EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma
'Lady Louis Mountbatten'
(The Hon. Edwina Ashley)
The Hon. Dame Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten (née Ashley), CI, GBE, DCVO, 'Lady Louis', Countess Mountbatten of Burma was born on 28th November 1901 at 32 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, the eldest daughter of Lt-Col. The Rt Hon. Wilfrid William Ashley, 1st Lord Mount Temple (1867-1939) and Miss Amalia Mary Maud 'Maudie' Cassel (1879-1911).
At the time of her birth, Wilfrid was Private Secretary to The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908), Leader of the Liberal Party who later became Prime Minister of the UK. Wilfrid was the son of The Rt Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley (1836-1907), a former Member of Parliament (MP), who had served as a Minister in the Government led by The Rt Hon. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898). When Edwina was born, Evelyn Ashley was the Mayor of Romsey and the bells of Romsey Abbey rang out upon hearing the news of her arrival. Edwina's mother was the daughter of The Rt Hon. Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921), the Jewish merchant banker and friend of King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910), who himself was Edwina’s god-father.
Edwina’s aristocratic pedigree was exceptional - she had a wealth of ancestors who themselves had made their own mark in the pages of British history, so it was no surprise that in time she herself would join her illustrious ancestors in the annals of British history. Edwina’s maternal great-grandfather was Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885), the social reformer and philanthropist who is commemorated by the statue of 'Eros' in Piccadilly Circus, London. Her paternal ancestors were a great political dynasty which included two former distinguished Prime Ministers: The Rt Hon. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) - the famous 'Lord M' and favourite of the young Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901); and The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865) - nicknamed 'Pam', who was Foreign Secretary 1830-1834, 1835–1841 and 1846–1851. Edwina's paternal grandfather Evelyn Ashley had also served as Private Secretary to Lord Palmerston, who was also married to his widowed grandmother.
Edwina was christened on 4th January 1902 at Romsey Abbey, Hampshire. Her god-parents - Constance Ashley-Cooper (née Grosvenor), Countess of Shaftesbury, the wife of Wilfrid's first cousin; Maudie's great-aunt - Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925) and The Hon. Violet Douglas-Pennant (1869-1945), who later became a Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939) and a Commandant of the Women's Royal Air Force in 1918; and King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910), who had been a witness at her parent's wedding. The King had asked that the child be called 'Edwardina', but Maudie did not like that and compromised with 'Edwina'.
ABOVE LEFT: Constance Ashley-Cooper,
Countess of Shaftesbury
(The Lady Constance Grosvenor)
ABOVE RIGHT: The Hon. Violet Douglas-Pennant
LEFT: Edwina's father -
Lt-Col. The Rt Hon. Wilfrid Ashley,
1st Lord Mount Temple
Edwina (as a child) with her mother -
Mrs Maud 'Maudie' Ashley (née Cassel)
Edwina and her younger sister Mary (1906-1986) were mostly brought up on their father's Hampshire estate - Broadlands, Romsey or with various relatives, but it was not a happy childhood time. Their mother was delicate and frequently ill, with declining health and their father was a busy MP, often away on business. It became very clear to all that Edwina was developing into a strong, wilful and sometimes difficult child, which only intensified upon the premature death of her mother who died on 5th February 1911 from consumption. Edwina wrote to her father - "I am so very sorry darling Mama left us all so suddenly and forever… it is very nice to think her spirit will always be with me."
ABOVE: Edwina's stepmother -
Mrs Muriel 'Molly'
as a young child
On 28th August 1914, Edwina’s father remarried and his new wife - Mrs Muriel 'Molly' Forbes-Sempill, née Spencer (1881-1954), the former wife of Rear Admiral The Hon. Lionel Forbes-Sempill (1877-1962) and was not liked by his children. She also made long-term family friends feel uncomfortable and unwelcome from the moment she took up residence at Broadlands. Molly asked her two step-children to call her 'Madre', and one of her first actions was to dismiss Miss Laura Devéria, the children's favourite governess - which made her even more unpopular.
ABOVE RIGHT: Edwina (right) with her young cousin Miss Marjorie Jenkins, later Countess of Brecknock.
The two young girls were life-long friends
As the new chatelaine of Broadlands, Molly immediately started to make changes, redecorated Broadlands and both Mary and then Edwina were dispatched to The Links School, in Eastbourne, Sussex. Edwina did not enjoy the strict regime and her Jewish ancestry and impending wealth became the reason for resentment from her contemporaries. The Links School only had 37 pupils and was run by Miss Jane 'Potty' Potts, who had been governess to Princess Alice of Battenberg, later Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark (1885-1969) - Mountbatten's sister. Edwina would frequently write to Sir Ernest, saying - "please take me away dear Grandpapa", but she did manage to last two years in Eastbourne and she soon became accomplished in everything from shorthand to music and excelled in French, German and English Literature.
The Links School, Eastbourne, Sussex
In January 1919, Edwina was sent to Alde House, a domestic science training college in Aldeburgh, Suffolk run by Mrs Hervey, where the students took turns in cooking, cleaning and the laundering. One of her school friends noted that the other pupils knew that her grandfather was a millionaire, but that really didn't make any difference at the time. One said - "she was quite unassuming and never flaunted her background. She wasn't exactly shy but withdrawn and unobtrusive. She was very quiet and friendly." However, Edwina did not like the strict rules and eventually Sir Ernest agreed that Edwina should have a time in Europe to educate her in continental society and culture. She was sent (with a suitable adult chaperone) to Paris, France and then Rome, Italy to complete her 'finishing' with cousin Marjorie Jenkins, later Countess of Brecknock (1900-1989). Edwina enjoyed her time in Europe and bought furs, jewellery, hats and gloves whilst in Paris and enjoyed the historic sites and museums etc, but it soon became clear that the handsome Italian soldiers were too much of a distraction and they came home. Marjorie said that it was whilst Edwina was in Italy that she "discovered men."
A drawing of Edwina in her childhood
Edwina's maternal grandfather -
The Rt Hon. Sir Ernest Cassel
By the end of July 1919, it was agreed within the family that Edwina would go and live with Sir Ernest, her wealthy grandfather. Sir Ernest's sister - Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925), known to Edwina and Mary as 'Auntie-Grannie' was not well enough to carry on the high demands of hostess at Brook House. For Edwina, her stepmother had made it painfully obvious that she did not want Edwina and her sister Mary around and sadly her father was too busy with his political work - so this arrangement seemed the best for all concerned, especially Edwina, who could not face returning to Broadlands under the restrictions imposed on her by Molly.