Foreign Office up to the end of the week thought it was authentic... I have not seen the evidence yet. All I say is this, that it is a most suspicious circumstance that a certain newspaper and the headquarters of the Conservative Association seem to have had copies of it at the same time as the Foreign Office, and if that is true how can I avoid the suspicion - I will not say the conclusion - that the whole thing is a political plot?"

After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter. According to Christopher Andrew, the author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1985): "Reilly played an active part in ensuring that the letter was publicised. A copy of the Russian version of the letter has been discovered in what appears to be Reilly's handwriting, and there can scarcely have been another past or present SIS agent with so few scruples about exploiting it in the anti-Bolshevik cause."

It later became clear that Major George Joseph Ball (1885-1961), a MI5 officer, played an important role in leaking it to the press. In 1927 Ball went to work for the Conservative Central Office where he pioneered the idea of spin-doctoring. Later, Desmond Morton, who worked under Hugh Sinclair, at MI6 claimed that it was Stewart Menzies who sent the Zinoviev letter to the Daily Mail.

In his book, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009), Christopher Andrew argues that on 9th October 1924 SIS forwarded the Zinoviev letter to the Foreign Office, MI5 and Scotland Yard with the assurance that “the authenticity is undoubted” when they knew it had been forged by anti-Bolshevik White Russians. Desmond Morton, the head of SIS, provided extra information about the letter being confirmed as being genuine by an agent, Jim Finney, who had penetrated Comintern and the Communist Party of Great Britain. Andrew claims this was untrue as the so-called Finney report does not make any reference to the Zinoviev letter. Finney was also employed by George Makgill, the head of the Industrial Intelligence Bureau (IIB).

Rotheremere's newspapers continued to increase their circulation. By 1926 the daily sales of the Daily Mail had reached 2,000,000. Lord Rothermere personal wealth was now £25 million and he was estimated to be the third richest man in Britain. Rothermere spent three months of the year gambling in Monte Carlo. It was here he met Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe in 1927. According to a FBI file, Stephanie had targeted Rothermere. It said that "she was reputedly immoral, and capable of resorting to any means, even bribery, to get her ends." They both enjoyed gambling and she described Rothermere as "a fabulous plunger at the casino tables".

Princess Stephanie persuaded Rothermere that the defeated nations had been badly treated by the Treaty of Versailles. Rothermere was impressed by her arguments and her understanding of the problem. Rothermere agreed to write an editorial on the subject. On 21st June, 1927, The Daily Mail argued: "Eastern Europe is strewn with Alsace-Lorraines. By severing from France the twin provinces of that name the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 made another European war inevitable. The same blunder has been committed on a larger scale in the peace treaties which divided up the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They have been created dissatisfied minorities in half a dozen parts of Central Europe, any one of which may be the starting point of another conflagration."

Lord Rothermere also called for the restoration of the Hungarian monarchy. Rothermere was an ardent monarchist and argued that a monarchic constitution was the best bulwark against Bolshevism in Europe and hoped to restore both the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern thrones. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stefanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "There were calls for the restoration of the Hungarian monarchy. A group of monarchists even offered the throne to Rothermere himself. Briefly, he took that offer seriously. But he quickly realized it was totally unrealistic."

Rothermere continued the campaign in his newspaper. He wrote to Princess Stephanie in April 1928: "I had no conception that a recital of Hungary's sufferings and wrongs would arouse such world-wide sympathy. Now from all parts of the world I am in receipt of such a flood of telegrams, letters and postcards that the work entailed in connection with the propaganda is rapidly absorbing all my energies."

Rothermere became increasingly nationalistic in his political views and in 1929 joined with Lord Beaverbrook to form the United Empire Party. Rothermere urged the Conservative Party to remove its leader, Stanley Baldwin, and replace him with Beaverbrook. He also argued for a reform of the House of Lords to make it possible for peers to be elected to the House of Commons. This dispute divided conservative voters and this enabled the Labour Party to win the 1929 General Election.

Jim Wilson has pointed out: "Rothermere, although estranged from his wife and still devastated by the loss of his two eldest sons in the war, was not averse to the attentions of attractive young women. Indeed, throughout his life he had many lady friends, some of whom were his mistresses. Despite his brusqueness he could be a vivacious companion and a good mixer, overcoming his inherent shyness... The press baron was a complex character who liked to have familiar faces around him. One of his biographers described him as having a generous nature, although he never believed his own value extended beyond what he could give to another person."

In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Adolf Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany. James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) points out: "Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism... Rothermere continued to say that if it were not for the Nazis, the Communists might have gained the majority in the Reichstag."

Rothermere wrote in The Daily Mail on 24th September: "What are the sources of strength of a party which at the general election two years ago could win only 12 seats, but now, with 107, has become the second strongest in the Reichstag, and whose national poll has increased in the same time from 809,000 to 6,400,000? Striking as these figures are, they stand for something far greater than political success. They represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation." According to Louis P. Lochner, Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) he heard rumours that Rothermere provided funds to Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel.

Lord Rothermere disposed of his shares in the Daily Mirror in 1931. He now concentrated on the Evening News and The Daily Mail. In the 1930s Rothermere moved further to the right. In December 1932 a number of European newspapers had carried allegations of espionage against Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. The French newspaper, La Liberté, claimed that she had been arrested as a spy while visiting Biarritz. It asked the question: "Is a sensational affair about to unfold?" Other newspapers took up the story and described her as a "political adventuress" and "the vamp of European politics". These stories were probably the result of leaks from the French intelligence services. However, she had not been arrested.

