Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere

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The Viscount Rothermere
Lord Rothermere.jpg
Lord Rothermere
President of the Air Council
In office
26 November 1917 – 1918
Preceded byThe Viscount Cowdray
Succeeded byThe Lord Weir
Personal details
Harold Sidney Harmsworth

(1868-04-26)26 April 1868
Died26 November 1940(1940-11-26) (aged 72)
Spouse(s)Mary Lilian Share
  • Harold Alfred Vyvyan St. George Harmsworth (1894–1918)
  • Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth (1895–1916)
  • Esmond Cecil Harmsworth (1898–1978)

Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, PC (26 April 1868 – 26 November 1940) was a leading British newspaper proprietor who owned Associated Newspapers Ltd. He is best known, like his brother Alfred Harmsworth, later Viscount Northcliffe, for the development of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. Rothermere was a pioneer of popular journalism.

Two of Rothermere's three sons were killed in action during the First World War and in the 1930s, he opposed the Second World War, advocated instead peaceful relations between Germany and the United Kingdom, and used his media influence to that end. His open support for fascism and praise for Nazism and the British Union of Fascists contributed to the popularity of those views in the 1930s. That ambition for which Rothermere became best known was not successful, and he died in Bermuda early in the war.


Harmsworth was the second son of Alfred and Geraldine Mary Harmsworth.

His thirteen siblings included Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, Cecil Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth, Sir Leicester Harmsworth, 1st Baronet, and Sir Hildebrand Harmsworth, 1st Baronet.

Harmsworth was educated at St Marylebone Grammar School, which he left to become a clerk for the Board of Trade. In 1888 he joined his elder brother Alfred's newspaper company, and in 1894 he and his brother purchased the Evening News for £25,000.


In 1896 Harmsworth and his brother Alfred together founded the Daily Mail, and subsequently also launched the Daily Mirror. In 1910 Harmsworth bought the Glasgow Record and Mail, and in 1915 the Sunday Pictorial. By 1921 he was owner of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Pictorial, Glasgow Daily Record, Evening News, and Sunday Mail, and shared ownership of the company Associated Newspapers with his brother Alfred, who had been made Viscount Northcliffe in 1918. His greatest success came with the Daily Mirror, which had a circulation of three million by 1922.

When his elder brother died in 1922 without an heir, Harmsworth acquired his controlling interest in Associated Newspapers for £1.6 million, and the next year bought the Hulton newspaper chain, which gave him control of three national morning newspapers, three national Sunday newspapers, two London evening papers, four provincial daily newspapers, and three provincial Sunday newspapers.

In 1926 Harmsworth sold his magazine concern, Amalgamated Press, and moved into the field of provincial newspaper publishing. In 1928 he founded Northcliffe Newspapers Ltd and announced that he intended to launch a chain of evening newspapers in the main provincial cities. There then ensued the so-called "newspaper war" of 1928–29, which culminated in Harmsworth establishing new evening papers in Bristol and Derby and gaining a controlling interest in Cardiff's newspapers. By the end of 1929, his empire had 14 daily and Sunday newspapers, with a substantial holding in another three.

Rothermere's descendants continue to control the Daily Mail and General Trust.

Rothermere was an active member of the Sylvan Debating Club, founded by his father. He first attended as a visitor in 1882 and later served as treasurer.

He used the Daily Mail to heavily campaign for a free trade area covering the British Empire coupled with high tariffs for goods from elsewhere. He even founded his own political party to promote that objective, the United Empire Party.[1]


Harmsworth was created a baronet, of Horsey in the County of Norfolk, in 1910.[2] He was raised to the peerage as Baron Rothermere, of Hemsted in the County of Kent, in 1914.[3]

Public life[edit]

Rothermere served as President of the Air Council in the government of David Lloyd George for a time during the First World War, and was made Viscount Rothermere, of Hemsted in the County of Kent, in 1919.[4] In 1921, he founded the Anti-Waste League to combat what he saw as excessive government spending.

