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Lord Mountbatten and his glamorous heiress wife both had bisexual affairs

The images are extraordinary. The beautiful young couple are laughing and kissing and frolicking and simply having a blast in the sunshine. She has her legs draped over him, giggling as he pulls her closer. 

We see more of her lithe form than you’d expect to see of a woman of that class, from that era.

The black and white footage, of the young Dickie Mountbatten – later Lord Mountbatten – and his bride, society heiress Edwina Ashley, is shown in a new documentary series about the private lives of some of the more flamboyant members of the royal family.

Little wonder the three part series, The Private Lives of the Royals, kicks off with Lord Mountbatten, the naval commander who introduced the Queen to her future husband, his nephew Phillip, and later became a mentor, and honorary grandfather, to Prince Charles.

A new three part series, The Private Lives of the Royals, kicks off with Lord Mountbatten, the naval commander who introduced the Queen to her future husband, his nephew Phillip, and later became a mentor, and honorary grandfather, to Prince Charles. He is pictured here with his wife, the richest heiress of her day, Edwina Mountbatten, in November 1922

A new three part series, The Private Lives of the Royals, kicks off with Lord Mountbatten, the naval commander who introduced the Queen to her future husband, his nephew Phillip, and later became a mentor, and honorary grandfather, to Prince Charles. He is pictured here with his wife, the richest heiress of her day, Edwina Mountbatten, in November 1922

Queen Elizabeth II talks with Louis Mountbatten, as they attend the premiere of the film 'Dunkirk' at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, London on March 20th 1958. This documentary tracks his extraordinary journey from the fringes of royal society (a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, he is described as a 'second division royal') to the heart of the House of Windsor

Queen Elizabeth II talks with Louis Mountbatten, as they attend the premiere of the film 'Dunkirk' at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, London on March 20th 1958. This documentary tracks his extraordinary journey from the fringes of royal society (a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, he is described as a 'second division royal') to the heart of the House of Windsor

Queen Elizabeth II talks with Louis Mountbatten, as they attend the premiere of the film ‘Dunkirk’ at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, London on March 20th 1958. This documentary tracks his extraordinary journey from the fringes of royal society (a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, he is described as a ‘second division royal’) to the heart of the House of Windsor

This documentary tracks his extraordinary journey from the fringes of royal society (a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, he is described as a ‘second division royal’) to the heart of the House of Windsor.

What a romp his journey was too – quite literally, in some respects. Dickie and Edwina’s wedding was THE society event of the year in 1922. The royals were out in force, the bride was the richest heiress in the country, and the British public couldn’t get enough detail on the wedding arrangements.

The inside detail on how the couple actually conducted their marriage would never be public, however. Theirs was an open marriage.

 It has long been known that Mountbatten (a charismatic man one colleague said could ‘charm a vulture off a carcass’) had a string of affairs. 

Dickie and Edwina's wedding was THE society event of the year in 1922. The royals were out in force, the bride was the richest heiress in the country, and the British public couldn't get enough detail on the wedding arrangements

Dickie and Edwina's wedding was THE society event of the year in 1922. The royals were out in force, the bride was the richest heiress in the country, and the British public couldn't get enough detail on the wedding arrangements

Lord and Lady Mountabatten are pictured in 1953 in their ceremonial robes. A new documentary reveals how they had a very busy love life outside of their marriage

Lord and Lady Mountabatten are pictured in 1953 in their ceremonial robes. A new documentary reveals how they had a very busy love life outside of their marriage

Dickie and Edwina’s wedding was THE society event of the year in 1922. The royals were out in force, the bride was the richest heiress in the country, and the British public couldn’t get enough detail on the wedding arrangements. They are pictured right at their wedding

Queen Elizabeth II (second right) with Princess Anne (left), Earl Mountbatten (second left)) and the Duke of Edinburgh (right) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during her Silver Jubilee. Prince Philip is Mountbatten's nephew and introduced the pair

Queen Elizabeth II (second right) with Princess Anne (left), Earl Mountbatten (second left)) and the Duke of Edinburgh (right) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during her Silver Jubilee. Prince Philip is Mountbatten's nephew and introduced the pair

Queen Elizabeth II (second right) with Princess Anne (left), Earl Mountbatten (second left)) and the Duke of Edinburgh (right) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during her Silver Jubilee. Prince Philip is Mountbatten’s nephew and introduced the pair

The new documentary reveals the inside detail on how the couple actually conducted their open marriage. Edwina Mountbatten with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955

The new documentary reveals the inside detail on how the couple actually conducted their open marriage. Edwina Mountbatten with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955

Louis Mountbatten who later became a British naval commander and statesman, on board the ship 'Renown' during a world cruise with Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1919

Louis Mountbatten who later became a British naval commander and statesman, on board the ship 'Renown' during a world cruise with Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1919

The new documentary reveals the  inside detail on how the couple actually conducted their open marriage. Edwina Mountbatten with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955 (left) and Louis Mountbatten who later became a British naval commander and statesman, on board the ship ‘Renown’ during a world cruise with Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) in 1919

As this documentary series shows, however, it was Edwina who started to cheat first. She went on to have what can only be described as a harem of lovers, including polo players, aristocrats and magnates. 