In an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 1st March, 2005, following the release of previously classified files: "In 1933, the year that Hitler gained power, MI6 circulated a report stating that the French secret service had discovered documents in the princess's flat in Paris ordering her to persuade Rothermere to campaign for the return to Germany of territory ceded to Poland at the end of First World War. She was to receive £300,000 – equal to £13 million today if she succeeded."

Princess Stephanie now moved to London where she took an apartment on the sixth floor of the Dorchester Hotel. An American banker, Donald Malcolm, spent a great deal of time with Stephanie and advised her to negotiate a contract with Rothermere. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stefanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "Clinching the contract was not difficult to achieve. She reminded Rothermere of the success of her intervention over Hungary, and persuaded the press baron to appoint her as his emissary in Europe. She argued - and this was undoubtedly true - that she had the contacts to gain admittance to many of Europe's most powerful people, and that she could open doors to almost every exclusive social circle on the Continent." It was later revealed that Rothermere paid the Princess Stephanie £5,000 a year (equal to £200,000 in 2013) to act as his emissary in Europe.

When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles acclaiming the new regime. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany ."

In November, 1933, Lord Rothermere gave Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe the task of establishing personal contact with Adolf Hitler. Princess Stephanie later recalled: "Rothermere came from a family that had experienced the novel possibility of influencing international politics through newspapers and was determined to sound out Hitler." Stephanie went to Berlin and began a sexual relationship with Captain Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler's personal adjutant. Wiedemann reported back to Hitler that Stephanie was the mistress of Lord Rothermere. Hitler decided that she could be of future use to the government and gave Wiedemann 20,000 Reichsmarks as a maintenance allowance to ensure that she had her hotel, restaurant bills, telephone bills and taxi and travel fares paid. Wiedemann was also allowed to buy her expensive clothes and gifts.

The following month Wiedemann arranged for Princess Stephanie to have her first meeting with Hitler. According to Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011): "The Führer appears to have been highly impressed by her sophistication, her intelligence and her charms. At that first meeting she wore one of her most elegant outfits, calculating it would impress him. It seems to have done so, because Hitler greeted her with uncharacteristic warmth, kissing her on the hand. It was far from usual for Hitler to be so attentive to women, particularly women introduced to him for the first time. The princess was invited to take tea with him, and once seated beside him, according to her unpublished memoirs. Hitler scarcely took his piercing eyes off her."

Princess Stephanie handed Hitler a personal letter from Rothermere, and passed on a verbal message. According to Stephanie on the day the outcome of the Reichstag election in 1930 had been announced, Rothermere told some of his staff: "Remember this day. Hitler is going to rule Germany. The man will make history and I predict that he will change the face of Europe." Hitler responded by kissing her and presenting her with a personally addressed reply, asking her to convey it direct to Lord Rothermere.

In the letter Adolf Hitler thanked Lord Rothermere for supporting his policies. Lord Rothermere sent Princess Stephanie back with a gift for Hitler. It was a portrait photograph of Rothermere, mounted in a solid gold frame, made by Cartier of Paris and worth more than £50,000 at today's prices. On the reverse of the frame was a reprint of the page from The Daily Mail of 24th September 1930, which reproduced Rothermere's initial editorial, hailing the success of Hitler in the General Election. Hitler was delighted as Rothermere was clearly delivering the propaganda he sought.

In one article written in March, 1934 Lord Rothermere called for Hitler to be given back land in Africa that had been taken as a result of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler acknowledged this help by writing to Rothermere: "I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict."

Lord Rothermere instructed Stephanie to make contact with Kaiser Wilhelm II, his son, Prince Wilhelm and Admiral Miklós Horthy. Prince Wilhelm was a member of the Nazi Party and in June 1934 he wrote to Rothermere: "The withdrawal from the League of Nations and from the Disarmament Conference announced to the world at large the determination of the new German government, behind which for the first time the whole nation was concentrated, not to tolerate any longer being treated as a second-class people."

In August 1934 Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe wrote a letter to Rothermere asking him to meet Hitler: "Please let me impress upon you that you ought to see H (Hitler) now. I know he already has some doubts as to your sincerity. I hope you have not forgotten that you assured him in your last letter you would see him in the latter part of August... He intends to discuss his present and future plans with you, and I think it is, for the first time, more in your interests than his, for you to see him."

Rothermere made his first visit to Adolf Hitler in December 1934. He took along with him his favourite journalist on The Daily Mail, the veteran reporter, George Ward Price. At the first meeting Hitler told Rothermere that "Lloyd George and your brother won the war for Britain. This was a reference to the Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Lord Northcliffe, who it was claimed made sure that the British Army received enough munitions on the front-line during the later stages of the First World War. That evening Hitler held his first major dinner party he had given for foreign visitors at his official residence in Berlin since he had taken office. The high-level guests included Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Goering and Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler in December 1934

On 20th December, 1934, Lord Rothermere returned the hospitality, hosting a dinner at Berlin's famous Hotel Adlon. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was placed in charge of the arrangements. Twenty-five guests attended including Adolf Hitler, Germany's Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath, Joseph Goebbels, Magda Goebbels, Hermann Goering, accompanied by the actress Emmy Sonnemann. Also invited was British banker Ernest Tennant, one of the principal founders of the Anglo-German Fellowship.

