To the reader in India, ” The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves” published by Blink Publishing in 2019 renews interest in a couple who played a pivotal role in the Partition of India. It is written by Andrew Lownie, a renowned journalist and literary agent. Apart from this comprehensive book on the Mounbattens, Lownie has written books on the former King Edward VIII called “The Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor” and on the Russian spy Guy Burgess, titled, “Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess’.
Whenever I think of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979), I see an imposing figure in sparkling white Naval uniform with rows of medal ribbons on his chest. He did become an Admiral of the Fleet and the First Sea Lord in 1955 thereby fulfilling a childhood vow that he would attain a position held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg. Mountbatten’s father was forced to resign as the First Sea Lord following intense public pressure due to his German ancestry when the First World War broke out in 1914.
However, more than his career as an officer of the Royal Navy, we in India know of “Dickie” Mountbatten as the last British Viceroy of India. In five hectic months from March to August 1947, he presided over the dismemberment of India. He was then invited to continue as Governor-General (from August 1947 to June 1948) after India became independent by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As the last Viceroy of India, he was often seen accompanied by his wife, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1901-1960). She had earned a lot of accolades for her work as the Chief of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade during the Second World War.
As the book’s title suggests, it covers more than just the official roles the Mountbattens played during their long and distinguished careers. It speaks of the innumerable love affairs they had in the course of a long marriage that lasted from 1922 to 1960 when Lady Mounbatten passed away. The author writes that the book is the “portrait of an unusual marriage- one that was loving and mutually supportive, but also beset with infidelities. Mountbatten himself claimed that he and Edwin spent all their married lives getting into other people’s beds!
Dickie Mountbatten was the great grandson of Queen Victoria, through his mother. He was thus the nephew of King George V; a cousin of his successors as Kings of Britain, King Edward VIII and George VI; and uncle of Queen Elizabeth II who married his nephew, Phillip, in November 1947. All his life, Mountbatten had a reputation of being a name dropper who got things done using his closeness to the Royal Family. He may have been a member of the Royal Family but in terms of wealth Edwina was far richer than him. Her grandfather Sir Ernest Cassell was financial advisor to King Edward VII and in his own right one of the richest men in the world. When Edwina got married in 1922, she was the richest heiress in the world!!
Lownie takes us through the different stages of Mountbatten’s career starting from when he was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Navy in 1916 until he retired with the rank of Admiral of the Feet as the First Sea Lord 1959. In the 1920s and 1930s, Edwina was more known for her love for parties, her many lovers, and the social circuit she thrived in more than for anything else. Her interest in Nursing and volunteering for the War effort came much later in her life. She did commendable work for the St Johns Ambulance Brigade and in nursing troops injured in battle in South East Asia where her husband was the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces.
Of special interest to readers in India will be the relationship between the Viceroy, the Vicerine, and Jawaharlal Nehru which has been described in considerable detail by Lownie. Was Edwina’s influence over Nehru used to get the Indian leader to agree to what Mountbatten wanted? Was their relationship merely a ” spiritual” one as claimed by some or much more than that? Did Mountbatten use Edwina’s love for Nehru and vice versa to his advantage? You should read the book for yourself to get all these answers. To many, this book will come as an eye opener. It describes how the high and mighty, glamorous members of the fabled “high society” lived during the height of the British Empire in England and in the closing days of the British Raj in India. After all for more than 50 years, the Mountbattens were considered close to British Royalty.
If you like history and biographies, this is a well-researched book which gives you new insights into the lives of Lord and Lady Mountbatten and the times they lived in.