Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten are that trite old maxim made flesh: it’s not what you know that’s important — it’s who you know. And the Mountbattens knew them all. Queens and kings (well, they were related to most of them); industrialist giants and political heavyweights; entertainment kingpins and career socialites; wartime generals and all time villains (even Rasputin reared his bearded head at one point). Forget about soft power — this was the hard stuff. And in his illuminating biography of this extraordinary couple, Andrew Lownie shows us how the Mountbattens deployed it to dazzling — and often devastating — effect.
The building blocks were there from the start. Edwina (née Ashley) was hailed as the ‘the most beautiful woman in England’, after all. And Louis (known by all as Dickie) was one of the country’s most eligible bachelors. Their wedding, in 1922, was the society event of the decade. And from that moment on, with a baying Westminster crowd and an onslaught of flashbulbs, the scene was set. Across the span of their 38-year marriage, the Mountbattens’ influence was felt in political, naval, royal and celebrity circles alike — proof of the sheer power that volcanic charisma, an astronomical bank balance, and friends in the highest places can wield.
But it would be foolish to dismiss the couple’s history-changing achievements as solely the happy chance of nepotism or scandalous bed-hopping. In their own right, both Edwina and Dickie shaped the course of the most turbulent time of the last century, and left their distinctive mark. As a couple, they also proved a formidable combined force, glad-handing communal leaders and princes — particularly during Mountbatten’s tenure as viceroy of India, as the subcontinent careered towards independence.
Above all else, the Mountbattens exuded and encapsulated that most human of characteristics: contradiction. In equal parts decent and disdainful, compassionate and woefully self-absorbed, theirs is a story which came to symbolise the shifting nature of post-war society. It is a fable on the poisoned chalice of celebrity, and at the same time a window into the bygone glamour of a ruling aristocracy. More than anything, the story of Dickie and Edwina presents us today with a couple determined to be remembered. Here, we present the five moments in which — for better or worse — they unreservedly achieved their aim.
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