As Richard Griffiths, the author of Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979) has pointed out: "Rothermere visited Hitler on a number of occasions, and corresponded with him. As we have seen, Hitler's first major dinner party for foreigners, on 19th December 1934, had as its guests of honour Rothermere, his son Esmond Harmsworth, and Ward Price, together with Ernest Tennant. Rothermere's subsequent article in the Daily Mail was violently enthusiastic about what Hitler had done for Germany. Hitler wrote a number of important letters to Rothermere in 1933 and 1934, but the most interesting of them, because of its subsequent fate, was the one written on 3 May 1935 in which he advocated Anglo-German understanding as a firm combination for peace. Rothermere circulated this to many politicians, convinced that his personal contact with Hitler had produced a real breakthrough."

Lord Rothermere also gave full support to Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. He wrote an article, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, on 22nd January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine". Rothermere added: "Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."

According to a MI5 report in 1934 the BUF had between 35,000 and 40,000 active members. It also said that senior service officers and prominent businessmen had joined the party. The Conservative Party became concerned about losing members to the BUF. One of their MPs, Colonel Thomas Moore, wrote in the Daily Mail on 25th April 1934: "Surely there cannot be any fundamental difference of outlook between the Blackshirts and their parents, the Conservatives?"

The London Evening News, another newspaper owned by Lord Rothermere, found a more popular and subtle way of supporting the Blackshirts. It obtained 500 seats for a BUF rally at the Royal Albert Hall and offered them as prizes to readers who sent in the most convincing reasons why they liked the Blackshirts. Another title owned by Rothermere, The Sunday Dispatch, even sponsored a Blackshirt beauty competition to find the most attractive BUF supporter. Not enough attractive women entered and the contest was declared void.

The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. George Ward Price wrote about anti-fascist demonstrators at a meeting of the British Union of Fascists on 8th June, 1934: "If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting."

In July, 1934 Lord Rothermere suddenly withdrew his support for Oswald Mosley. The historian, James Pool, argues: "The rumor on Fleet Street was that the Daily Mail's Jewish advertisers had threatened to place their ads in a different paper if Rothermere continued the profascist campaign." Pool points out that sometime after this, Rothermere met with Hitler at the Berghof and told how the "Jews cut off his complete revenue from advertising" and compelled him to "toe the line." Hitler later recalled Rothermere telling him that it was "quite impossible at short notice to take any effective countermeasures."

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
Lord Rothermere, George Ward Price, Adolf Hitler, Fritz Wiedemann, Joseph Goebbels,
with Princess Stephanie and Magda Goebbels sitting in front. (January, 1936)

In the summer of 1936 European newspapers began running articles suggesting Princess Stephanie was a spy. She turned to Rothermere for advice on how she could clear her name over the damaging newspaper reports. Rothermere advised her to do nothing about it. He told her that he had been in the newspaper business long enough, he said, to realise that a denial usually resulted in merely refreshing the story, and was likely to stir up new rumours. Later, Stephanie urged him to sue when his name was being used in these stories. He replied in July 1936 that "the libels were of such a preposterous character that my lawyers advised me that you and myself should treat them with the contempt they deserved."

Lord Rothermere met Adolf Hitler again in September 1936. On his return he sent Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe to Berlin with a personal gift of a valuable Gobelin tapestry (worth £85,000 today). In a letter accompanying his gift, Rothermere wrote that he had selected the tapestry guided by the thought of Hitler the "artist", rather than Hitler the "great leader". Rothermere added that he was pleased to hear from Stephanie that "he was in high spirits and excellent health". He signed off the letter "in sincere admiration and respect".

Lord Rothermere, Princess Stephanie and George Ward Price were invited to spend time with Hitler at his holiday retreat, The Eagle's Nest, in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. Also invited was Joseph Goebbels. He wrote in his diary: "Rothermere pays me great compliments... Enquires in detail about German press policy. Strongly anti-Jewish. The princess is very pushy. After lunch we retire for a chat. Question of Spain comes up. Führer won't tolerate a hot-bed of communism in Europe any longer. Is ready to prevent any more pro-Republican volunteers from going there. His proposal on controls seem to astonish Rothermere. German prestige is thus restored. Franco will win anyway... Rothermere believes British government also pro-Franco."

Lawrence James, the author of Aristocrats: Power, Grace And Decadence (2009) has pointed out that Lord Rothermere was part of a group that saw an immensely powerful union between Communism and the Jewish people as a world conspiracy that could be thwarted only by Fascism. “Visceral anti-Semitism permeated the upper classes between the wars. Jews were vilified as flashy and pushy arrivistes with a knack of enriching themselves when the aristocracy was grumbling about an often exaggerated downturn in their fortunes.... What emerges is a picture of a knot of peers adrift in an uncongenial world, united by paranoia, pessimism and panic.”

Adolf Hitler was kept informed about what British newspapers were saying about him. He was usually very pleased by what appeared in The Daily Mail. On 20th May 1937 he wrote to Lord Rothermere: "Your leading articles published within the last few weeks, which I read with great interest, contain everything that corresponds to my own thoughts as well." Hitler told George Ward Price: "He (Lord Rothermere) is the only Englishman who sees clearly the magnitude of this Bolshevist danger. His paper is doing an immense amount of good." One newspaper, The Sunday Times, attempted to explain Rothermere's support for Hitler: "He saw him as a sincere man who had defeated Communism in his own country."

