THE CLIMBER: Lord Mountbatten

Originally published in Issue 42 of The Rake, James Medd writes that by the time of his death — a fishing boat; the Provisional I.R.A.; shock and outrage — Lord Louis Mountbatten had established himself as an English gentleman, a feted statesman, and, to some, one of the most heroic military men to represent the United Kingdom and its territories. But it wasn’t always so. With vaulting ambition sparked by familial shame, this royal foot soldier went in search of a higher purpose.

On horseback at Buckingham Palace in 1973 (Photo by Allan Warren)

Louis Mountbatten has long been regarded as a quintessential English gentleman and hero, so it should come as no surprise to discover that he was, in fact, German. The fourth son of Louis of Battenberg and of Princess Victoria, granddaughter of Queen Victoria (still on the throne at his birth in 1900), he was one of a class of aristocrats who were not quite royal but were passed between the interlinked monarchies of Europe until a use could be found for them.

The same logic applied to the choice of his nickname. He was for some years known as Nicky, after his fifth name, Nicholas, until a visit by Czar Nicholas forced a switch, apparently at random, to Dickie. That this new moniker corresponded to none of the other names with which he was christened did not seem to bother him. The inconvenience of being at least half German, however, was to have a profound effect on his life and, indeed, on his considerable achievements. With the outbreak of the first world war, the British royal family found itself engaged in a battle with its cousins, but was loath to admit it. Consequently, all things Germanic fell quickly out of favour, and once fallen were swiftly swept under the nearest available carpet. For Louis’s father, this was serious: first a change of the family name to the rather less Teutonic Mountbatten, and then a humiliating order to step down from his exalted position as First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy.

No one took this setback worse than his son, the younger Louis, already well into a naval career that had started at 13 at the Royal Naval College, Osborne. To that point he had shown little promise, either as a thinker or leader, but shame was the spur. Determination to return his family to its former position became his driving ambition, and he undertook his purpose with endless reserves of energy and an undeniable ruthlessness.


James Medd


January 2021


Also read