BOOK OF THE WEEK
by Andrew Lowni (Blink £ 20, 400pp)
It was the wedding of the year in 1922. The king and queen were present. The Prince of Wales was the best man.
The groom, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria, was Louis Mountbatten. (The name was changed from Battenberg during the First World War, which was thought to be too Germanic.)
The bride was Edwina Ashley, then one of the richest heirs in the world. Her pedigree, as impressive as that of Mountbatten, included the Indian princess Pocahontas and the 19th-century prime minister Lord Palmerston.
Mountbatten had first heard of his future bride from a friend who wrote to him about & # 39; a new debut that all young men love. . . large blue eyes, attractive hair, a beautiful figure and beautiful legs; just your cup of tea. & # 39;
Queen Victoria's great-grandson, Louis Mountbatten (photo), married heiress Edwina Ashley in 1922 – in marriage with the king and queen and the prince of Wales
At the time, Edwina wanted to ward off the attention of other men. An officer of Old Etonian Guards suggested. & # 39; She intended to say yes, but at breakfast she decided that he looked like a frog and changed his mind. & # 39;
When she met Mountbatten, the attraction was quick and mutual. He suggested Valentine's Day, four months after their first meeting. Suitably enough, given their future, they both traveled to India at the same time.
Dickie, as Mountbatten was known to friends and family, was & # 39; happily beyond my wildest dreams & # 39 ;. He wrote to Edwina and promised immortal love and praised pieces of her body that he had been allowed to see, including her breasts, which he, somewhat unromantically, had called Mutt and Jeff.
His joy continued after the wedding. & # 39; It's great. . . be married, & he entrusted his mother.
However, as Andrew Lownie & # 39; s richly entertaining biography of the Mountbattens makes very clear, it was not a conventional marriage.
& # 39; Edwina and I spent all of our married life in the beds of others, & # 39; famous Dickie later.
Especially her appeal of enthusiasts is impressive. Her first affair started in 1925, although Dickie didn't know about it for months. Eventually the Prince of Wales told him & # 39; a strange story about Edwina & # 39 ;.
Dickie, as Mountbatten was known to friends and family, was & # 39; happily beyond his wildest dreams & # 39; (Pictured: Edwina Ashley)
Even then, Dickie refused to believe it, but he soon had to deal with the serious infidelity of his wife. Amid rumors about her affair with Douglas Fairbanks, the Mountbattens talked about divorce, but agreed to stay together in an open marriage.
Before that time, several Edwina amours were black. She may have gone to bed with the American singer and actor Paul Robeson. She certainly had an affair with the West Indian entertainer Leslie & # 39; Hutch & # 39; Hutchinson, a social favorite in the 1930s. A (somewhat unlikely) rumor is that she and Hutch once got so entangled during their intercourse that they had to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance, still firmly clamped.
Dickie had his first vow in 1932 with Yola Letellier, the much younger wife of a French newspaper magnate, rather slower to break his wedding vows. But in the 1930s it was Edwina who set the pace and regularly went with her loved ones to China or Brazil or the South Sea.
Lownie talks about the Mountbattens who find their way in the 1920s and 1930s through a world inhabited by people with names such as Fruity Metcalfe and Bunny Phillips, escaped from the pages of P. G. Wodehouse. It is sometimes difficult to remember that they were also central to some of the most important events in 20th-century history.
But, as Andrew Lownie's biography of the Mountbattens makes very clear, it would not be a conventional marriage (photo: Louis and Edwina)
What irrevocably changed their lives was the arrival of the Second World War. It would turn out to be both. Edwina put the years of frivolity behind him and devoted himself to humanitarian work.
Dickie, who had always dealt with his naval career with great seriousness, got new opportunities. His command over HMS Kelly during his difficult journey back to the harbor after an E-boat attack turned him into a war hero.
Noel Coward & # 39; s film In Which We Serve was based on the incident, although there were people who thought it was Mountbatten's stupidity to unnecessarily advertise his position that caused Kelly to be attacked in the first place. (The ship later sunk for Crete.)
It hardly seemed to matter. He was appointed head of combined operations and, later, Supreme Commander SE Asia. In this last role, he accepted the surrender of hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops at the end of the war. At the time, he described it as & # 39; the greatest day of my life & # 39 ;. But more would come.
Edwina's first affair began in 1925, although Dickie knew nothing about it for months (photo: Louis and Edwina)
With the war over, India demanded independence. A new viceroy, the last ever, was needed. Who better than Mountbatten, with its royal connections? & # 39; We will be incredibly unpopular and chances are we will end up with bullets in our backs, & # 39; he predicted. But he took the job and Edwina accompanied him.
Edwina's war work had not put an end to her unfaithfulness. (One of her new loves was the conductor Malcolm Sargent.) In India she started the most important extra-marital relationship, both personal and political, of her life.
She and the politician Jawaharlal Nehru, soon to be the first prime minister of a new independent India, became lovers. (Edwina would later write about & # 39; the strange relationship – most spiritual – that exists between us & # 39; but it seems unlikely that it was not physical either.)
THE MOUNTBATTENS by Andrew Lowni (Blink £ 20,400pp)
Lownie & # 39; s report of the Mountbattens after Indian independence may seem a little anticlimactic. Edwina died in her sleep in February 1960 during a tour through Malaysia. She was only 59. Dickie lived another 20 years, to his own terrible end, killed by an IRA bomb in 1979, 40 years ago this week.
Stories that he was gay or bisexual have long been known. According to one witness, in the years following the death of Edwina & # 39; his London home seemed to be flooded with young, muscular and suspiciously good-looking marine reviews that were buzzing around the place & # 39 ;.
A wartime FBI report even suggested that he have a & # 39; perversion for young boys & # 39; had. Lownie rightly places all these stories in a separate chapter entitled & # 39; Rumors & # 39 ;.
Lownie has written a very pleasant biography of two remarkable people and their even more remarkable marriage. Edwina transformed herself from a poor little rich girl into a dedicated charity worker. Dickie can be furious and monstrously self-centered.
A TV series about his life was shown in the year after his death, presented by Ludovic Kennedy, who later wrote: "A working title could have been before:" How I got my way and was proven in everything I did. "& # 39;
But as Lownie demonstrates so well, Mountbatten was a man with real gifts and high achievements.
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