Hitler remained fascinated with Princess Stephanie and gave her the magnificent palace, Schloss Leopoldskron, that had been confiscated from Max Reinhardt, who had fled from Austria in 1937 after criticising the Nazi government. Hitler wanted her to use it as a home and a "political salon". One of the first people she tried to entertain in the palace was Lord Runciman, the man who had been appointed by the British government as its official mediator in the dispute between the Czech and German governments over the Sudetenland.

Time Magazine reported on 30th January, 1938: "Titian haired, 40 year old Stephanie Juliana Princess Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfurst, confidante of the Führer and friend of half of Europe's great is scheduled to sail from England to the US this week. Since the fall of Austria, Princess Stephanie, once the toast of Vienna, has lent her charms to advancing the Nazi cause in circles where it would do the most good. As a reward the Nazi government permitted her to take a lease on the sumptuous Schloss Leopoldskron near Salzburg, taken over from Jewish Max Reinhardt after Anschluss. During the Czecho-Slovak crisis she did yeoman service for the Nazi campaign. When Mr. Chamberlain sent Lord Runciman to gather impressions of conditions in Czechoslovakia Princess Stephanie hurried to the Sudetenland castle of Prince Max Hohenlohe where the British mediator was entertained."

Princess Stephanie however was having doubts about Adolf Hitler. In a letter written to Lord Rothermere on 2nd February, 1938, she argued for him to change his policy towards Nazi Germany: "It is important to know what is currently going on in Germany. The Germans are going through a serious crisis. Changes are taking place, which are of the greatest importance for the future of Europe. All the conservatives are being thrown out and only extremists are keeping their jobs or being recruited. You must be very careful in future. I do not see how it will be possible for you, under these new conditions, to continue to support Hitler in future and at the same time serve the interests of your own country." Lord Rothermere refused to take her advice and continued to give his support to the Hitler.

Hitler wanted to march into Czechoslovakia but his generals warned him that with its strong army and good mountain defences Czechoslovakia would be a difficult country to overcome. They also added that if Britain, France or the Soviet Union joined in on the side of Czechoslovakia , Germany would probably be badly defeated. One group of senior generals even made plans to overthrow Hitler if he ignored their advice and declared war on Czechoslovakia. In March 1938 Hugh Christie told the British government that Hitler would be ousted by the military if Britain joined forces with Czechoslovakia against Germany. Christie warned that the "crucial question is 'How soon will the next step against Czechoslovakia be tried?' ... The probability is that the delay will not exceed two or three months at most, unless France and England provide the deterrent, for which cooler heads in Germany are praying."

Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden on 15th September. Hitler threatened to invade Czechoslovakia unless Britain supported Germany 's plans to takeover the Sudetenland . After discussing the issue with the Edouard Daladier (France) and Eduard Benes (Czechoslovakia), Chamberlain informed Hitler that his proposals were unacceptable.

Adolf Hitler was in a difficult situation but he also knew that Britain and France were unwilling to go to war. He also thought it unlikely that these two countries would be keen to join up with the Soviet Union, whose communist system the western democracies hated more that Hitler's fascist dictatorship. Benito Mussolini suggested to Hitler that one way of solving this issue was to hold a four-power conference of Germany, Britain, France and Italy. This would exclude both Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and therefore increasing the possibility of reaching an agreement and undermine the solidarity that was developing against Germany.

The meeting took place in Munich on 29th September, 1938. Desperate to avoid war, and anxious to avoid an alliance with Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier agreed that Germany could have the Sudetenland. In return, Hitler promised not to make any further territorial demands in Europe. The meeting ended with Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini signing the Munich Agreement which transferred the Sudetenland to Germany.

Lord Rothermere immediately sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler: "My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher."

However, this view was not shared by those who opposed appeasement. One newspaper, The News Chronicle, argued: "There is nothing in modern politics to match the crude confusion of the Rothermere mentality. It blesses and encourages every swashbuckler who threatens the peace of Europe - not to mention direct British interests - and then clamours for more and more armaments with which to defend Britain presumably against his Lordship's pet foreign bully."

After the signing of the Munich Agreement, Captain Fritz Wiedemann sent a letter to Lord Rothermere stating: "You know that the Führer greatly appreciates the work the princess did to straighten relations between our countries... it was her groundwork which made the Munich agreement possible." Princess Stephanie wrote to Hitler at the same time congratulating him on his achievement: "There are moments in life that are so great - I mean, where one feels so deeply that it is almost impossible to find the right words to express one's feelings - Herr Reich Chancellor, please believe me that I have shared with you the experience and emotion of every phase of the events of the last weeks. What none of your subjects in their wildest dreams dared hope for - you have made come true. That must be the finest thing a head of state can give to himself and to his people. I congratulate you with all my heart."

Scott Newton, the author of Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement (1997) has argued that Lord Rothermere was a member of a group that included Lord Halifax, Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry, Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch, Charles McLaren, 3rd Baron Aberconway and Henry Betterton, 1st Baron Rushcliffe. "All its members shared a profound fear that the domestic and international order which had sustained liberal-imperialist Britain was about to be irrevocably changed... With some justification it was believed that total war meant the socialization of Britain and a ruinous conflict in the heart of Europe from which only the Soviet Union could benefit."