In 1930, Rothermere purchased the freehold of the old site of the Bethlem Hospital in Southwark. He donated it to the London County Council to be made into a public open space, to be known as the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in memory of his mother,[5] for the benefit of the "splendid struggling mothers of Southwark".[6]

Support for revising post-First World War treaties[edit]

Rothermere strongly supported revision of the Treaty of Trianon in favour of Hungary. On 21 June 1927, he published an editorial in the Daily Mail, "Hungary's Place in the Sun", in which he supported a detailed plan to restore to Hungary large pieces of territory that it had lost at the end of the First World War. That bold pro-Hungarian stance was greeted with ecstatic gratitude in Hungary.

Transatlantic flight of Endresz György with Justice for Hungary – 15th of July, 1931

Many in England were caught off-guard by Rothermere's impassioned endorsement of the Hungarian cause, and it was rumoured that the press baron had been convinced to support it by the charms of a Hungarian seductress, who was later identified as the Austrian Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a princess by marriage. Rothermere's son Esmond was received with royal pomp during a visit to Budapest, and some political actors in Hungary later went so far as to inquire about Rothermere's interest in being placed on the Hungarian throne. Although Rothermere later insisted he did not invite those overtures and that he quietly deflected them, his private correspondence indicates otherwise.[7] He purchased estates in Hungary in case Britain fell to a Soviet invasion.[citation needed] There is a memorial to Rothermere in Budapest.

Opposition to Second World War[edit]

In the 1930s Rothermere used his newspapers to try to influence British politics, particularly reflecting his strong support of the appeasement of Nazi Germany; historian Martin Pugh considers him "perhaps the most influential single propagandist for fascism between the wars".[8] For a time in 1934 the Rothermere papers championed the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and were again the only major papers to do so. On 15 January 1934 the Daily Mail published a Rothermere-written editorial entitled "Hurrah for the Blackshirts", praising Oswald Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine".[9]

Rothermere visited and corresponded with Hitler on multiple occasions, such as after the 1930 elections that saw the Nazi Party dramatically increase the number of its seats in the Reichstag, which Rothermere welcomed.[10] In gratitude for this foreign support, Hitler granted Rothermere an exclusive interview.[10] On another occasion, on 1 October 1938, Rothermere sent Hitler a telegram in support of Germany's invasion of the Sudetenland, and expressed the hope that "Adolf the Great" would become a popular figure in Britain.[11]

Rothermere was also aware of the military threat from the resurgent Germany. He warned J. C. C. Davidson, then Chairman of the Conservative Party, about it. In the 1930s Rothermere fought for increased defence spending by Britain. He wrote about it in his 1939 book My Fight to Rearm Britain.[10] He seemed to regard the Fascist movement chiefly as a bulwark against Bolshevism, while apparently remaining blind to some of the movement's dangers.[10]

Numerous secret British MI5 papers relating to the war years were declassified and released in 2005. They show that Rothermere wrote to Adolf Hitler in 1939 congratulating him for the annexation of Czechoslovakia, and encouraging him to invade Romania. He described Hitler's work as "great and superhuman".[11][12]

The MI5 papers also show that at the time Rothermere was paying an annual retainer of £5,000 per year to Stephanie von Hohenlohe (suspected by the French, British and Americans of being a German spy) as he wanted her to bring him closer to Hitler's inner circle. Rothermere also encouraged her to promote Germany to her circle of influential English contacts. She was known as "London's leading Nazi hostess".[13] The secret services[which?] had been monitoring her since her arrival in Britain in the 1920s and regarded her as "an extremely dangerous person". As the Second World War loomed, Rothermere stopped the payments and their relationship deteriorated into threats and lawsuits, which she lost.[11][12] To recover from stress, Rothermere went on holiday to Bermuda, where he died in 1940.

