Tag Archives: Prince Louis of Battenberg

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).

Victoria, first Marchioness of Milford Haven (1863-1950)

One of the key collections in the Archives at the University of Southampton is that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. His official papers are well known, covering his long naval career, his role as last Viceroy of India, and later, at the Admiralty and Ministry of Defence – but the archive also includes personal papers relating to his early life; a remarkable and extensive collection of family photographs; and archives of the German branch of the Battenberg family.

Photographs of Mountbatten’s parents on their wedding day, 30 April 1884, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/4-5]

Photographs of Mountbatten’s parents on their wedding day, 30 April 1884, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/4-5]

Mountbatten’s mother was Princess Victoria Alberta Elisabeth Mathilde Marie of Hesse, the eldest daughter of Ludwig IV, grand duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and his first wife Princess Alice – second daughter of Queen Victoria. His father was Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg, the son of Prince Alexander of Hesse.  Victoria and Louis were first cousins in a large and close family – Victoria tells many anecdotes of her childhood in her recollections, and she describes a happy and affectionate home-life in the ‘New Palace’ at Darmstadt.  There were frequent trips to relatives in Germany, Prussia, and England: often there was sea-bathing at Osborne in the summer. During a long stay in England in 1871/2:

“We were all at Balmoral first, while Uncle Bertie* and his family were at Abergeldie and we children saw a great deal of each other. Unfortunately all the children of both families contracted whooping cough there and I remember a dismal November at the top of Buckingham Palace shut away, coughing my head off.” [*Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VII]

When they were over the worst of the illness there was plenty of fun to be had:

“We found in the former nurseries strange sorts of bicycles with saddles, and adorned with horses’ heads and tails, which had belonged to our uncles and on which we careered down the corridor…”

All the young cousins then moved to Windsor: “and we were a very merry party of children. Our wild romps in the great corridor… were often interrupted by one of the pages bringing a message from the Queen that she would not have so much noise…”

“There were lovely corners and curtains behind which one could hide and leap out in the dark. Outside the Queen’s room there was always a table with lemonade and water and a side dish of biscuits which we used to pilfer secretly.”

These were happy years for Victoria. Tragedy struck the family at the end of 1878, when both her mother and youngest sister Marie died from diphtheria – Victoria was just 15. She wrote:

“My mother’s death was an irreparable loss to us all and left a great gap in our lives… My childhood ended with her death, for I became the eldest and most responsible of her orphaned children.”

The early loss of their mother caused Queen Victoria to take a special interest in the children – and the Queen was to become very fond of Prince Louis too – although:

“Grandmama was at first not very pleased at our engagement as she wished me, as the eldest, to continue looking after the younger ones and keeping my father company… However she consented to the engagement on condition we did not marry until the following year.”

They married at the palace in Darmstadt on 30 April 1884.

Photo of the Princesses of Hesse in 1885, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/6]

Photo of the Princesses of Hesse in 1885, from the album of Prince Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/A4/6]

This photograph shows Victoria with her sisters in 1885: from left to right: ‘Ella’ (Elisabeth), the wife of Grand Duke Serge of Russia; Victoria; Irene, who married Prince Henry of Prussia in 1888; and Alix, who became the Tsarina, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, in 1889.

Victoria made many summer visits to her sisters in Russia. When Serge was assassinated in Moscow in 1905 by an anarchist’s bomb – thrown at close quarters into his carriage – Victoria went to Ella immediately to offer support. In the summer of 1914, as the political situation deteriorated, she set off on her usual trip to Moscow, travelling first to Perm and from there on a tour of the Ural Mountains, stopping off twice at Ekaterinburg; but this trip was destined to be cut short.  Alix called them back to St Petersburg as the outbreak of war threatened. They arrived on the evening of 4th August, the day that England declared war.  Alix helped them to make hurried preparations and they took a special train to the Russian frontier at Tornio, making their escape via Finland, Sweden and Norway.  From Bergen they sailed on “the last ship” back to England.  Victoria writes:

“I little dreamt that it was the last time I should ever see my sisters again.”

Her written reminiscences end in 1914. She explains to the reader:

“I intend to finish these recollections with the outbreak of the Great War as I find it unnecessarily depressing to go through the experiences of that time during the second Great War. Anyhow my children were sufficiently grown up by then to have recollections of their own to take the place of mine.”

