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Admiral of the Fleet Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (born Prince Louis of Battenberg; June 25, 1900 – August 27, 1979), was a British Royal Navy officer and statesman, a Maternal Uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. During the Second World War, he was Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (1943–1946). He was the last Viceroy of India (1947) and the first governor-general of independent India (1947–1948).

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Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma

Lord Mountbatten was known as His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg from the time of his birth at Frogmore House in the Home Park, Windsor, Berkshire until 1917, when he and several other relations of King George V of the United Kingdom dropped their German styles and titles.

Lord Mountbatten was the youngest child and the second son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. His maternal grandparents were Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and Princess Alice of the United Kingdom, who was a daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. His paternal grandparents were Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine and Julia von Hauke, Princess of Battenberg.

Mountbatten’s paternal grandparents’ marriage was morganatic because his grandmother was not of royal lineage; as a result, he and his father were styled “Serene Highness” rather than “Grand Ducal Highness”, and were not eligible to be titled Princes of Hesse and by Rhine and were given the less exalted Battenberg title. His siblings were Princess Alice of Greece and Denmark (mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh), Queen Louise of Sweden, and George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven.

Young Mountbatten’s nickname among family and friends was “Dickie”, although “Richard” was not among his given names. This was because his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, had suggested the nickname of “Nicky”, but to avoid confusion with the many Nickys of the Russian Imperial Family (“Nicky” was particularly used to refer to Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor) Nicky” was changed to “Dickie”.

Mountbatten was posted as midshipman to the battlecruiser HMS Lion in July 1916 and, after seeing action in August 1916, transferred to the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth during the closing phases of the First World War. In June 1917, when the royal family stopped using their German names and titles and adopted the more British-sounding “Windsor”, his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg became Louis Mountbatten, and was created 1st Marquess of Milford Haven. His second son acquired the courtesy title Lord Louis Mountbatten and was known as Lord Louis until he was created a peer in 1946. He paid a visit of ten days to the Western Front, in July 1918.

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Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley

Lord Mountbatten was married on July 18, 1922 to Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley, daughter of Wilfred William Ashley, later 1st Baron Mount Temple, himself a grandson of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. She was the favourite granddaughter of the Edwardian magnate Sir Ernest Cassel and the principal heir to his fortune. The couple spent heavily on households, luxuries and entertainment. There followed a honeymoon tour of European royal courts and America which included a visit to Niagara Falls (because “all honeymooners went there”).

Last viceroy of India

His experience in the region and in particular his perceived Labour sympathies at that time led to Clement Attlee advising King George VI to appoint Mountbatten Viceroy of India on 20 February 20, 1947 charged with overseeing the transition of British India to independence no later than June 30, 1948.

Mountbatten’s instructions were to avoid partition and preserve a united India as a result of the transference of power but authorised him to adapt to a changing situation in order to get Britain out promptly with minimal reputational damage. Soon after he arrived, Mountbatten concluded that the situation was too volatile to wait even a year before granting independence to India.

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Lord and Lady Mountbatten with Mahatma Gandhi, 1947

Although his advisers favoured a gradual transfer of independence, Mountbatten decided the only way forward was a quick and orderly transfer of independence before 1947 was out. In his view, any longer would mean civil war. The Viceroy also hurried so he could return to his senior technical Navy courses.

Mountbatten was fond of Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru and his liberal outlook for the country. He felt differently about the Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but was aware of his power, stating “If it could be said that any single man held the future of India in the palm of his hand in 1947, that man was Mohammad Ali Jinnah.” During his meeting with Jinnah on April 5, 1947, Mountbatten tried to persuade Jinnah of a united India, citing the difficult task of dividing the mixed states of Punjab and Bengal, but the Muslim leader was unyielding in his goal of establishing a separate Muslim state called Pakistan.

Given the British government’s recommendations to grant independence quickly, Mountbatten concluded that a united India was an unachievable goal and resigned himself to a plan for partition, creating the independent nations of India and Pakistan. Mountbatten set a date for the transfer of power from the British to the Indians, arguing that a fixed timeline would convince Indians of his and the British government’s sincerity in working towards a swift and efficient independence, excluding all possibilities of stalling the process.

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Lord and Lady Mountbatten with Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Among the Indian leaders, Mahatma Gandhi emphatically insisted on maintaining a united India and for a while successfully rallied people to this goal. During his meeting with Mountbatten, Gandhi asked Mountbatten to invite Jinnah to form a new Central government, but Mountbatten never uttered a word of Gandhi’s ideas to Jinnah. And when Mountbatten’s timeline offered the prospect of attaining independence soon, sentiments took a different turn. Given Mountbatten’s determination, Nehru and Patel’s inability to deal with the Muslim League and lastly Jinnah’s obstinacy, all Indian party leaders (except Gandhi) acquiesced to Jinnah’s plan to divide India.

When India and Pakistan attained independence at midnight on the night of 14–15 August 1947, Mountbatten remained in New Delhi for 10 months, serving as the first governor general of an independent India until June 1948.