EDWINA, COUNTESS MOUNTBATTEN OF BURMA
Following their marriage in 1922, Edwina was styled 'Lady Louis Mountbatten' or more informally just 'Lady Louis' and became 'a Navy wife', and as such had to face being separated regularly from her husband whilst he was away at sea. During this time, Edwina became close to Mountbatten's cousin - Prince George, later 1st Duke of Kent (1902-1942), who would accompany her to family dinners and various society events. She enjoyed his bright, intelligent and good company and handsome looks. Mountbatten saw Prince George as a younger brother and knew that he would keep Edwina amused. However in February 1923, whilst Edwina was driving their Rolls-Royce close to Ripley, near Woking, Surrey, whilst heading towards Portsmouth (with Prince George as her passenger) to visit The Rt Hon. Sir George 'Geordie' Sutherland-Leverson-Gower, 5th Duke of Sutherland (1888-1963), there was a minor road accident and her car hit a car owned by businessman Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Waldrond Sinclair (1880-1952). Luckily, no one was injured.
During this time, the famous society portrait artist Philip de László (1869-1937) was commissioned to paint Edwina in her bridal outfit. The sittings made Edwina feel like a deserted bride in an almost 'Miss Haversham' figure from "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens (1812-1870). When the portrait was completed, Edwina sent a photograph to Mountbatten - who complained about her eyes, which de László was tasked to rectify. This did nothing to lighten Edwina's mood whilst Mountbatten was away, and Edwina's days dragged.
The 1923 wedding dress portrait of Edwina
by Philip de László
with the dedication "in memory of 18 July 1922"
In June 1923, The Mountbattens took over for 6 weeks, the lease of Maiden Castle House, near Dorchester, Dorset, so that Edwina could be nearer to Plymouth whilst Mountbatten was serving on HMS Revenge. Whilst there, Mountbatten would regularly bring young Midshipmen back to have tea (as part of their education) with famous people of society including Prince George, later 1st Duke of Kent (1902-1942) and Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925) - known as 'Auntie-Grannie'. During this time, The Mountbattens decided to let out Brook House, Park Lane, London to Brigadier-General Cornelius 'Neily' Vanderbilt III (1873-1942) in an effort to bring in some income to cover The Mountbatten's spiralling costs of entertaining. Brook House's reputation of being a centre of society continued with The Vanderbilts in residence, who hosted several dances and balls for their only daughter - Miss Grace Vanderbilt (1899-1964).
In 1924, Mountbatten's posting onboard HMS Revenge was due to end and he was scheduled to start on a Naval Signal Course in Portsmouth, Hampshire. The Mountbattens needed a convenient residence close-by, and for over a week Edwina drove around Sussex and Hampshire looking for a suitable establishment. The Mountbattens took up a long lease on Adsdean House, Funtington, north of Chichester, Sussex, a 30 bedroomed neo-Tudor house within a large estate in the Sussex Downs owned by the Tennent brewery family, with a view of Chichester Harbour, close to Broadlands, easily reached from London and yet only 20 miles away from Portsmouth. Mountbatten said - "I knew we were going to be happy there" and The Mountbattens started to make drastic changes from a complete internal redecoration to the installation of a small 9-hole golf course and a polo training area in the grounds. The Tennent Family were not pleased with the changes, and after much deliberation it was agreed that upon surrender of the lease, The Mountbattens would restore the estate back to its original state.
Whilst in Portsmouth, Mountbatten adopted a car mascot to the front of his Rolls-Royce, a silver Royal Navy signalman with his arms outstretched, holding two flags. The car mascot was a gift from Prince Edward 'David', The Prince of Wales, subsequently King Edward VIII (1894(1936)1972) and later The Duke of Windsor, and was the talk of the Officers Mess. Adsdean soon became a centre of society hospitality, mostly by members of the Prince's 'inner circle' of friends and Mountbatten's fellow Naval officers.
Adsdean House, Funtington, Sussex
Edwina soon became aware what being a Naval officer's wife was all about and like all wives of sailors, she too realised the loneliness of life whilst her husband was at sea. Following their marriage, The Mountbattens - 'Lord and Lady Louis' were the "golden couple" of society and Edwina was constantly in the social columns of many newspapers, all interested in how her hair was styled, what dress she wore, what hat etc - and was considered one of the best dressed ladies in the country. She not only loved her husband, but adored him and lived by his principals, drive and determination. Edwina was a centre of energy and always prepared to show compassion and full commitment to the task at hand.
The 1924 portrait of Edwina
by Philip de László
Whilst on their return journey from the USA following their honeymoon, The Mountbattens first met the actor/playright (Sir) Noël Coward (1899-1973) referred to as 'The Master'. In November 1924, The Mountbattens were in the front row of the opening night of Coward's hit play "The Vortex" - Coward loved Mountbatten's Royal connections and Edwina for her 'sparkle' and they were often seen together at fashionable restaurants, nightclubs and parties.
Edwina - Lady Louis Mountbatten
Edwina in 1924
Following the death of Mrs Wilhelmina 'Bobbie' Cassel (1847-1925) - known as 'Auntie-Grannie', Edwina inherited the Branksome Dene estate in Bournemouth, Dorset, which had been enlarged and modernised by Sir Ernest, but The Mountbattens preferred to remain at Adsdean near Chichester, Sussex. Cassel had bought the estate from The Rt Hon. Sir Ivor Churchill Guest, 1st Viscount Wimborne, formerly Lord Ashby St Ledgers (1873-1939) - who had been Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time of the 1916 Easter Rising, and was a first cousin of The Rt Hon. (Sir) Winston Churchill (1874-1965). The estate was subsequently sold, the building became a hotel and is known today as Zetland Court and is currently used as a convalescent home.
Although Mountbatten attended the funeral of Princess Helena, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (1846-1923), the third daughter and fifth child of Queen Victoria (1819(1837-1901), Edwina did not attend as she felt ill on the day and called for a doctor - who confirmed that Edwina was pregnant with their first child. It would appear that Edwina and Mountbatten had been concerned for some time that Edwina had not yet fallen pregnant and later that day Mountbatten wrote in his diary - "good news!"
Being on active service as an officer in the Royal Navy, Mountbatten was concerned that he would be away for the birth of his first child and did all he could to ensure that Edwina would not be alone nor uncomfortable. Builders arrived into Brook House to make a nursery and extra staff were hired to look after the child. Mountbatten's sister-in-law 'Nada', Marchioness of Milford Haven, formerly Countess Nadejda Mikhailovna de Torby (1896-1963) also moved in to Brook House to keep Edwina happy and relaxed. The Marchioness and Edwina were close friends (as well as being related by marriage) and she would accompany Edwina to the cinema during the day. Edwina made few allowances to her schedule whilst pregnant, but eventually her nurse succeeded in 'slowing' her down as the birth became imminent, however Edwina did manage to go to the cinema, but only during the afternoon and early evening.
An exterior view of Brook House, Park Lane, London
Branksome Dene Mansion, Bournemouth, Dorset