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
Letter sent by Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler just seven months before the outbreak of the war.

At the end of 1938 Adolf Hitler began to turn against Princess Stephanie. Officially it was because he had discovered that she was Jewish. However, he had in fact known about this for at least three years. Hitler told Fritz Wiedemann that he should break off all contact with her. Leni Riefenstahl suggested that Wiedemann's "relationship with Hitler became more distant because of his half-Jewish girlfriend." Joseph Goebbels commented in his diary in January 1939: "Princess Hohenlohe now turns out to be a Viennese half-Jewess. She has her fingers in everything. Wiedemann works with her a great deal. He may well have her to thank for his present predicament, because without her around he probably would not have made such a feeble showing in the Czech crisis."

In January, 1939, Princess Stephanie decided to move to London and resumed contact with Lord Rothermere. He gave her a cheque for £5,000 and told her that the contract had come to an end. Rothermere continued to write to Hitler and other leading Nazis. On 17th June, 1939, he told Hitler: "My dear Führer. I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country." On 7th July 1939, Rothermere wrote to Joachim von Ribbentrop: "Our two great Nordic countries should pursue resolutely a policy of appeasement for, whatever anyone may say, our two great countries should be the leaders of the world."

Meanwhile, Princess Stephanie announced she was to sue the press baron for what she alleged was breach of contract. She hired one of the most fashionable law firms in London, Theodore Goddard & Partners; the solicitors who, in 1936, had handled the divorce case of her friend, Wallis Simpson. MI5 began to take a close interest in the case. One report said: "Princess Hohenlohe has given us a great deal of work owing to the fact that she is frequently the subject of denunciation to the effect that she is, or has been, a trusted political agent and personal friend of Herr Hitler; that she is a German political spy of a very high order; and that she was given the Scloss Leopoldskron by Herr Hitler for signal services rendered for him." (PRO-KV2/1696)

In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station arrested Princess Stephanie's Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman. The arresting officer reported what he discovered that Wittman was carrying: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess." It was decided to pass on this information to MI5. Amongst the documents were several letters from Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler. This included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Führer congratulating him on his walk into Prague". The letter urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania.

It seems that Adolf Hitler had given Princess Stephanie photocopies of the letters Lord Rothermere had been sending him. As Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011) has pointed out: "These letters were secretly circulated within the intelligence services and senior civil servants in key government ministries... Nothing could be more revealing of the press baron's continued support of the Nazi Führer as the inevitable conflict drew closer, but it appears MI5 shied away from actually taking action against the press baron. Certainly there is nothing in the derestricted files to indicate whether Rothermere was warned to cease his correspondence with Berlin, though some information in the files still remains undisclosed.... The MI5 makes it clear that the secret service had warned the government that copies of this correspondence would be produced in open court, which would embarrass not only Rothermere but also a number of other notable members of the British aristocracy, and that these disclosures would shock the British public."

On 4th September, 1939, the morning after the outbreak of the Second World War, Rothermere's Daily Mail had a powerful patriotic leader: "No statesman, no man with any decency could think of sitting at the same table with Hitler or his henchman the trickster von Ribbentrop, or any other of the gang. We fight against the blackest tyranny that has ever held men in bondage. We fight to defend and to restore freedom and justice on earth."

Behind the scenes, Rothermere was expressing different views. On 24th September 1939 Lord Rothermere had his close colleague and "ghost", Collin Brooks, draft a letter to Neville Chamberlain urging the futility of trying to save Poland and warning that "whether victorious or not, Britain will emerge from such a conflict with her social and economic fabric destroyed", which could mean "a revolution of the Left in these islands, which might be more deadly than the war itself". According to Rothermere's biographer, D. George Boyce: "But the letter was never sent (despite Rothermere's fear that Britain was ‘finished’), because of the ‘national mood and temper’, a nice example of the would-be opinion leader and press baron being led by the public itself."

Three weeks after the outbreak of the Second World War Rothermere's lawyers attempted to have the legal action stopped. A member of his law firm went to the Home Office and denounced Princess Stephanie as a German agent and suggested that she should be deported. If the case reached open court it would receive huge publicity and would undermine public morale. However, the Home Office came to the conclusion that it would be improper to intervene.

The case reached the High Court on 8th November, 1939. Princess Stephanie's case was that in 1932, when Rothermere had promised to engage her as his European political representative on an annual salary of £5,000, she had understood the engagement was ongoing. She made it clear to the judge that if she lost the case she would not hesitate to publish her memoirs in America. This story would reveal Lord Rothermere's relationship with Hitler and his "numerous, often indiscreet, liaisons with women".

Sir William Jowitt asked Princess Stephanie if she had used the services of Fritz Wiedemann to put pressure on Lord Rothermere. She replied: "I have not." Then a letter from Wiedemann to Lord Rothermere was read out in court. It included the following passage: "You know that the Führer greatly appreciates the work the princess did to straighten relations between our countries... it was her groundwork which made the Munich agreement possible." However, the judge would not allow Princess Stephanie to read out the letters exchanged by Lord Rothermere and Hitler.

Lord Rothermere, who had engaged a legal team of seventeen to mount his defence, told the judge, it was preposterous that he had agreed to support Princess Stephanie "for the rest of her life". He admitted that between 1932 and 1938 he had paid her considerably more than £51,000 (almost £2 million in today's money). He added that she was always "pestering and badgering me" for money. That is why he sent her away to Berlin to be with Hitler.

