Battenberg and Mountbatten

The House of Windsor was created on 17 July 1917 when King George V decided that the name of the royal house should be anglicised in response to anti-German sentiment resulting from the First World War. The name Windsor was adopted, replacing Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. At a meeting of the Privy Council on 17 July 1917, George V declared that “all descendants in the male line of Queen Victoria, who are subjects of these realms, other than female descendants who marry or who have married, shall bear the name of Windsor”. It was also decided that the various Tecks, Holsteins and Battenbergs who were British citizens should do the same. Among those affected were the family of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg.

Letterpress halftone portrait photograph of Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg when First Sea Lord, 1914 [MB2/A12/61]

Letterpress halftone portrait photograph of Admiral Prince Louis of Battenberg when First Sea Lord, 1914 [MB2/A12/61]

Born at Graz, Austria, in 1854, Prince Louis was the eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and his morganatic wife, Countess Julia Theresa von Haucke. Family connections with Princess Alice and Prince Albert (both children of Queen Victoria) led to Prince Louis settling in England and becoming naturalized as a British subject. He entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1868, at the age of fourteen. In 1884 he married his cousin Princess Victoria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Together they had two daughters, Alice (b. 1885) and Louise (b. 1889), and two sons, George (b. 1892) and Louis Francis (b. 1900).

Following a long and successful naval career lasting more than forty years, Prince Louis was appointed First Sea Lord in 1912 by Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. In July 1914, with the First World War looming, Prince Louis took the initiative to ensure the British fleet was ready for combat. However, this did not shield him from attack on account of his German background and over the subsequent months his position became increasingly untenable. On 29 October he resigned from his position as First Sea Lord – a blow from which he is said to have never recovered. In his letter of resignation to Churchill he writes:

I have lately been driven to the painful conclusion that at this juncture my birth and parentage have the effect of impairing in some respects my usefulness on the Board of the Admiralty. In these circumstances I feel it to be my duty, as a loyal subject of His Majesty, to resign the office of First Sea Lord, hoping thereby to facilitate the task of the administration of the great Service to which I have devoted my life, and to ease the burden laid on HM’s Ministers. [MS 62 MB1/T48]

At the behest of the King he agreed to change his name and relinquished his German titles (of Serene Highness and Prince) in 1917. The family adopted the name Mountbatten, an Anglicisation of the German Battenberg (rejecting the alternative translation of Battenhill). Having renounced their German titles, they were compensated with British peerages of marquess of Milford Haven, earl of Medina, and Viscount Alderney. As a result, Prince Louis became Louis Alexander Mountbatten, first Marquess of Milford Haven; his eldest son George became Earl of Medina (succeeding to his father’s peerage on his death); while his second son acquired the courtesy title Lord Louis Mountbatten (remaining Lord Louis until he was created a peer in 1946).

Black and white photograph of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg and his sons, Louis (on the left) and George (on the right), 1914 [MB2/A12/34]

Black and white photograph of Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg and his sons, Louis (on the left) and George (on the right), 1914 [MB2/A12/34]

Lord Louis Mountbatten (nicknamed “Dickie” by his family and friends) was serving on board the battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth when he acquired his courtesy title. He had begun his naval career four years earlier, in 1913, when he entered the Royal Naval College at Osbourne on the Isle of Wight. In so doing he was following in the footsteps of his father and older brother George, both of whom he idolised. He progressed to the fledgling Royal Naval College at Dartmouth in 1915. By the time he completed his training at the Royal Naval College at Keyham the following year he was eager to see action.

He was posted as midshipman to the battlecruiser HMS Lion on 19 July 1916. A month later, on 19 August, his wish to see action was granted when the Lion was involved in a brief encounter with the German fleet. Not long after he was transferred to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the flagship of the Grand Fleet, while his brother George was transferred to the Lion – the Admiralty not allowing two brothers to serve on the same ship. Having visiting the front in July 1918, he joined HMS P31 in October of the same year where he was involved in escort and anti-submarine work.

Black and white photograph of the officers and midshipmen of HMS Lion including Prince Louis Francis of Battenberg (later Lord Mountbatten), 1916 [MB2/A12/65]. He can be seen in the uniform of a midshipman, seated cross-legged in the middle of the front row, tenth from the left. He is holding a small dog, probably the ship's mascot.

Black and white photograph of the officers and midshipmen of HMS Lion including Prince Louis Francis of Battenberg (later Lord Mountbatten), 1916 [MB2/A12/65]. He can be seen in the uniform of a midshipman, seated cross-legged in the middle of the front row, tenth from the left. He is holding a small dog, probably the ship’s mascot.

Following the end of the war, Mountbatten interrupted his naval career to study at the University of Cambridge in 1919. He then joined the Prince of Wale on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, and India, in 1920 and 1921. On 22 August 1921, his father was made an admiral of the fleet on the retired list. However, his health was in decline and he died of heart failure following influenza on 11 September.

Mountbatten spent the inter-war period pursuing his naval career, where he specialised in communications. In 1934, he received his first command on the destroyer, HMS Daring.  In 1939, with the outbreak of the Second World War, he became commander of the HMS Kelly – the exploits of which were made famous by the Noël Coward film In Which We Serve. The Kelly was sunk by German dive bombers off the coast of Crete in May 1941 with the loss of more than half its crew.

Following his role as Chief of Combined Operations – with the responsibility of preparing for the eventual invasion of occupied Europe – he was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command (SEAC), in 1943. Working with General William Slim, he achieved the defeat of the Japanese offensive towards India and the reconquest of Burma. In March 1947, he became viceroy of India, overseeing the transfer of power to India and Pakistan on 14 August 1947. For his services during the war and in India he was created viscount in 1946 and Earl Mountbatten of Burma the following year.

Mountbatten returned to the Royal Navy in 1953, becoming commander of a new NATO Mediterranean command. In 1954 he was appointed First Sea Lord, fulfilling his ambition to succeed to the post that his father had held more than 40 years earlier. Finally, he became Chief of the Defence Staff in 1959, a position he held until 1965 when he retired to civilian life.

The papers of the late Louis, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, form part of University of Southampton Library MS62, the Broadlands archives. The collection includes personal and naval papers of Prince Louis of Battenberg, first Marquis of Milford Haven, 1886-1911 (MB1/T1-10).

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