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Who was Lord Mountbatten and how did he die?

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7-min read
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 01:  Queen With Lord Mountbatten At A Polo Match. At Back Far Right Colonel Sir John Miller The Crown Equerry To The Queen (exact Date Not Certain)  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
The Queen with Lord Mountbatten at a polo match. (Tim Graham Photo Library)

The Crown is set to lose a key character in season four as it tackles the death of Lord Mountbatten.

Referred to as Uncle Dickie by many characters in the series, he was an important figurehead in the Royal Family.

His death in 1979 was a shock to the family, and the country, and came during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Who was Lord Mountbatten?

Louis Mountbatten was a British Royal Navy officer, a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and the uncle of Prince Philip.

He was born in Frogmore Cottage on 25 June 1900, to his parents Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine and Prince Louis of Battenberg.

His family had German links, but decided to change their surname during World War I because of anti-German sentiment. That’s when Battenberg became Mountbatten.

Lord Mountbatten’s nickname was Dickie, despite his full name being Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas. It’s said his nickname was meant to be ‘Nicky’ but there were too many others with the same name, so he became Dickie instead.

He served in the Navy in World War I and World War II, and became the last Viceroy of India after the latter.

He also had the title of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The Queen created the title for him in 1947.

Left to right; Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Silver Jubilee procession.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh wave from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the Silver Jubilee procession. (PA Images)

Read more: Prince Philip called his uncle Lord Mountbatten's death a 'senseless act of terrorism' in poignant letter

How did Lord Mountbatten die?

He was killed in August 1979 by a bomb which was left on his fishing boat in Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, Ireland.

The radio controlled bomb had been placed on the boat, called Shadow V, one night, and it was detonated the next day, 27 August, when he was a few hundred metres from the shore. He was 79.

Lord Mountbatten lost his legs in the blast and was pulled out of the water alive, but died of his injuries. There were several others on board with the statesman, including his teenage grandson Nicholas and a teenage boathand Paul Maxwell who were both killed.

The Dowager Lady Brabourne, another passenger, died the next day.

A few hours after the bomb exploded, two others went off in Co Down, killing 18 soldiers. A civilian was also found dead near where the soldiers were killed, having been hit by army gunfire.

The IRA claimed responsibility for the bomb, and in a statement at the time said it was “one of the discriminate ways we can bring to the attention of the English people the continuing occupation of our country”.

Reims, France, Prince Charles avec Lord Mountbatten, son grand oncle., Prince Charles arrives with his great uncle Lord Mountbatten in Reims, France.   (Photo by Francis Apesteguy/Getty Images)
Prince Charles with Lord Mountbatten in Reims, France. The pair were very close. (Getty Images)

Was anyone charged for Lord Mountbatten’s death?

The IRA claimed responsibility, and Thomas McMahon was found guilty of playing a role in the murder.

McMahon had been arrested two hours before the bomb went off on suspicion of driving a stolen car.

According to History Extra, the evidence against him was circumstantial. He had traces of gelignite on him and green paint from the boat.

He served 19 years in prison and was released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Mountbatten the matchmaker

When he was alive, Mountbatten could claim the title of being the orchestrator of a very important royal romance.

He is credited with setting up then-Princess Elizabeth with his nephew, Philip, in 1939.

Princess Elizabeth, then 13, was with her sister, Margaret Rose, and their parents on a tour of the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

Philip, then 18, a cadet at the college, was given the job of showing the two princesses around. Elizabeth was smitten straight away.

In her book Prince Philip Revealed, Ingrid Seward said: “It seems likely that Dickie Mountbatten suggested that of all the cadets, Philip should be given the unenviable job of entertaining two young girls while the king and queen carried out formal inspection of the college.”

She added: “The following day Philip, at the suggestion of Uncle Dickie, was invited to lunch on the royal yacht where he again entertained the princesses.”

Lord Mountbatten at the declaration of Indian Independence, 15 August 1947. Lord Louis Mountbatten 1900-1979, was the last Viceroy of India. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Lord Mountbatten at the declaration of Indian Independence, 15 August 1947. (Universal History Archive)

Mountbatten was also said to have discouraged Prince Charles from pursuing Camilla Shand when they were first dating, writing to Charles: “In a case like yours a man should sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as he can before settling down. But for a wife he should choose a suitable, attractive, sweet-charactered girl before she has met anyone else she might fall for.”

He died before Charles became engaged to Diana.

Did Lord and Lady Mountbatten have affairs?

One of the comments Charles makes to Lord Mountbatten in The Crown alludes to extramarital affairs, both by him, and by his wife Edwina, Lady Mountbatten.

In a book released in 2019, Andrew Lownie wrote about the affairs that both the Mountbattens had, but said Lord Mountbatten was “devastated” by his wife’s love life.

Mountbatten once said: “Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people’s beds.”

Their daughter Lady Pamela Hicks recorded in her memoirs that her mother ended up with so many admirers that on one occasion their housekeeper was left juggling several of them who had turned up at their house at the same time.

Lord Louis Mountbatten with his wife Edwina at Buckingham Palace for an investiture ceremony. February 1943. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Lord Louis Mountbatten with his wife Edwina at Buckingham Palace for an investiture ceremony. February 1943. (Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix)

She wrote the housekeeper’s words: “Mr Larry Gray is in the drawing room, Mr Sandford is in the library, Mr Ted Phillips is in the boudoir, Señor Portago in the anteroom and I don’t know what to do with Mr Molyneux!”

Lady Pamela also said: “When my father first heard that [his wife] had taken a lover, he was devastated. But eventually, using their reserves of deep mutual affection, my parents managed to negotiate a way through this crisis and found a modus vivendi.”

Lord Mountbatten had a long-term lover and Yola Letellier was his mistress for decades.

Lady Mountbatten went onto develop a relationship with Indian Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and they wrote long love letters to each other.

The Mountbattens did not divorce.

Watch: Is The Crown a true story?

What have Royal Family members said about Lord Mountbatten’s death?

In a letter, written a month after the death of Lord Mountbatten, which was sold an auction in 2020, Prince Philip said the death was a “senseless act of terrorism”.

He said: “Let us hope that the great wave of revulsion against this senseless act of terrorism may yet help to bring a change of heart in those who believe that violence and brutality are the only solutions to their problems.”

In his diary the evening he found out, Prince Charles wrote: “Life will never be the same now that he has gone.”

At Mountbatten’s funeral, Charles gave a 30 minute address about the man who was his “honorary grandfather”.

At a memorial for Lord Mountbatten in 2015, Charles recalled the death and said: “For me, Lord Mountbatten represented the grandfather I never had.

“It seemed as if the foundations of all that we held dear in life had been torn apart irreparably.

“Through this dreadful experience I now understand in a profound way the agonies borne of so many others in these islands of whatever faith, denomination or political tradition.”

Lord Mountbatten, known as Uncle Dickie, was played by Greg Wise in season one and two of The Crown and Charles Dance in season three and four.

The Crown is streaming on Netflix from 15 November.