Jowitt told the court that Princess Stephanie had his client's letters photocopied behind his back by the Special Photographic Bureau of the Department of the German Chancellor. He also defended Rothermere's right to enter into negotiations with Hitler in an effort to prevent a war between the two countries. "Who can say whether if Lord Rothermere had succeeded in the endeavours which he made, we might not be in the position in which we are today?"

After six days of legal argument Justice Tucker ruled against Princess Stephanie. Soon after the trial finished, Lord Rothermere used Lady Ethel Snowden as an intermediary and sent Stephanie a message to say he would meet all her legal costs if she undertook to get out of the country. This she agreed to do but he thought she was going back to Europe instead of going to the United States to publish her account of her relationship with Rothermere. However, he was able to use his considerable power to make sure her memoirs were never published. A MI5 officer recorded that Lord Rothermere had probably "offered her a considerable sum to leave the country".

The court case revealed that Lord Rothermere had been involved in secret negotiations with Adolf Hitler. One newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, raised serious questions about this issue: "The danger of these negotiations was two-fold. There was first the danger that Lord Rothermere might unwittingly give the Nazis a misleading impression of the state of opinion in this country; and there was also the danger that Lord Rothermere might - again unwittingly - allow himself to be used as a vehicle for the extremely subtle manoeuvres of Nazi propaganda.... discussions with heads of foreign governments are best left of persons whose status is on both sides clearly understood. A newspaper owner has great responsibilities towards the public of his own country; he should be particularly chary of placing himself in situations liable to misinterpretation, or abuse abroad."

On 14th November, 1939, Margot Asquith (Lady Oxford) wrote to Princess Stephanie: "Dearest Stephanie, We are all with you. I have always told you Rothermere is no good. I respect you for having challenged him. Never mind the outcome. He is finished here. I know what I am saying. The most important things in life are: (1) To love and to be loved. (2). To be trusted. Rothermere has neither."

In the House of Commons the Liberal Party MP, Geoffrey Le Mesurier Mander, asked the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, why Princess Stephanie, a "notorious member of the Hitler spy organisation" was being allowed to leave the country. Morrison replied that he needed notice of the question but in any case she had been granted only a "no return" permit and there were no circumstances in which she would be allowed to return to Britain.

Lord Rothermere was now aware that MI5 had copies of his letters to Adolf Hitler. Fearing that he might be arrested for treason and decided to go and live in Bermuda where he died on 26th November 1940.

Primary Sources

(1) Lord Rothermere, The Daily Mail (10th July, 1933)

I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia.

They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call "Nazi atrocities" which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny.

The German nation, moreover, was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were twenty times as many Jewish Government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine. Three German Ministers only had direct relations with the Press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew.

(2) Adolf Hitler, letter to Lord Rothermere (December, 1933)

As old soldiers of the World War - I was myself in the front line for four and a half years, facing British and French soldiers - we have all of us a very personal experience of the terrors of a European War. Refusing any sympathy with cowards and deserters, we freely accept the idea of duty before God and our own nation to prevent will all possible means the recurrence of such a disaster...

This cannot definitely be achieved for Europe unless the treatment of the critical problem, whose existence cannot be denied, is transferred from the climate of hatred in which victors and vanquished confront each other, to a basis where nations and states can negotiate with each other on an equal footing...

I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the final liberation of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war... I am convinced that no one who fought in the front line trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict.

(3) Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mirror (22nd January, 1934)

Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps.

Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power.

As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party.

Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W.

(4) Lord Rothermere wrote an article for The Daily Mail where he argued that Germany should be given back Tanganyika, the Camerons and Togoland (21st March, 1934)

Though this proposal may not be popular, I am convinced that it is wise. We cannot expect a nation of "he-men" like the Germans to sit forever with folded arms under the provocations and stupidities of the Treaty of Versailles. To deny this mighty nation, conspicuous for its organizing ability and scientific achievements, a share in the work of developing backward regions of the world is preposterous.

(5) George Ward Price described how the Black Shirts dealt with anti-fascist demonstrators in The Daily Mail (8th June 1934)

If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it.

They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting.

(6) James Pool, Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979)

The wealthy newspaper magnate, Viscount Rothermere, gave the Nazis pages of praise and accolades in his paper the Daily Mail. There is also some indication that Rothermere gave actual financial support to Hitler through Putzi Hanfstaengl, the Nazis' foreign press chief but the publicity he gave Hitler was worth more than money.

Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism...

Rothermere continued to say that if it were not for the Nazis, the Communists might have gained the majority in the Reichstag. The tremendous success of the Nazi "German Party of Youth and Nationalism" should receive the closest possible attention from the statesmen of Britain, Rothermere advised.

Lord Rothermere was a man of large stature, with a high forehead and such an extreme conservative political attitude that some people said he was "very near to being unbalanced on the issue of Communism". Although he was not the only one with an obsession about the dangers of Communism, he was one of the few who devoted so much money to the anti-Communist cause. In England he was a well-known backer of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), whose members wore black shirts. On January 8, 1934, when Rothermere decided to help the BUF, the headlines of the Daily Mail shouted "Hurrah for the Blackshirts." The front-page article following claimed that Italy and Germany were; "beyond all doubt the best governed nations in Europe today." The leader of the BUF; Sir Oswald Mosley, could do the same for Britain, replacing the "inertia and indecision" of the present government. Generous space, plus pictures, were given to cover the fascist activities. Leading articles and editorials were devoted to commending the efforts of the BUF.

