Husband Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma
2 Wilton Cres, Belgravia, London SW1X 8RN, Regno Unito
Classiebawn Castle, Mullaghmore, Cliffony, Co. Sligo, Irlanda
Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, CI, GBEf, DCVO, GCStJ (''née'' '''Ashley'''; 28 November 1901 – 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.
She was born in 1901, the elder daughter of Wilfrid Ashley, 1st Baron Mount Temple, who was a Conservative Member of Parliament.
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 Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 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 Henry Somerset, 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 (1879–1911), 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, and his palatial London townhouse, Brook House, at a time when her future husband's naval salary was £610 per annum. 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 Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 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.
Edwina was known to be wildly promiscuous throughout the marriage, doing little to hide such indiscretions from her husband. He became aware of her numerous lovers, accepted them and even developed friendships with some of them – making them "part of the family". Towards the end of Edwina's life, her daughter Pamela Mountbatten 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.
Louis Mountbatten eventually gained a long-time French mistress and the couple settled into a type of "ménage à quatre". Edwina's affair with Prime Minister Nehru of India both during and after their post WWII service has been widely documented. In addition to their lifetime of heterosexual excesses, both Louis and Edwina were often described as being bisexual, providing an unending source of gossip among the wealthy, titled society set of their day.
The Mountbattens had two daughters, Patricia Knatchbull, 2nd Countess Mountbatten of Burma (14 February 1924 – 13 June 2017) and Lady Pamela Hicks (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.
She is especially remembered for her service as the last Vicereine of India during the final months of the British Raj and the first months of the post-Partition period, between February 1947 and June 1948. Louis Mountbatten was endowed as the last Viceroy of India in 1947 and granted plenipotentiary power to oversee the transition to an independent India. Lady Mountbatten's time in India was in part 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. While it is unclear whether the romance was ever consummated, their fondness for one another was evident and caused widespread speculation. 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.
Lady Mountbatten, in all accounts of the violent disruption that followed the Partition of India, is universally praised for her heroic efforts in relieving the misery. 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 58 of unknown causes in 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, Lord Mountbatten buried her at sea off the coast of Portsmouth from HMS ''Wakeful'' on 25 February 1960; Geoffrey Fisher, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated.
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 Season 2 of ''The Crown'' (2017).
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