Although he was devastated by the first infidelities, Dickie coped by taking his own lovers. He later admitted ‘Edwina and I spent all our married life getting into other people’s beds.’ 

And how. Their marriage involved bed-hopping and threesomes. We do know that FBI documents from the 1940s revealed shocking claims that Mountbatten was secretly ‘a homosexual with a perversion for young boys.’ 

In the documents, the couple are described as ‘persons of extremely low morals’ and many have suggested both were bisexual – a huge taboo at the time.

The Duke of Edinburgh celebrates his bachelor party in a private suite at the Dorchester, with Captain McGregor (left) and his uncle Earl Mountbatten on 18th November 1947. It has long been known that Mountbatten (a charismatic man one colleague said could 'charm a vulture off a carcass') had a string of affairs

The Duke of Edinburgh celebrates his bachelor party in a private suite at the Dorchester, with Captain McGregor (left) and his uncle Earl Mountbatten on 18th November 1947. It has long been known that Mountbatten (a charismatic man one colleague said could 'charm a vulture off a carcass') had a string of affairs

The Duke of Edinburgh celebrates his bachelor party in a private suite at the Dorchester, with Captain McGregor (left) and his uncle Earl Mountbatten on 18th November 1947. It has long been known that Mountbatten (a charismatic man one colleague said could ‘charm a vulture off a carcass’) had a string of affairs

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley (later Lady Mountbatten) in India, during the visit of The Prince of Wales. Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley (later Lady Mountbatten) in India, during the visit of The Prince of Wales. Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India

Lord and Lady Mountbatten pictured in their Sunday best before leaving for America

Lord and Lady Mountbatten pictured in their Sunday best before leaving for America

Lord Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley (later Lady Mountbatten) in India, during the visit of The Prince of Wales. Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India. Left, they are pictured in their Sunday best before leaving for America

This documentary doesn’t venture too far down that route, but it does paint a fascinating picture of a marriage that was completely at odds with the public, rather proper, images. 

Mountbatten went on to become the last Viceroy of India, one of the world’s leading statesmen. His wife, by then the Countess, was firmly at his side. 

Yes, that one was complicated too (it has since emerged he had a ten year affair with Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become Prime Minister of India), but the couple maintained public appearances throughout.

‘It was extraordinary really,’ says historian Andrew Lownie, author of the book The Mountbattens, which caused a stir last year when it made claims that Lord Mountbatten’s sexual habits ventured into very dark territory.

Lord Mountbatten, known as Dickie, coped with his wife's infidelities by taking his own lovers. He later admitted 'Edwina and I spent all our married life getting into other people's beds'. He is pictured with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII

Lord Mountbatten, known as Dickie, coped with his wife's infidelities by taking his own lovers. He later admitted 'Edwina and I spent all our married life getting into other people's beds'. He is pictured with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII

Lord Mountbatten, known as Dickie, coped with his wife’s infidelities by taking his own lovers. He later admitted ‘Edwina and I spent all our married life getting into other people’s beds’. He is pictured with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII

‘There really is a great film to be made about them. Edwina was a fascinating character. She really didn’t care what society thought of her. She just did her own thing. But there were two arcs in her life. 

‘First she was a bored socialite having affairs, but later she was almost a Mother Theresa figure. He was very much afraid that her affairs would affect his career, and his relationship with the royal family. 

‘Even now people are pretty discrete about these things, in those circles. It was a case of, as long as they didn’t scare the horses, they could get up to whatever they wanted in private, as long as it didn’t become public. 

