Lord and Lady Mountbatten
Who doesn’t like a juicy, scandalous love story? Most everyone I guess.
This one is an old one; many know of it, especially in England and India. Yet I suspect many younger folks do not. It is one still shrouded in mystery and will probably remain so for decades to come.
First let us introduce the players.
Lady Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma; wife of Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Born in 1901 as Edwina Ashley, she was the elder daughter of Wilfred William Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple, a Conservative Member of Parliament.
Edwina Ashley was descended from the Earls of Shaftesbury who had been ranked as baronets since 1622 and ennobled as barons in 1661. She was a great-granddaughter of the reformist 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and granddaughter of the 6th Duke of Beaufort. From this line of peers she would inherit the estates of Broadlands and Classiebawn Castle in Ireland.
After the death of her mother and remarriage of her father in 1914 Edwina was sent away to boarding schools where, it is said, she was not a “willing pupil.” Her maternal grandfather solved the domestic dilemma by inviting her to live with him and, eventually, to act as hostess at his London residence, Brook House. Later, his other mansions, Moulton Paddocks and Branksome Dene, would also become part of her inheritance.
By the time Lord Louis Mountbatten first met Edwina in 1920, she was a leading member of London society and one of the richest women in England. Her maternal grandfather died in 1921, leaving her £2 million (£80 million in today’s pounds), and his palatial London townhouse, Brook House, at a time when her future husband’s naval salary was £610 per annum (£20 thousand in today’s pounds). Later, she would inherit the country seat of Broadlands, Hampshire, from her father..
Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, born Prince Louis of Battenberg was an impoverished uncle of Prince Philip, the future Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed of the future Queen Elizabeth II. He was serving in the British Navy and by all accounts a dashing young man when he met Edwina and presumably swept her off of her feet.
She and Mountbatten married on 18 July 1922 at St. Margaret’s Church. The wedding attracted crowds of more than 8,000 people, and was attended by many members of the royal family, including Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, David the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) and Prince Philip, and dubbed “wedding of the year”
Neither apparently found happiness or satisfaction in their marriage bed.
After what has been described in literature as a “fumbling honeymoon” Edwina became what can only be termed as wildly promiscuous. Throughout the marriage, she did little to hide such indiscretions from her husband. He became aware of her numerous lovers, accepted them and even developed friendships with some of them – making them “part of the family”. Suspicions that he preferred young men were rife throughout his life and continue to this day.
Throughout the Thirties, she had dozens of “admirers”, known in the private slang of the Mountbatten circle as ‘ginks’.
As Mountbatten himself once put it: ‘Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people’s beds.’ He too found other women.
In 1931, he was flirting with the 18-year-old future Duchess of Argyll and even kept her photo in his cabin.
‘The only photo of any girl!’ he wrote to her. Later, there was Barbara Cartland and the Frenchwoman Yola Letellier, on whom Colette based her novel Gigi. Edwina was fiercely jealous, but she didn’t think to change her own habits.
This sexual track record seems like an unlikely apprenticeship for a woman to become the great love of the socialist founder of modern India.
But Edwina, the social butterfly, also had a strong streak of idealism. Never one for empty titles, she seems to have climbed in and out of bed looking for a cause. When war came, she found it.
With the onset of World War II, her tireless work in the bombed- out East End was followed by spell in South-East Asia repatriating British refugees from prison camps and hospitals.
While the young Edwina had been playing the field, the patrician Nehru had been working hard for his country.
Born in 1889, son of a leading lawyer, he came from a rich and influential family with distinctly Anglicized tastes in clothes and culture.
In 1916, he had married the high-born Kamala, riding to his Maharajah-style wedding in Delhi on a white horse.
“But he had already come under the spell of the charismatic Gandhi, at the time a failed lawyer who, having been shabbily treated in British-owned South Africa, returned to his own country fired up against social injustice and determined to free it from foreign domination.
Interestingly, the Nehru marriage somewhat mirrored that of the Mountbattens. In her 30s Kamala developed into an irresistibly attractive woman who was always surrounded by infatuated young men, including Feroze Gandhi (no relation to the Mahatma), the future husband of her daughter, Indira, who would of course later became the country’s fiery leader.
Many people are convinced Kamala and Feroze conducted a long and satisfying affair and that Nehru too was bi-sexual.
However, Kamala died at a young age of tuberculosis in 1936. And though Nehru had also had affairs, he never remarried. His only love now was his country – until he met Edwina Mountbatten.””
Lord and Lady Mountbatten served as the last Viceroy and Vicereine of pre-Partition India, after the British government gave him power to arrange the independence of British India. After Partition, Lord Mountbatten remained briefly as the first of the two Governors-General of India. In 1950 the link with the monarchy was severed and India’s governor general was replaced with a non-executive
Lady Mountbatten, in all accounts of the violent disruption that followed the Partition of India, is universally praised for her heroic efforts in relieving the misery. She continued to lead a life of service after her viceroyalty in India, including service for the St John Ambulance Brigade.
After independence, the Indophile Mountbattens made many visits to the country, and Edwina spent more and more time with the new prime minister Nehru.
This is the point at which her younger daughter Pamela, the biographer in the family, acknowledges that love blossomed between the lonely Nehru and the Vicereine.
Edwina and Nehru
As Mountbatten himself wrote to her sister Patricia at the time: ‘She and Jawaharlal (Nehru) are so sweet together, they really dote on each other.’
“Undignified as it seems against the backdrop of the huge historic events in which they were caught up, there are those who suspect that Nehru, like both Mountbattens, had bisexual tendencies, and that Dickie, in a last attempt to establish physical intimacy with his unresponsive wife, may have joined them in a physical menage a trois.”
Whatever went on in the bedroom Edwina visited Nehru every year and he (her soulmate) visited her in England, where his sister became High Commissioner.”
“When parted, they wrote to each other constantly – and Edwina made no attempt to keep the letters secret from her husband.
As she wrote to Lord Mountbatten in 1952: ‘Some of them have no “personal” remarks at all. Others are love letters… though you yourself well realize the strange relationship – most of it spiritual – which exists between us.’
When the correspondence is eventually published in its entirety, perhaps we may know the whole truth.”
While this sounds like a great movie script, the Indian government put the kabosh on a movie which was filming in 2009, demanding so see how the scenes between Edwina and Nehru were to be played out. Nix the movie.
“Meanwhile, one of Nehru’s own last letters, written ten years after their first meeting, sheds a little more light. ‘Suddenly I realised (and perhaps you also did) that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force, of which I was dimly aware, drew us to one another.
‘I was overwhelmed and at the same time exhilarated by this new discovery. We talked more intimately as if some veil had been removed and we could look into each other’s eyes without fear or embarrassment.’
Intense words, yet Nehru was now 68, his romantic friend ten years younger.
No longer in the first flush of youth, perhaps there was no great urgency to climb into bed.
Little did they realize how little time was left. A year later, in 1960, 58-year- old Edwina, by now leading a selfless life, died alone in her sleep while on a trip to Borneo on behalf of St John Ambulance Brigade. Beside her bed was her collection of Nehru’s letters.
And the love affair was not over yet. As her body was taken by the Royal Navy to its sea burial off Britain’s south coast, Prime Minister Nehru made his last and most public declaration of his devotion, sending his own Indian Navy frigate to cast a wreath upon the waters on his behalf.”
Portions of this post in quotations are from on article in the London Daily Mail published some time ago.