Suddenly in July of that year Rothermere withdrew his support. The rumor on Fleet Street was that the Daily Mail's Jewish advertisers had threatened to place their adds in a different paper if Rothermere continued the profascist campaign. Sometime after this, Rothermere met with Hitler at the Berghof and told how the "Jews cut off his complete revenue from advertising" and compelled him to "toe the line." Hitler later recalled Rothermere telling him that it was "quite impossible at short notice to take any effective countermeasures."

As for the Nazis, it has already been shown that Rothermere started to give them favorable press coverage in 1930. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."

Rothermere encouraged his journalists to write articles favoring the Nazis. For example, on September 21, 1936, Ward Price, the most outstanding correspondent for the Daily Mail, wrote that Bolshevism was a greater threat to the British Empire than the Nazis, and said that if Hitler did not exist, "all Western Europe might soon be clamouring for such a champion. 1160 In 1938, one British newspaper told its readers that it was the Daily Mail which had spent the last five years assuring the people that 'Dolfie' Hitler is a wonderfully good fellow and is very fond of Britain."

A reviewer for the Sunday Times once tried to explain Rothermere's political viewpoint: "He saw Hitler as a sincere man who had defeated Communism in his own country and whose programme was now to reverse the Diktat of Versailles. He did not see him as a conqueror whose ambitions for world power inevitably mean, if not conflict with, then hostility to, the British Empire. IIn fact, Rothermere hoped that England and Germany would be allies. Hitler said that the "Beaverbrook-Rothermere circle" came and told him: "In the last war we were on the wrong side." In one of his conversations with Hitler, Rothermere explained that he and Beaverbrook were "in complete agreement that never again should there be war between Britain and Germany.

Before Rothermere's visit to Germany, he and Hitler exchanged a series of letters. Rothermere wrote saying that he would gladly use his press "to further a rapprochement between Britain and Germany." His offer was of course eagerly accepted. Later Hitler expressed his gratitude for the Daily Mail's "great assistance" to the Nazis at the time of their reoccupation of the Rhineland, as well as its favorable attitude to Germany over the question of her naval program. Perhaps Hitler should have said that he was grateful for the Daily Mail's pro-Nazi stance in general over the past decade.

Each morning almost two million people, mostly of the upper and middle class, were exposed to Rothermere's pro-Nazi ideas in the Daily Mail. The value of this publicity campaign for Hitler is inestimable. The favoritism shown toward Hitler in one of Britain's most popular daily papers assured the German ruling elite that there would be no complaints in Britain if Hitler were selected as the German Chancellor.

(7) Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right (1979)

Rothermere visited Hitler on a number of occasions, and corresponded with him. As we have seen, Hitler's first major dinner party for foreigners, on 19th December 1934, had as its guests of honour Rothermere, his son Esmond Harmsworth, and Ward Price, together with Ernest Tennant. Rothermere's subsequent article in the Daily Mail was violently enthusiastic about what Hitler had done for Germany.

Hitler wrote a number of important letters to Rothermere in 1933 and 1934, but the most interesting of them, because of its subsequent fate, was the one written on 3 May 1935 in which he advocated Anglo-German understanding as a firm combination for peace. Rothermere circulated this to many politicians, convinced that his personal contact with Hitler had produced a real breakthrough.

(8) Scott Newton, Profits of Peace: The Political Economy of Anglo-German Appeasement (1996)

Halifax and Butler's profound misgivings about continuing the war if there was any chance of escape with dignity placed them at the centre of a peace movement which was connected to all the core institutions of the Conservative Party. The presence within it of Queen Mary, the Dukes of Westminster and Buccleuch, Lords Aberconway, Bearsted, Brockett, Buckmaster, Harmsworth, Londonderry, Mansfield and Rushcliffe, as well as of at least thirty MPs, demonstrated the enduring nature of the lobby's links to the court, the City, large-scale industry and to the landowning aristocracy...

All its members shared a profound fear that the domestic and international order which had sustained liberal-imperialist Britain was about to be irrevocably changed... With some justification it was believed that total war meant the socialization of Britain and a ruinous conflict in the heart of Europe from which only the Soviet Union could benefit.

(9) The Yorkshire Post (November, 1939)

The danger of these negotiations was two-fold. There was first the danger that Lord Rothermere might unwittingly give the Nazis a misleading impression of the state of opinion in this country; and there was also the danger that Lord Rothermere might - again unwittingly - allow himself to be used as a vehicle for the extremely subtle manoeuvres of Nazi propaganda.... discussions with heads of foreign governments are best left of persons whose status is on both sides clearly understood. A newspaper owner has great responsibilities towards the public of his own country; he should be particularly chary of placing himself in situations liable to misinterpretation, or abuse abroad.


(10) The Daily Telegraph (1st March, 2005)

The proprietor of the Daily Mail congratulated Adolf Hitler on his annexation of Czechoslovakia and urged him to capitalise on the "triumph'' with a march into Romania, newly released documents have revealed.

The first Lord Rothermere – the great-grandfather of the current owner of the newspaper – made the remarks in a letter intercepted by the security service during surveillance of a suspected German agent. But MI5 shied away from taking action against the press baron, whose sympathy for Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts was already well-known.

