4 May 2020

Osbert Sitwell – English writer

Baronet’s love for a Tuscan castle


Osbert Sitwell (right), pictured with his younger brother, Sacheverell, a writer and critic
Osbert Sitwell (right), pictured with his younger
brother, Sacheverell, a writer and critic
Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell died on this day in 1969 at the Castello di Montegufoni near Florence in Tuscany.

Like his famous elder sister, Edith Sitwell, who was a poet, and his younger brother, Sacheverell, an art and music critic and a prolific writer, Osbert devoted his life to art and literature.

His father, Sir George Reresby Sitwell, had purchased the Castle of Montegufoni, which is 20 km from Florence, in 1909 when it was derelict and restored it beautifully to become his personal residence.

Osbert inherited the castle after his father’s death in 1943 along with the baronetcy and he reigned over Montegufoni for the rest of his life.

Osbert was born in 1892 and grew up at the family homes in Derbyshire and Scarborough. In 1911 he joined the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry but soon transferred to the Grenadier Guards and was based at the Tower of London, enabling him to go to the theatre and art galleries when he was off duty.

In 1914 he was sent to the trenches near Ypres in French, where the experience inspired him to write his first poems.

Sitwell served in the trenches at Ypres during World War I, reaching the rank of captain
Sitwell served in the trenches at Ypres during
World War I, reaching the rank of captain
He left the Army with the rank of Captain and contested the 1918 general election as a Liberal candidate for Scarborough and Whitby, finishing second.

Osbert, Edith and Sacheverell all worked closely together, dominating literary London between the two world wars.

Osbert wrote poetry, art criticism and was a controversial journalist. He published his first novel, Before the Bombardment, in 1926, receiving good reviews.

In the mid 1920s he met David Stuart Horner who was his lover and companion for the rest of his life.

As a close friend of the Duke and Duchess of York, the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Osbert wrote a poem Rat Week, attacking Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson. When a magazine printed an edited version of the poem in 1937 that made it seem as though he was sympathetic to the Windsors for the way they had been treated, Osbert sued them for breach of copyright and eventually won damages and costs.

In 1946, Osbert settled at the Castle of Montegufoni with his partner. They made the castle an important cultural centre by inviting artists from all over the world to work there.

From the 1950s, Osbert started to suffer from Parkinson’s Disease and by the middle of the 1960s his condition had become so severe he had to abandon writing.

He died on 4 May 1969 in the castle. His body was cremated and his ashes were buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in Florence, along with a copy of his first novel, Before the Bombardment.

Osbert left a legacy of essays, novels, travel writing, poetry and an autobiography that ran to five volumes. His novel, A Place of One’s Own, was made into a film in 1945.


Osbert Sitwell inherited the Castello di  Montegufoni from his father
Osbert Sitwell inherited the Castello di
Montegufoni from his father 
Travel tip:

The Castello di Montegufoni, where Osbert Sitwell died after living there for more than 20 years, is near Montespertoli amid the hills and historic wine estates of Chianti country. It was originally owned by the Ormanni family who were mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. It was attacked by Florence in 1135 and left in ruins until the 13th century when the Acciaioli family acquired it, expanding it over the years. The castle was renovated in around 1650 and given the exterior style it has today. During World War II, hundreds of important works from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence were hidden in the castle’s cellars. Osbert Sitwell left the castle to his nephew in his will, who sold it in 1972. It has now been converted into luxury holiday apartments.

Osbert Sitwell's grave at the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence
Osbert Sitwell's grave at the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence
Travel tip:

Osbert Sitwell is one of many famous people buried in the Cimitero degli Allori in Florence. The small cemetery was opened in 1877 when non-Catholics could no longer be buried in the English Cemetery in Piazzale Donatello. The cemetery is in Via Senese between Due Strade and Galluzzo. Alice Keppel, the mistress of Edward VII and great–grandmother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is also buried there.

Also on this day:

1655: The birth of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano

1894: The birth of Anthony Martin Sinatra, father of Frank

1927: The birth of noblewoman and socialite Marella Agnelli


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