The Countess Mountbatten of Burma
Edwina and her husband, early 1920s
Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley
28 November 1900
|Died||21 February 1960 (aged 59)|
Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, CI, GBE, DCVO, GCStJ (née Ashley; 28 November 1900 – 21 February 1960) was an English heiress, socialite, relief worker and the last Vicereine of India as wife of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Edwina Ashley was patrilineally descended from the Earls of Shaftesbury who had been ranked as baronets since 1622 and ennobled as barons in 1661. 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 (Hampshire, England) and Classiebawn Castle (County Sligo, Ireland).
Ashley's mother was Amalia Mary Maud Cassel (1881–1911), 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 remarriage in 1914 to Molly Forbes-Sempill (ex-wife of Rear-Admiral Arthur 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, Brook 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 maternal grandfather died in 1921, leaving her £2 million (£52.3 million in today's pounds), and his palatial London townhouse, Brook House, at a time when her future husband's naval salary was £610 a year (£30 thousand in today's pounds). Later, she would inherit the country seat of Broadlands, Hampshire, from her father, Wilfred William Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple.
She and Mountbatten married on 18 July 1922 at St Margaret's, Westminster. The wedding attracted crowds of more than 8,000 people, and was attended by many members of the royal family, including Queen Mary, Queen Alexandra, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII), and dubbed "wedding of the year". The reception was held in Brook House after which the couple rode a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to the bride's family's country house.
Drew Pearson described Edwina in 1944 as "one of the most beautiful women in England". She was known to have affairs throughout the marriage, doing little to hide them from her husband. He became aware of her lovers, accepted them and even developed friendships with some of them – making them "part of the family". Her daughter Pamela Hicks wrote a memoir of her mother in which she describes her mother as "a man eater" and her mother's many lovers as a succession of "uncles" throughout her childhood.[page needed] Edwina's affair with Prime Minister Nehru of India both during and after their post-war service has been widely documented.
The Mountbattens had two daughters, Patricia (14 February 1924 – 13 June 2017) and Pamela (born 19 April 1929). In her memoir daughter Pamela describes Edwina as a detached, rarely seen mother who preferred travelling the world with her current lover to mothering her children.
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. In 1941, Mountbatten's visited the United States, where she thanked efforts to raise funds for the British Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade. In 1942, she was appointed Superintendent-in-Chief of the St John Ambulance Brigade serving extensively with Brigade. In 1945, she assisted in the repatriation of prisoners of war in the South East Asia. She was awarded a CBE in 1943 and made a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (DCVO) in 1946. She also received the American Red Cross Medal.
Lady Mountbatten was the last Vicereine of India,serving during the final months of the British Raj and the first months of the post-Partition period (February 1947 to June 1948) when Louis Mountbatten was endowed as the last Viceroy of India. His role as plenipotentiary was to oversee the transition to an independent India. Lady Mountbatten's time in India was marked by scandal, as she developed an infatuation for the leader of the Indian National Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru, whom she had met a year previously in Singapore. Whether the romance was ever consummated is not known, however their mutual fondness was evident and caused widespread speculation. In 2012, Edwina's Daughter Lady Pamela Hicks accepted that there was a romance between her mother and Jawaharlal Nehru; which she mentioned in the book Daughter Of Empire: Life As A Mountbatten. The relationship was blamed for contributing to the alienation of Muslim leaders, who feared that through Edwina, Nehru was biasing the Viceroy in favour of Hindus and the Indian National Congress.
Following the violent disruption following the Partition of India, Lady Mountbatten's priority was to mobilise the enormous relief efforts required, work for which she was widely praised. She continued to lead a life of service after her viceroyalty in India, including service for the St John Ambulance Brigade. She was a governor of The Peckham Experiment in 1949.
Lady Mountbatten died in her sleep at age 59 of unknown causes on 21 February 1960 in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), British North Borneo (now Sabah), while on an inspection tour for the St John Ambulance Brigade. In accordance with her wishes she was buried at sea off the coast of Portsmouth from HMS Wakeful on 25 February 1960; Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated. Nehru had the Indian Navy frigate INS Trishul escort the Wakeful and cast a wreath.
Lady Mountbatten is portrayed by Gillian Anderson in Gurinder Chadha's historical drama film Viceroy's House (2017). She was portrayed by Janet Suzman in the 1986 television docudrama Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy. She was portrayed by Lucy Russell in Series 2 of The Crown (2017).
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