Earl Louis Mountbatten and Prince Charles watching the RAC Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1968, he became an honary Uncle to Charles

Earl Louis Mountbatten and Prince Charles watching the RAC Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1968, he became an honary Uncle to Charles

A very sombre Prince Charles at Lord Mountbatten's funeral in 1979. The former Viceroy of India was killed by an IRA bomb

A very sombre Prince Charles at Lord Mountbatten's funeral in 1979. The former Viceroy of India was killed by an IRA bomb

Prince Charles adored Lord Mountbatten, and the feeling was mutual. He once described his ‘Uncle Dickie’ as his honorary grandfather, but he was more than that. Left: The pair are seen watching the RAC Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1968. Right: A very sombre Prince Charles at Lord Mountbatten’s funeral in 1979. The former Viceroy of India was killed by an IRA bomb

Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) (second left) on board ship prior to his departure for a tour of Australia; with his two brothers Henry, Duke of Gloucester (left) and George, Duke of York (second right); and Louis Mountbatten (right)

Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) (second left) on board ship prior to his departure for a tour of Australia; with his two brothers Henry, Duke of Gloucester (left) and George, Duke of York (second right); and Louis Mountbatten (right)

Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) (second left) on board ship prior to his departure for a tour of Australia; with his two brothers Henry, Duke of Gloucester (left) and George, Duke of York (second right); and Louis Mountbatten (right)

‘But they really did push it. They lived on the edge of being caught the whole time.’ 

It wasn’t just public embarrassment that they were risking, either. Her relationship with Nehru could have opened them up to huge political questions.

The couple did come close to divorce several times. 

‘He offered her one if she wanted to marry Bunny Phillips (a Colonel of the Coldstream Guards, with whom she was besotted), but then he went off and married one of her best friends. Before they went to India, they were due to divorce but neither of them would have wanted to give up the opportunity of him becoming Viceroy.’

It wasn’t a sham marriage, though, quite the opposite. ‘They did love each other. They had a real friendship and sense of fun. He was devastated when she died.’

The documentary series shows it was Edwina who started to cheat first. She went on to have what can only be described as a harem of lovers, including polo players, aristocrats and magnates. She is pictured left volunteering for the Red Cross in 1942

The documentary series shows it was Edwina who started to cheat first. She went on to have what can only be described as a harem of lovers, including polo players, aristocrats and magnates. She is pictured left volunteering for the Red Cross in 1942

The documentary series shows it was Edwina who started to cheat first. She went on to have what can only be described as a harem of lovers, including polo players, aristocrats and magnates. She is pictured left volunteering for the Red Cross in 1942

Mountbatten advised Prince Charles on his love life, famously telling him that young royals needed to sow their wild oats, but settle down with a young, virginal girl. Charles is pictured with his now wife Camilla Parker Bowles in  1975

Mountbatten advised Prince Charles on his love life, famously telling him that young royals needed to sow their wild oats, but settle down with a young, virginal girl. Charles is pictured with his now wife Camilla Parker Bowles in  1975

Mountbatten advised Prince Charles on his love life, famously telling him that young royals needed to sow their wild oats, but settle down with a young, virginal girl. Charles is pictured with his now wife Camilla Parker Bowles in  1975

Countess Mountbatten died in 1960. She had requested a burial at sea. Her husband stood on HMS Wakeful just off the coast at Portsmouth to pay his final respects. Nehru sent a frigate all the way from India to lay a wreath.

None of the more eyebrow raising detail of their personal life was in the public domain at the time, obviously.

 In Mountbatten’s lifetime (he was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979), the public account of his life rarely veered off the ‘national hero’ script. 

The young Prince Charles playing with his great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, after landing on the coast of Malta, April 27th 1954

The young Prince Charles playing with his great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, after landing on the coast of Malta, April 27th 1954

The young Prince Charles playing with his great uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, after landing on the coast of Malta, April 27th 1954

This is not how he would have liked to be remembered, either. He actually made his own documentary series about his life. It was – like the man himself – breathtakingly ambitious.

It ran over 12 episodes, with an astonishing 38million viewers tuning in. All the senior royals turned out for a special preview screening – The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen Mother. 

Yes, the Queen Mother had always issues with Mountbatten (when the Queen married Prince Philip, Mountbatten pushed for the House of Windsor to become the House of Mountbatten. He lost that battle). 

Andrew Lownie doesn’t agree that the Queen Mother hated him, though. ‘She just thought he was very pushy. The joke was that he had the sharpest elbows on the royal balcony. But then she was a pushy woman herself!’.

Whatever, the documentary, with endless footage of Mountbatten astride a horse, was an audacious piece of publicity.