So she seems to have written these recollections during WWII, for the benefit of her four children:

Photograph of the Battenberg family c. 1902 from the album of Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg, 1901-10 [MS 62 MB2/B2/6]

Photograph of the Battenberg family c.1902 from the album of Victoria, Princess Louis of Battenberg [MS 62 MB2/B2/6]

This photo of the Battenberg family was taken c. 1902. Princess Victoria is seated in the middle, with Prince Louis Francis on her lap.  On her left sits her husband Prince Louis Alexander, and on her right, her eldest daughter, Princess Alice. Prince George (dressed in a white sailor suit) sits in front of his father while Princess Louise sits on the floor. Louis was born on 25th June 1900 at Frogmore House, Windsor – and was christened Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg on 17th July that year.  He was Queen Victoria’s last godson – she held him at the christening – and baby Louis knocked her spectacles off her nose.

Victoria died in 1950 after a long life. By that time she was a grandmother and great grandmother.  Her biographer states: “she remained throughout her life a determined, stalwart figure, given to progressive ideas and with an interest in socialism and philosophy.”  Mountbatten remembers her remarkable intelligence and quickness; that she was talkative and forthright, very well read, and with a phenomenal memory – her family felt her death acutely.

The reminiscences of Victoria, first Marchioness of Milford Haven, form part of the Archive of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, MS 62 MB21.

Chinese New Year

8 February 2016 marks the start of Chinese New Year. This year it is the year of the Monkey, the ninth animal of the twelve animals that appear in the Chinese zodiac.

MS 62 MB2/A20 Hong Kong: ‘Street decorations for Chinese New Year’, 1881

MS 62 MB2/A20 Hong Kong: ‘Street decorations for Chinese New Year’, 1881

Within the Broadlands Archives at the University of Southampton is a photograph album documenting the journey of Prince Louis of Battenberg on board HMS Inconstant that includes a visit to the Far East over Chinese New Year. Prince Louis of Battenberg (1854-1921), later Louis Mountbatten, first Marquis of Milford Haven, enrolled in the Royal Navy at the age of 14 years of age. He served in the navy for over forty years, rising to the rank of admiral and being appointed as First Sea Lord of the Admiralty in 1912.

In August 1880, the then Lieutenant Prince Louis, was posted to HMS Inconstant which was the flagship of the Flying Squadron. The ship undertook a circumnavigation of the world, sailing to South America, South Africa, Australia, South Africa, Australia, Fiji, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and what was then known as Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), before returning to South Africa in April 1882. Prince Louis’ photograph album contains a fascinating visual record of all of the places visited. The images from China provide a glimpse not only of the streets, gardens and architecture of Shanghai and Amoy (now Xiamen), but of the population, customs and modes of transport.

MS 62 Broadlands Archive MB2/A20 ‘Chinese cab’, 1881

MS 62 Broadlands Archive MB2/A20 ‘Chinese cab’, 1881

We wish you health and prosperity for 2016 and 恭禧發財

Merry Christmas: past and present!!

This festive week we wish you all a very merry Christmas and happy New Year.

As we look forward to 2015 we highlight Christmas greetings which were sent more than a century ago and now form part of the Special Collections at the University of Southampton.

Seasonal postcard is by Frank McFadden of Southampton

Seasonal postcard is by Frank McFadden of Southampton

This pretty engraving for a seasonal postcard is by Frank McFadden of Southampton and dates from around 1890 [Cope cq SOU 91.5]. Christmas greetings are coupled with views of the city, including the West Gate and Bar Gate, still an important historic landmark today. This is one of many illustrations in the Cope Collection which together form a visual historic record of Southampton and surrounding areas.

Photographic Christmas card

Photographic Christmas card

Also dating from the late nineteenth century, this photographic Christmas card celebrates Christmas 1887. A small portrait photograph of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, wearing dress uniform, is surrounded by photographs of ships of the Mediterranean Fleet, including HMS Dreadnought, HMS Sultan, HMS Phaeton, HMS Agamemnon, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Benbow and HMS Colossus. The individual images are placed at jaunty angles, and interspersed with ribbons printed with seasonal greetings, flowers, and ferns. The card was sent to Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg, later first Marquis of Milford Haven, when commanding HMS Dreadnought, and is part of the Broadlands Archive [MB2/A12/39].