Rothermere's apparent support for the Nazi cause as late as 1939 came to light during an investigation into the activities of Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. The daughter of a Viennese dentist of Jewish origins, she had married into the aristocracy of the Austro-Hungarian empire and, although divorced, continued to move in exclusive circles in London society.

Her close friends included Lady Asquith, the wife of the former Liberal prime minister, Lady Snowden, the wife of a Labour chancellor of the exchequer, and the extreme Right-wing Lord and Lady Londonderry.

Her connections earned her the admiration of Hitler, Himmler and Von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador in London.

In 1933, the year that Hitler gained power, MI6 circulated a report stating that the French secret service had discovered documents in the princess's flat in Paris ordering her to persuade Rothermere to campaign for the return to Germany of territory ceded to Poland at the end of First World War. She was to receive £300,000 – equal to £13 million today – if she succeeded. Rothermere, meanwhile, was paying the princess £5,000 a year – £200,000 today – to act as his emissary in Europe.

By 1938 MI6 was becoming very concerned about the princesses's activities. A report said: "She is frequently summoned by the Fuhrer who appreciates her intelligence and good advice. She is perhaps the only woman who can exercise any influence on him."

But then she and Rothermere fell out. He cut off her retainer and in December 1938 she sued him for breach of contract. In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station intercepted her Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman.

He was carrying correspondence relating to the case, including a letter from Rothermere to the German government that Berlin had given to the lawyer to help the princess's case. The officer wrote: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess.

"It was decided to give MI5 the opportunity of seeing this considerable correspondence."

Details of the correspondence from Rothermere were circulated in the intelligence services. It included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Fuhrer congratulating him on his walk into Prague" – Hitler having sent troops into the Czech capital in early 1939 in breach of the Munich agreement of the previous year. The note urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania.

Three weeks after Britain's declaration of war on Germany, the press baron's lawyers attempted to have the legal action stopped. They informed the Home Office that the princess's action was not in the national interest. The Home Office declined to help and the case went to court in November 1939, but it was thrown out without the highly-compromising contents of the letters being revealed. The princess left for America, where she was later arrested for violation of visa conditions.

(11) Joseph Goebbels, diary entry (7th January, 1937)

Rothermere pays me great compliments... Enquires in detail about German press policy. Strongly anti-Jewish. The princess is very pushy. After lunch we retire for a chat. Question of Spain comes up. Führer won't tolerate a hot-bed of communism in Europe any longer. Is ready to prevent any more pro-Republican volunteers from going there. His proposal on controls seem to astonish Rothermere. German prestige is thus restored. Franco will win anyway... Rothermere believes British government also pro-Franco."

(12) Lord Rothermere, telegram to Adolf Hitler (1st October, 1938)

My dear Fuhrer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher.

(13) Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian (1st April 2005)

The proprietor of the Daily Mail sent a series of supportive and congratulatory telegrams to Nazi Germany's leaders, including Hitler, just months before the second world war, papers released today reveal.

Intercepted messages from Lord Rothermere to Berlin are among the first papers to be released from Foreign Office intelligence files.

The files also show how, as early as 1906, MI6 drew up detailed plans to plant agents in Europe "in the event of war with Germany". At the end of 1938 they were telling London that Hitler believed Britain was "enemy No 1".

Yet in the summer of 1939, Rothermere was still appealing to Hitler not to provoke a war, saying that Britain and Nazi Germany must remain at peace. "Our two great Nordic countries should pursue resolutely a policy of appeasement for, whatever anyone may say, our two great countries should be the leaders of the world," he told Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, on July 7 1939.

Ten days earlier, Rothermere had written to Hitler: "My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country."

He assured Hitler that the British government had "no policy which involves the encirclement of Germany, and that no British government could exist which embraced such a policy".

He added: "The British people, now like Germany strongly rearmed, regard the German people with admiration as valorous adversaries in the past, but I am sure that there is no problem between our two countries which cannot be settled by consultation and negotiation."

If Hitler worked to restore the "old friendship", he would be regarded by the British as a popular hero, in the same way they regarded Frederick the Great of Prussia, said Rothermere. "I have always felt that you are essentially one who hates war and desires peace."

Rothermere appealed to the Nazi leadership to convene a conference to sort out what he called the "misunderstanding" - concerns about Germany's intentions, particularly with regard to Poland and, as he called it, "the Danzig problem".

On July 6 1939, he appealed to Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, to help settle "all outstanding problems" by organising an international conference. "Could I ask you to use your influence in this direction. There is really no cleavage between the interests of Germany and Britain. This great world of ours is big enough for both countries."

Rothermere made clear he sympathised with Germany's grievances over the peace settlement after the first world war.

He referred Ribbentrop to the "grave iniquities" of the Versailles treaty.

"I am optimistic enough", he wrote, "to believe that even before the end of this year, glaring grievances can be redressed." Two months later, Germany invaded Poland.

At the time that Rothermere was sending his telegrams to Berlin, MI6 tried to warn Germany off Poland, the papers disclose.

It forged a British cabinet decision saying it regarded "any attempt by the German government to force the issue at Danzig, which might be resisted by the Polish government, as a casus belli".

The papers released today disclose that in December 1938, MI6 informers in Germany were warning that Hitler's advisers were telling him to attack Poland in the summer of 1939.