(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

On August 27, 1979, the world was shocked to hear the news of the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He, along with one of his two grandsons, a young neighbor boy, and a Lady Brabourne, had been killed when a gelignite bomb, exploded the family’s small boat, Shadow V. They had died during a morning sail near the family retreat, Classiebawn Castle, County Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland not far from the Ulster border. Without doubt, Lord Mountbatten was the intended victim, since he, next to the immediate members of the royal family, had become the personification of the United Kingdom. The I.R.A. was clearly aware of the impact the assassination would have, not only on Britons but also on people throughout the world, especially in the United States, Canada, India, and Southeast Asia, who, since World War II, had come to respect and revere this most prescient and accessible of men. The Queen, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles had also lost a deeply loved and highly regarded family member and adviser. The loss was especially great to Prince Philip and Prince Charles since Mountbatten had played the role of uncle and surrogate father to the former and that of great-uncle, godfather, and surrogate grandfather to the latter. Mountbatten’s state funeral, which he had personally planned to the last detail, was the largest and grandest Britain had witnessed since that of Winston Churchill. To the strains of “The Sailor’s Hymn” in Westminster Abbey, the world bade farewell to Louis, First Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Chief of Combined Operations and Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia, last Viceroy of India, First Sea Lord and Admiral of the Fleet, a man who for more than forty years had played a vital role in world affairs.

Until recently, Mountbatten had not been the subject of a biography covering his entire life. Various aspects of his career had been treated, but the only work approaching biography until the publication of the present volume was John Terraine’s The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten, first published in 1968 and reissued in 1980 with a postscript following Mountbatten’s death. Terraine’s book, based on a twelve-part television series in which Mountbatten actively participated, is not truly a biography, but a compilation of Mountbatten’s own observations about himself and others given continuity with transitional passages by Terraine. Mountbatten did not wish a full-scale biography published during his lifetime because he feared no one would believe it. Vanity was one of the distinctive features of Mountbatten’s personality. Stating on occasion, perhaps jocularly, that he had always been right, he asserted that a biography in which he personally participated in writing would not be believed. He did, however, indirectly assist in the writing of this biography. In 1971, Richard Hough first met Mountbatten to discuss eighteenth century naval history, a subject on which the author was working at the time. Indeed, Hough has established his reputation as a naval historian and novelist, and is the author of The Potemkin Mutiny (1960), Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1973), and The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook (1979). Mountbatten later invited Hough to write a dual biography of his father and mother, Louis and Victoria (published in the United States as The Mountbattens (1975). In the preparation of Louis and Victoria, Hough acquired manuscript material from Mountbatten, gained access to the Royal Archives, Windsor, and secured interviews with Mountbatten’s family, friends, shipmates, and former colleagues. He was also in close contact with Mountbatten throughout the 1970’s and had lengthy conversations with him. The book under review, therefore, is largely an outgrowth of earlier research and interviews with established contacts, and much of it had been completed at the time of Mountbatten’s death, enabling Hough to publish his biography in Britain on the first anniversary of the assassination of this authentic twentieth century hero.

Lord Mountbatten led a life rich in association with major historical personages and in high adventure. Born on January 25, 1900, he was the son of Prince Louis of Battenburg, who briefly headed the British navy early in World War I, and Princess Victoria of Hesse, later the Marchioness of Milford Haven, the favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Christened Albert Victor Nicholas Louis Francis, he became familiarly known throughout his childhood and youth as Dickie. His childhood was passed in association with the royal families of Hanover, Hesse (his father and mother were members of the house of Hesse), and Romanov. Especially memorable were his summer holidays at Heiligenberg with his aunt and uncle, Empress Alexandra and Nicholas II of Russia, and their children. Indeed, he claimed to have fallen in love with his female Romanov cousins and had intended to marry the illfated Maria. During his youth and throughout much of his life, Mountbatten was deeply influenced by his exceptional mother, Princess Victoria, who, a socialist “by instinct and conviction,” trained her son to work amicably and effectively with those of conflicting political convictions. His mother took charge of his education during his youth and, along with Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina, guided him throughout the remainder of her long life. His father, who had adopted Britain as his native country and through concerted effort had risen to the apex of the Royal Navy as First Sea Lord, remained a somewhat distant figure for the young boy but was nevertheless a figure of near idolatry and was to instill in his son the all-consuming ambition that was to direct his life.

The halcyon days of the young Battenberg’s childhood ended with World War I. The hysterical fringe of the British public who regarded anything...

(The entire section is 2411 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

Choice. XIX, September, 1981, p. 144.

The Economist. CCLXXVI, August 30, 1980, p. 75.

Library Journal. CVI, February 15, 1981, p. 445.

National Review. XXXIII, June 26, 1981, p. 733.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, July 26, 1981, p. 11.

The New Yorker. LVII, August 31, 1981, p. 98.

Observer. August 31, 1980, p. 29.

Quill & Quire. XLVI, November, 1980, p. 47.

Saturday Review. VIII, April, 1981, p. 81.