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 23 (4 – 10 August 2014)

On 4 August 1914 Great Britain entered the First World War, declaring war on Germany after Germany had invaded Belgium and Luxemburg. Orders had been given in Great Britain the previous day for troops to mobilise and by the 7 August the first British Expeditionary Forces had landed in France. At the outbreak of war the Territorial units, which were the reserve of the British army, were given the option of serving in France. Many battalions volunteered, but as there was a question of the availability of Territorials for service overseas on 11 August a call was made for the first 100,000 men to enlist in Lord Kitchener’s New Army. It was a call that was answered within two weeks. Not everyone was willing to take up arms to fight and there were an estimated 16,000 conscientious objectors in the First World War. Within this number were those who were willing to serve as “non-combatants” and such service could take the form of work as stretcher bearers or ambulance crews on the front line. Such work was hazardous, as bullets, bombs and shells did not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

3 August 1914 Defence of the English Channel
Prince Louis of Battenberg assumed the post of First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy on 8 December 1912. As First Sea Lord, he was responsible to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, for ensuring the readiness of the fleet and the preparation of naval strategy. In response to the events of July 1914, Battenberg was instructed to bring the navy’s ships to a state of war readiness. While the move was criticised by some at the time, it did prove beneficial once war was declared. In the passage below, written on the eve of Britain declaring war on Germany, the First Lord requests authorisation to make preparations for the defence of the British Channel.

“In consequence of declarations in the House this afternoon, I must request authorisation immediately to put into force the [combined] Anglo-French dispositions for the defence of the channel. The French have already taken station and this partial disposition does not ensure security.

My naval colleagues and advisers desire me to press for this; and unless I am forbidden I shall act accordingly. This of course implies no offensive action and no warlike action unless we are attacked.”

MS 62 MB1/T37/365 Handwritten minute from Winston Churchill to Asquith and Grey on the defence of the English Channel, 3 August 1914


4 August 1914 War is declared
“They were bidding farewell to Territorials. Everything at tension as England has declared war…”

MS 168 AJ 217/10 Journal of Samuel Rich, 4 August 1914


5 August 1914 “England has a good cause”
“Well it has come, and now that war is declared I feel that England has a good cause, I don’t think in view of Germany’s behaviour about Belgium we could hold our hand. The Germans think of themselves as supermen, the waging of war is to them above the decencies and restraints of ordinary people, for them victory is to be strong, no matter by what means it is to be gained.”

MS 336 A2097/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 5 August 1914


5 August 1914 Service with the Territorials
“It is all very dreadful, but I suppose Nietzsche would approve, meanwhile I feel rather proud that I am one of those who have consistently tried to prepare against the time which has come and that the sacrifices I have made of sport and whatever else I have missed by being a Territorial, are likely to be bear print.”

MS 336 A2097/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 5 August 1914


8 August 1914 Belgium
“The Belgians are doing wonderful things according to the papers. If only they hold on, the whole course of the war will probably be alleged or the position of Germany made worse than if she had never violated Belgium.”

MS 336 A2097/1 Letter from Frederick Dudley Samuel to his fiancée and, subsequent wife Dorothy, 8 August 1914


8 August 1914 Provision of relief in cases of distress brought about by the war
The declaration of war on Germany caused a great deal of distress among the British public. In particular, it had a sudden impact on dependents of reservists called upon to serve their country, as well as individuals who became unemployed or suffered a loss of earnings as a result of the war. On 7 August, the Prince of Wales announced the formation of a National Fund to provide relief in such cases of distress. Rather than being administered through a central office, the Prince of Wales National Relief Fund worked through Local Relief Committees with the assistance of existing charities and relief organisations. In the case below, a circular letter was sent by the Mayor of Stepney to the Jewish Board of Guardians requesting their assistance in the distribution of relief.

“The President of the Local Government Board has requested me to take immediate steps to establish a representative Local Committee for the Borough of Stepney to consider the needs of the locality and to coordinate the distribution of such relief as may be required in cases of distress brought about by the present war. I should be glad if you could see your way to assist me in this important work by becoming a member of this Committee.”

MS173/1/11/4/985 Circular letter from H.T.A.Chidgey, Mayor of Stepney, requesting assistance in the establishment of a representative Local Committee for the Borough of Stepney to provide relief in cases of distress brought about by the present war, 8 August 1914


11 August 1914 Volunteering to serve as a “non-combatant”
Hope Bagenal was one who felt that he could not bear arms, instead serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps on the Western Front, 1914-16, before being seriously wounded at the Somme in 1916.

“I thought about the matter, and I do not think I am wrong. I could not have joined last week… By Saturday all the London Territorial Regiments were full and had long waiting lists… I found at a meeting at the Red Cross last night that names of men were wanted for stretcher bearers to begin training at once, also for those willing to go abroad when called upon. I have put my name down for both and go to practices in the evenings. There were not many names.

It is true I believe that so many are going or waiting to join regiments of various kinds that there is a real demand for ambulance volunteers. If there is an equal opportunity of serving without contributing to the general slaughter – and a man prefers to choose that – I think he need not be considered less patriotic.”

MS 340 A3067/1/3 Letter from Hope Bagenal to his father, 11 August 1914