A fictional version of Lord Rothermere appears in Dennis Wheatley's 1934 novel Black August about an attempted Communist takeover of Britain, under the name of "Lord Badgerlake" (mere is another word for lake). Badgerlake supports a paramilitary force called the "Greyshirts", which backs the government during the uprising. Any connection with Fascism is disclaimed, and the novel does not end with a dictatorship. (In fact, the new Government repeals the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act in order to guarantee the liberty of the subject.)

Interest in aviation[edit]

In 1934, Rothermere ordered a Mercury-engined version of the Bristol Type 135 cabin monoplane for his own use as part of a campaign to popularise commercial aviation. First flying in 1935, the Bristol Type 142 caused great interest in Air Ministry circles because its top speed of 307 mph was higher than that of any Royal Air Force fighter in service. Lord Rothermere presented the aircraft (named "Britain First") to the nation for evaluation as a bomber, and in early 1936 the modified design was taken into production as the Blenheim Mk. I.

Grand Falls, Newfoundland[edit]

In 1904, on behalf of his elder brother Alfred, Harmsworth and Mayson Beeton, son of Isabella Beeton, the famed author of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, travelled to Newfoundland to search for a supply of timber and to look for a site to build and operate a pulp and paper mill. While searching along the Exploits River they came across Grand Falls, named by John Cartwright in 1768. After the two British men purchased the land, they had a company town built to support the timber workers. It developed as Grand Falls-Windsor.[14][15]


Lord Rothermere married Lilian Share, daughter of George Wade Share, on 4 July 1893. They had three sons, the two elder of whom were killed in the First World War:

Viscountess Rothermere, as she had become, died on 16 March 1937.[18]



  1. ^ Twitter, Dominic Ponsford (16 February 2017). "Hitler, the Daily Mail and how Lord Rothermere showed he has learned the lessons of history". Press Gazette. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  2. ^ "No. 28400". The London Gazette. 26 July 1910. p. 5392.
  3. ^ "No. 28797". The London Gazette. 30 January 1914. p. 810.
  4. ^ "No. 31427". The London Gazette. 1 July 1919. p. 8221.
  5. ^ "Bethlem Hospital (Imperial War Museum) | Survey of London: volume 25 (pp. 76-80)". British-history.ac.uk. 22 June 2003. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  6. ^ "Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park - Southwark Council". Southwark.gov.uk. 17 February 2010. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  7. ^ Romsics, Ignác (2004), "Hungary's Place in the Sun: A British Newspaper Article and its Hungarian Repercussions", in Péter, László (ed.), British-Hungarian Relations since 1848, London: University of London. School of Slavonic and East European Studies, pp. 195–204
  8. ^ Pugh, Martin (2006). Hurrah For The Blackshirts!: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars. Random House. p. 41. ISBN 1844130878.
  9. ^ Sassoon, Donald (2006). Culture of the Europeans: From 1800 to the Present. HarperCollins. p. 1062.
  10. ^ a b c d Philpot, Robert. "How Britain's Nazi-loving press baron made the case for Hitler". timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  11. ^ a b c Norton-Taylor, Richard (1 April 2005). "Months before war, Rothermere said Hitler's work was superhuman". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 September 2018.
  12. ^ a b Tweedie, Neil and Day, Peter. "When Rothermere urged Hitler to invade Romania", The Daily Telegraph (1 March 2005)
  13. ^ Franz Prinz zu Hohenlohe (1976). Steph, the Fabulous Princess. New English Library. p. 144. ISBN 9780450025945. Retrieved 8 October 2020. Princess Stefanie Hohenlohe-Waldenburh-Schillingsfuerst [...] has friends in almost every capital of Europe, once was called 'London's leading Nazi hostess'.
  14. ^ Address to Kiwanis and Rotary Club of Grand Falls-Windsor Archived 11 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society". Grandfallswindsor.com. Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  16. ^ "Casualty". cwgc.org.
  17. ^ "Casualty". cwgc.org.
  18. ^ "34401". London Gazette. 25 May 1937.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded byas President of the Air Board President of the Air Council
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Viscount Rothermere
Succeeded by
New creation Baron Rothermere
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Hemsted) 
Succeeded by