At the end of the summer of 2019 “The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves” by Andrew Lownie was a Sunday Times Bestseller. The hardcover version (496 pages) was published in August 2019 by Blink Publishing. The paperback (496 pages) followed in June 2020 and I recently was finally able to read the (e-)book. It took a while, because of personal circumstances and an unwilling e-reader.
Over the years there have been several books about Louis Mountbatten, the 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, and his wife Edwina née Ashley. There is a long bibliography in the back of Lownie’s book, in case you need to know more about them. There is also a huge list of other sources he used, as well as an index. The author has spoken to many people who knew the couple closely, including family members, and also they’re all mentioned. Although an e-book is available, I’d recommend reading the book itself, primarily because you can more easily read and use the notes and index at the end of the book. The book starts with a handful of short reviews, including some by well-known royalty-journalists.
Lownie himself at the start describes the book as a “short joined biography, also a portrait of an unusual marriage”, which is a pretty good description in my opinion. My first impression of the book was, that it was well and easily written and rather entertaining. Also the chronology of the book went quite well most of the time, which is the way I like it best. Although some themes are explained somewhat more extensive, like certain relationships and events, they don’t go on endlessly. Not a big fan of politics and army things, I appreciate it very much, when writers do understand that and keep it as short as possible.
The youth of both Dickie and Edwina is described well, and is certainly not forgotten. Already soon after their marriage, the “lives & loves” from the title of the book come to light. A sometimes dazzling amount of names of friends and lovers pass, which can be pretty confusing. Nearing World War II however this luckily changes and the book becomes more serious. Readers follow the couple through World War II, their stay in India and yes, their relationships. Interesting to see how their rather open and indeed pretty unusual marriage worked for them, even when discretion was not always maintained. You get to understand the couple’s reasons, their differences and similarities, and why Edwina was quite a restless person. It becomes clear that they couldn’t really live with eachother, but certainly also not without eachother. Most people in their position would certainly have chosen to divorce. One can’t always be positive about people, and Lownie is honest and also mentions mistakes that have been made by both. And in between the loves, you certainly find out more about their personalities, careers, passions, ambitions and relationship with their children, grandchildren and relatives, including the Duke of Windsor, the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II.
What I found less pleasant was that it seems that the writer expects you to simply know certain things. Not too bad when you know something about royalty, like me, but I expect that if you’re completely new to the family, this might cause somewhat of a problem. I certainly had to read some things over again to fully understand what I was reading. From the start Louis is mentioned as Dickie, surely because everybody knows him like that and to make it easier to distinguish him from his father, who had the same name. It is however only explained after several pages. His paternal grandmother’s name is given as Princess Julie of Hesse, which is incorrect. After her marriage to Prince Alexander of Hesse, Julia became Countess, and later Princess von Battenberg. Prince Philip is all of the sudden introduced, without much explanation about who he actually is. Also at the end I would also have appreciated a clearer mentioning of the people who died along Lord Mountbatten in August 1979.
I am not quite certain if I would have written a chapter about Lord Mountbattens bisexuality at the end of the book myself, after his death, but it is clearly a rather important discussion, which throughout the book itself doesn’t really come to light. It makes once again clear that the book is not only about lives, but certainly also about loves. Nice is that the book ends with the legacy of the Earl and Countess Mountbatten of Burma.
If you’re into royalty and are interested in the family I’d certainly recommend to read the book.