by Scott Mehl
Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was a member of the extended British Royal Family and a distinguished Naval officer. A great-grandson of Queen Victoria (and the last great-grandson to be born during her lifetime), he was born a Prince of Battenberg but grew up fiercely British. In addition to his naval career, he also served as the last Viceroy and first Governor-General of India. Mountbatten also played a very prominent role in the lives of his nephew, The Duke of Edinburgh, and grand-nephew, The Prince of Wales.
Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg was born on June 25, 1900 at Frogmore House, the youngest child of Prince Louis (Ludwig) of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. He was christened at Frogmore on July 17, with Queen Victoria and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia among his godparents. Louis – known almost from birth as “Dickie” – had three elder siblings:
- Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885) – married Prince Andreas of Greece, had issue
- Princess Louise of Battenberg (1889) – married King Gustaf VI Adolf of Sweden, no issue
- Prince George of Battenberg – later 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (1892) – married Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby, had issue
Through both of his parents, he was closely related to numerous other royal families of Europe. His mother’s younger sister was Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, and in his childhood, Dickie was close to her children. At a very young age, he began a “lifelong love affair” with one of them – Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna – and kept a framed photo of her by his bed for his entire life.
At the age of 10, Dickie was enrolled at the Lockers Park School in Hertfordshire, and then at 13 entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne. Destined for a naval career, he received his first posting in July 1916, as a midshipman on HMS Lion. After studying for two terms at Christ’s College, Cambridge, Louis was posted to HMS Renown, accompanying The Prince of Wales on a tour of Australia. The following year, on HMS Repulse, he again accompanied his cousin on a tour of India and Japan. It was during this trip that he became engaged to his future wife.
Dickie first met Edwina Ashley in October 1920, when both attended a ball at Claridge’s in London, hosted by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Edwina was the daughter of Wilfrid Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple (a grandson of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury) and Amalia Cassel (daughter of Sir Ernest Cassel). The two soon found themselves invited to the same house parties and shooting weekends, and a romance began. Both were guests of the Duke of Sutherland at Dunrobin Castle in Scotland in September 1921, when Louis received word that his father had died. When Edwina’s grandfather died just ten days later, the two grew very close in their shared grief. Several months later, Edwina went to visit Dickie while he was in India with the Prince of Wales. It was there, at a Valentine’s Day Ball held at the Viceregal Lodge in Delhi, that Dickie proposed.
Louis and Edwina were married on July 18, 1922, at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster. The wedding was a lavish affair, attended by The King and Queen and other members of the British Royal Family and other royal houses of Europe. The bridal party included the Prince of Wales, who served as Best Man, and Dickie’s four nieces – Princesses Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Sophie of Greece. Following a honeymoon which took them to Canada and The United States, Dickie and Edwina settled at Brook House in London – one of several properties Edwina had inherited from her grandfather. They went on to have two daughters:
- Lady Patricia Mountbatten, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1924) – married John Knatchbull, 2nd Baron Brabourne, had issue
- Lady Pamela Mountbatten (1929) – married David Hicks, had issue
Dickie was posted to several other boats before being given his first command – HMS Daring – in 1934. This was followed by commands of HMS Wishart (1934-1936), HMS Kelly (1939-1941) and HMS Illustrious (1941). From 1941-1943, he served as Chief of Combined Operations, and then from 1943-1946 as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command. In that role, in September 1945 Mountbatten received the Japanese surrender in Singapore.
On August 27, 1946, he was created Viscount Mountbatten of Burma by King George VI. The following February, Prime Minister Clement Atlee appointed him Viceroy of India, and tasked him with overseeing India’s independence from Britain. Following independence in August 1947, Mountbatten served for the next ten months as the country’s first Governor-General. During that time, on October 28, 1947, he was created Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Baron Romsey. As Mountbatten had no sons, the Letters Patent creating both the Viscountcy and the Earldom were written to allow the titles to pass to his daughters and their male heirs. Had this not been done, the titles would have ended upon Mountbatten’s death. Instead, they passed to his elder daughter, Patricia, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
Following his time in India, Mountbatten returned to military service in 1949, serving as Commander of the 1st Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet. From 1950-1952, he served as Fourth Sea Lord, and then from 1952-1954 as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. Finally, in April 1955, nearly forty-one years after his father had been forced to relinquish the role due to anti-German sentiment, Mountbatten was made First Sea Lord – the head of the British Royal Navy. The following year, he reached the rank of Admiral of the Fleet. Dickie served as First Sea Lord until October 1959, when he became Chief of the Defence Staff, serving until his retirement in July 1965. During this time, he also served as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1960-1961.
Upon retiring, he was granted several honorary appointments. He was made Colonel of the Life Guards, Gold Stick in Waiting, and Life Colonel Commandant of the Royal Marines. The Queen also appointed him Governor of the Isle of Wight. In 1974, he became the first Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight.
Lord Mountbatten was killed on August 27, 1979 when his boat was blown up by the Provisional IRA on Donegal Bay, in County Sligo, Ireland. He had been staying at his summer home, Classiebawn Castle, in County Sligo, Ireland, with much of his family. Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, his son-in-law’s mother, The Dowager Baroness Brabourne, and a young crew member, Paul Maxwell, all died as a result of the blast. Mountbatten’s daughter Patricia, her husband John, and their son Timothy were all critically injured, but survived.