This documentary highlights, Mountbatten indeed was one of the most impressive men of his generation, a bona fide military leader who rose to the highest position in the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord, as his father had done before him. 'That alone makes him unusual in the royal family,' says Lownie. Lord and Lady Mountbatten are pictured arriving in New York in 1922

This documentary highlights, Mountbatten indeed was one of the most impressive men of his generation, a bona fide military leader who rose to the highest position in the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord, as his father had done before him. 'That alone makes him unusual in the royal family,' says Lownie. Lord and Lady Mountbatten are pictured arriving in New York in 1922

This documentary highlights, Mountbatten indeed was one of the most impressive men of his generation, a bona fide military leader who rose to the highest position in the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord, as his father had done before him. ‘That alone makes him unusual in the royal family,’ says Lownie. Lord and Lady Mountbatten are pictured arriving in New York in 1922

 Now, putting it, or anything like it, on the air would unthinkable. Not least because great swathes of it simply weren’t true. ‘A lot of it was a work of fiction,’ says Lownie. ‘But it told the story he wanted to tell. He really was the most brilliant self-publicist.’

As this documentary highlights, Mountbatten indeed was one of the most impressive men of his generation, a bona fide military leader who rose to the highest position in the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord, as his father had done before him. ‘That alone makes him unusual in the royal family,’ says Lownie.

Indeed, avenging his father was his life’s work, this programme suggests. Mountbatten’s father was Prince Louis of Battenburg, a minor German royal and a highly respected British naval officer, who lost his status at the outbreak of war, because of his German lineage.

The family had to change their name to the more Anglicised Mountbatten. Dickie spent his life fighting to restore his family’s reputation.

Lord Mountbatten's body is shown being taken away from the harbour where he was killed by a IRA time bomb on board his boat near County Sligo in 1979. Mountbatten's funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, was exactly the grand send-off he would have wanted, and underlined his position at the heart of the royal family, where he always felt he belonged.

Lord Mountbatten's body is shown being taken away from the harbour where he was killed by a IRA time bomb on board his boat near County Sligo in 1979. Mountbatten's funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, was exactly the grand send-off he would have wanted, and underlined his position at the heart of the royal family, where he always felt he belonged.

Lord Mountbatten’s body is shown being taken away from the harbour where he was killed by a IRA time bomb on board his boat near County Sligo in 1979. Mountbatten’s funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, was exactly the grand send-off he would have wanted, and underlined his position at the heart of the royal family, where he always felt he belonged.

‘He always had this deep insecurity, poor man. He thought it was a slur on his family’s honour,’ says Lownie. ‘He was obsessed with genealogy tables. He always had a chip on his shoulder, and knew he was the outsider. But he also had to win. He turned everything into a game. Alpha Males are like that.’

This programme suggests – and Lownie concurs – that he rather enjoyed the game. The word was that Mountbatten would never come in the door, if he could come down the chimney.

He was a natural leader, able to charm anyone, and by all accounts he was generous, loyal, and extremely driven. Was he a brilliant military man? The jury is out on that one. 

‘As a seaman, no, because he didn’t obey orders. He wasn’t a team player. But people would say they would follow Dickie anywhere, to get away from any problem – even though Dickie had probably got them into the problem in the first place. He was a real Marmite figure. People either loved or hated him.’ 

Prince Charles adored him, and the feeling was mutual. He once described Mountbatten as his honorary grandfather, but he was more than that. 

Lord Mountbatten in 1945. In Mountbatten's lifetime (he was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979), the public account of his life rarely veered off the 'national hero' script

Lord Mountbatten in 1945. In Mountbatten's lifetime (he was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979), the public account of his life rarely veered off the 'national hero' script

Lord Mountbatten in 1945. In Mountbatten’s lifetime (he was killed by an IRA bomb in 1979), the public account of his life rarely veered off the ‘national hero’ script

‘He was an honorary father,’ really, says Lownie. ‘Prince Charles was a rather sensitive boy, and he showed him affection that his own father, the Duke of Edinburgh, never did.’

He also tried to – and succeeded in – advising Prince Charles on his love life, famously telling him that young royals needed to sow their wild oats, but settle down with a young, virginal girl. 

He tried to set Prince Charles up with his own grand-daughter, Amanda Knatchbull, unsuccessfully. There have been suggestions that if Mountbatten had lived, he would have advised Charles NOT to marry the then Lady Diana Spencer. 

Lownie doesn’t agree here. ‘I think she was exactly the sort of person he would have wanted her to marry. Perhaps when things went wrong, he would have tried to advise him to hang in there, but I’m not sure that would have made a difference.’

Mountbatten’s funeral, full of pomp and ceremony, was exactly the grand send-off he would have wanted, and underlined his position at the heart of the royal family, where he always felt he belonged.

  • PRIVATE LIVES OF THE WINDSORS (3 part series) starts Monday, July 13th at 8pm on Smithsonian Channel

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