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 Louis, 1st Marquess of Milford Haven 

On 22nd January 1901, the aged Queen-Empress died at her beloved Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. She had been a focal force in the events of Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg and only nine months before she had been at the christening of their fourth child [Mountbatten].  Louis had been appointed an executor of the late Queen's will and was trusted with her last wishes but his influence at Court would be no less diminished in the new reign.  'Uncle Bertie' - King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910) appointed Louis his Naval Aide-de-Camp (ADC) and continued to look favorably on Louis and his family.  Whilst Louis was working at the Admiralty, they moved into a rented house in Hans Cresent, Knightsbridge, London and were now financially secure.  In September 1901, Louis took command of HMS Implacable, once again in the Mediterranean Fleet but just after a year later in November 1902, he was appointed as Director of Naval Intelligence and he was called upon to advise the First Lord of the Admiralty - The Rt Hon. Sir William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne (1859-1942), on senior Naval appointments.

Louis spent two years onboard HMS Drake, and by the time of his departure, his Squadron was he best in the Royal Navy.  In February 1907, Louis was appointed an acting Vice-Admiral and made second-in-command of the Mediterranean Fleet and his new flagship became HMS Venerable, but after just six months transferred his pennant to HMS Prince of Wales, following being given command of the Atlantic Fleet.  Rear-Admiral Tufton Beamish (1874-1951) who was one of Louis' junior officers in 1908 said of him - "he achieved the affection and trust of the Service, and his brilliant career shows him as a great practical sea officer and administrator."  

 

Further promotion came on 1st July 1904 when Louis was appointed to the rank of Rear-Admiral and in January 1905 hoisted his pennant onboard the cruiser HMS Drake.  He welcomed a visit in February 1905 from 'Uncle Bertie' - King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910) who spent a night on-board and in March a visit from  Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941), who was an Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Navy.

 

Prince Louis of Battenberg

as a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy

During this time the Royal Navy was split by differences of opinion on how the Service should be reformed, with two senior Admirals - Admiral of the Fleet Sir John 'Jackie' Fisher, later 1st Lord Fisher (1841-1920), the First Sea Lord and Admiral Lord Charles Beresford, later 1st Lord Beresford (1846-1919), the Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Fleet, dividing many with a very public row.  As a result of Louis' support for Fisher, his further advancement was delayed when supporters of Beresford spread rumours about his competency and loyalty and subsequently he was kept out of the Admiralty. Eventually under political pressure, Fisher was eased out and was replaced by Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur 'Tug' Wilson (1842-1921) and although he was an efficient sailor, his management skills were found lacking.  Even King Edward VII (1841(1901-1910) called Wilson "one of the most obstinate men I ever came across."  On 6th May 1910, 'Uncle Bertie' died, bringing his short reign of 9yrs to an end and was succeeded by Louis' former junior officer and cousin - 'Georgie', King George V (1865(1910-1936) and once again Louis was appointed Naval Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to the new Sovereign.

 

With the turbulent political situation at fever pitch and the expanding German Empire seeking Naval superiority, the new Liberal First Lord of the Admiralty, later The Rt Hon. Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill (1874-1965) who was appointed in October 1911, sought to reorganise the Admiralty with the looming potential of a war being pivotal in his plans. Churchill looked for a new First Sea Lord and Fisher proposed Louis, however there was considerable anti-German pressure against such an appointment in Parliament and in the press.  In the end, Churchill appointed Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman (1848-1929) as First Sea Lord and Louis as Second Sea Lord in November 1911, but Bridgeman and Churchill soon clashed and when he discovered that Bridgeman was ill, he was keen to replace him.  Finally Louis was appointed to the office of First Sea Lord on 9th December 1912.  By the Summer of 1914, Germany had already decided to build a fleet to challenge Britannia's supremacy at sea and the political situation deteriorated throughout Europe after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1863-1914), the heir of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 28th June 1914. Louis knew that war was imminent and was convinced that England's safety depended on the readiness of the Royal Navy and he ordered the First and Second Fleets to mobilise.  The domino effect of mobilisation spread throughout Europe, and the UK declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914.

 

Despite his clear abilities and allegiance to the British Crown especially with all the strategic preparations for an inevitable war against the German Empire, Louis was resented and viewed with suspicion by growing anti-German hysteria which resulted in his resignation as First Sea Lord on 28th October 1914.   Louis arrived at Buckingham Palace the next day and had an audience with The King, who like Louis was a proud Englishman, but bore a German name. He did not approve of what had happened to Louis - who he had idolised.  As an act of generosity and without Ministerial advice, he created Louis a Privy Counsellor (PC) as a public display of his personal trust and faith in Louis.  

Following Louis' resignation as First Sea Lord, in November 1914, Prince & Princess Louis of Battenberg (living in more modest circumstances) retired to Kent House, East Cowes (near Osborne House) on the Isle of Wight, the former home of  Princess Louise, The Duchess of Argyll (1848-1939), which Queen Victoria (1819)1837-1901) had purchased for her daughter in 1864 and Mountbatten would stay there whilst on leave.

 

ABOVE: Prince Louis of Battenberg inspecting Naval cadets

LEFT: Prince Louis of Battenberg as an Admiral in the Royal Navy

October 28, 1914

 

Dear Mr Churchill,

 

I have lately been driven to the painful conclusion that at this juncture my birth and parentage have the effect of impairing in some respects my usefulness on the Board of Admiralty.  In these circumstances I feel it to be my duty, as a loyal subject of His Majesty, to resign the office of First Sea Lord, hoping thereby to facilitate the task if the administration of the great Service to which I have devoted my life, and to ease the burden laid on H.M.'s Ministers.

 

I am,

Yours very truly,

Louis Battenberg

               Admiral
 

 

Prince Louis of Battenberg with his two sons - Mountbatten (left)

and Prince George of Battenberg, later 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven (right)