Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma
Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma
The Hon. Dame Edwina Cynthia Annette Mountbatten (née Ashley), CI, GBE, DCVO, Countess Mountbatten of Burma was born on 28th November 1901 at 32 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, the eldest daughter of Colonel The Rt Hon. Wilfrid William Ashley, 1st Lord Mount Temple (1867-1939), a former MP and who was Minister of Transport 1924-1929 and Miss Amalia Mary Maud 'Maudie' Cassel (1879-1911). Edwina’s aristocratic pedigree was exceptional with a wealth of ancestors who themselves had made their own mark in the pages of British history. Her maternal grandfather was 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 godfather. Edwina’s paternal family were from the great political dynasty which included two former Prime Ministers: The Rt Hon. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (1779-1848) - the famous 'Lord M' and favourite of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901); The Rt Hon. Sir Henry Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865) - called 'Pam', who was Foreign Secretary 1830-1834, 1835–1841 and 1846–1851, famous for his 'gun-boat' diplomacy. Edwina’s great-grandfather was the great social reformer and philanthropist Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885) - who is commemorated by the statue of 'Eros' in Piccadilly Circus, London.
Edwina and her younger sister Mary (1906-1986) were brought up on the Broadlands estate, but it was not a happy time. Their mother was ill and their father was a busy Member of Parliament, and it became very clear that Edwina would develop into a willful and difficult child, which only intensified upon the death of her mother from consumption. On 5th February 1911, Edwina’s mother 'Maudie' died and her funeral was subsequently held at Romsey Abbey. She 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.”
In 28th August 1914, Edwina’s father remarried and his new wife - Muriel (known as 'Molly') Spencer (1881-1954), the former wife of Rear Admiral The Hon. Lionel Forbes-Sempill (1877-1962) and was not liked by his children and family friends were sadly made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Molly asked her 2 step-children to call her 'Madre' but one of her first actions was to sack the children's governess - which made her even more unpopular. As the new chatelaine of Broadlands, Molly immediately started to make changes and redecorate at Broadlands and Edwina was subsequently dispatched to The Links School, in Eastbourne, Sussex and although she enjoyed herself there, 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 Potts, who had been governess to Princess Alice of Battenberg, later Princess Andrew of Greece & Denmark (1885-1969) - Mountbatten's sister.
Edwina (right) with her cousin
Marjorie Jenkins, later Countess of Brecknock)
Edwina as a young child
ABOVE: Mrs Muriel 'Molly'
later Lady Mount Temple -
LEFT: Edwina's father -
Lt-Col. The Rt Hon. Wilfrid Ashley,
later 1st Lord Mount Temple
Edwina with her mother - "Maudie" Ashley (née Cassel)
The Links School, Eastbourne, Sussex
In 1919, Edwina was sent to Alde House, a finishing school in Aldeburgh, Suffolk and after a year, it was agreed within the family that she would go and live with her wealthy Cassel grandfather. For Edwina, her step-mother had made it obvious that she did not want Edwina and sadly her father was too busy with his political work - so this arrangement seemed the best for all concerned, especially Edwina.