Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma
Edwina and Louis
|Born||Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley
28 November 1901
Broadlands, Romsey Extra, Hampshire, England
|Died||21 February 1960
Jesselton, North Borneo
|Title||Countess Mountbatten of Burma|
|Parents||Wilfred William Ashley
Amalia Mary Maud Cassel
Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, CI, GBE, DCVO, GCStJ (28 November 1901 – 21 February 1960) was an English heiress, socialite, relief-worker, wife of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and last Vicereine of India.
Lineage and wealth
Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma was born Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley in 1901, the elder daughter of Wilfred William Ashley, later 1st Baron Mount Temple (of the 1932 creation), who was a Conservative Member of Parliament.
Paternally, Ashley descended from the Earls of Shaftesbury who had been ennobled as barons in 1661, and ranked as baronets since 1622. She was a great-granddaughter of the reformist 7th Earl of Shaftesbury through his younger son, The Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836–1907) and his wife, Sybella Farquhar (d. 1886), a granddaughter of the 6th Duke of Beaufort. From this cadet branch, the Ashley-Cooper peers would inherit the estates of Broadlands, and Classiebawn Castle in Sligo, Ireland.
Ashley's mother was Amalia Mary Maud Cassel (1879–1911), daughter of the international magnate Sir Ernest Joseph Cassel, friend and private financier to the future King Edward VII. Cassel was one of the richest and most powerful men in Europe. He lost his beloved wife (Annette Mary Maud Maxwell), for whom he had converted from Judaism to Roman Catholicism. He also lost his only child, Amalia. He was then to leave the bulk of his vast fortune to Edwina, his elder granddaughter.
After Ashley's father's re-marriage in 1914 to Molly Forbes-Sempill, she was sent away to boarding schools, first to The Links in Eastbourne, then to Alde House in Suffolk, at neither of which was she a willing pupil. Her grandfather, Sir Ernest, solved the domestic dilemma by inviting her to live with him and, eventually, to act as hostess at his London residence, Brooke House. Later, his other mansions, Moulton Paddocks and Branksome Dene, would become part of her Cassel inheritance.
By the time Lord Louis Mountbatten first met Edwina in 1920, she was a leading member of London society. Her grandfather died in 1921, leaving her £2 million (£75.1 million in today's pounds), the country seat of Broadlands, Hampshire and the palatial London townhouse, Brooke House, at a time when her future husband's naval salary was £610 per annum (£20 thousand in today pounds).
Ashley and Mountbatten were married on 18 July 1922 at St. Margaret's, Westminster. Louis Mountbatten's relatives, the British Royal Family, were all present. The then-Prince of Wales and future King Edward VIII served as the best man.
Lady Mountbatten lived a fashionable and privileged life almost totally dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure—and indeed, took off on an extended period at sea during the mid-1930s, when for many months no one had any idea of her whereabouts. Publishers Weekly summarises the Janet Morgan biography of Lady Mountbatten: "Edwina Ashley wed Lord Louis ('Dickie') Mountbatten in 1922 at the age of 20, then embarked on two decades of frivolity. Not satisfied having two well-behaved daughters and an 'enthusiastic boy' of a husband, she took refuge in lovers and sparked scandals".
Vicereine of India
At the outbreak of the Second World War, Lady Mountbatten acquired a new purpose in life and devoted her considerable intelligence and energy to the service of others. She is especially remembered for her service in the post-Partition period of India, when five provinces were partitioned off as Pakistan as a result of a movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Lord and Lady Mountbatten served as the last Viceroy and Vicereine of pre-Partition India, after the British government gave him plenipotentiary 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 president.
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.
The Mountbattens' non-traditional marriage, great wealth, and leftish politics seem to have elicited much speculation about their "decadent" escapades, despite the tender correspondence the couple maintained throughout their adult lives. Lady Mountbatten occasionally travelled with her husband's sister-in-law, Lady Milford Haven, whose bisexual liaisons are perhaps better documented than those attributed to Edwina. Along with Nancy Cunard, she was alleged to have been lovers with American actor Paul Robeson, although she successfully brought suit against a newspaper for printing the story since, she testified, she had never met the man. However, her real liaison had been with cabaret star Leslie Hutchinson.
It was rumoured during Mountbatten's viceroyalty, and remains widely believed, that his wife had an affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India's first prime minister during their stay in India, and that the pair may have resumed that connection on Nehru's subsequent visits to England. The allegation was made in Richard Hough's 1980 biography Mountbatten: Hero of Our Times. However, the affair is denied by the Mountbatten family, although other liaisons during the couple's open marriage have been admitted. Lord Mountbatten's son-in-law and former naval aide-de-camp, Lord Brabourne, citing the extensive, preserved correspondence between his mother-in-law and Nehru, was quoted on 12 February 2003 in the Indian news periodical The Pioneer as saying, "Philip Ziegler and Janet Morgan [biographers, respectively, of Louis and of Edwina Mountbatten] are the only two people who have seen the letters apart from the two families, and neither of them thinks there was anything physical".
Catherine Clement, author of Edwina and Nehru: A Novel, stated in an interview with the Times of India that "Edwina in her letters to Lord Mountbatten has written that her relationship with Nehru was mostly platonic. Mostly, but not always". While Mountbatten's daughter, Pamela acknowledged the close relationship with Nehru, she maintained that the relationship was nonphysical.
Lady Mountbatten died in her sleep at age 58 of unknown causes in 1960 in Jesselton, British North Borneo while on an inspection tour for the St John Ambulance Brigade. In accordance with her wishes, Lord Mountbatten buried her at sea off the coast of Portsmouth from HMS Wakeful on 25 February 1960; Nehru sent two Indian destroyers to accompany her body; Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated. 
Titles and honours
- Miss Edwina Ashley (28 November 1901 – 18 July 1922)
- Lady Louis Mountbatten (18 July 1922 – 23 August 1946)
- The Rt Hon. The Viscountess Mountbatten of Burma (23 August 1946 – 28 October 1947)
- Her Excellency The Rt. Hon. The Viscountess Mountbatten of Burma, Vicereine of India (12 February-15 August 1947)
- The Rt Hon. The Countess Mountbatten of Burma (28 October 1947 – 21 February 1960)
- Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) - 1 January 1946
- Dame Grand Cross of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (GCStJ) - 1 January 1946 (CStJ: 19 December 1928)
- Lady of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India (CI)
- Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE) - 1 January 1948 (CBE: 1 January 1943)
|Ancestors of Edwina Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma|
- GRO Register of Births: MAR 1902 1a 434 ST GEO HAN SQ = London
- Morgan, Janet (1991). "Edwina Mountbatten: A Life of Her Own" (1st ed.). Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-19346-5.
- Himanshi Dhawan (9 November 2009). "Edwina-Nehru affair not always platonic: French author". Times of India. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- "Love, longing & politics!". Times of India. 21 April 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- "Lady Mountbatten dies in sleep on visit to Borneo". The Sydney Morning Herald (London). AAP. 21 February 1960. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
- "Her Grave The Sea 1960". British Pathe.
- London Gazette, 1 January 1946
- London Gazette, 1 January 1946
- London Gazette, 1 January 1929
- London Gazette, 1 January 1948
- The London Gazette, 1 January 1943
- Morgan, Janet P. Edwina Mountbatten: A Life of Her Own, Scribners, 1991. ISBN 978-0684193465
- Ziegler, Philip, Mountbatten: the official biography, Collins, 1985. ISBN 978-0006370475
- Hough, Richard Alexander, Mountbatten: Hero of our time, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980. ISBN 978-0297786221
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