With Prince Philip heading for his century, the Battenberg/Mountbatten dynasty is well worth examining. Who were they? Why were they related to everybody? How did a penniless, sharp-witted and seriously good-looking youth collar the future queen of England? Let us take a look; in 1851 Prince Alexander of Hesse (one of those countless Teutonic fiefdoms) morganatically married Julie von Hauke, lady-in-waiting to the Empress of Russia. Alexander’s elder brother the Grand Duke agreed somewhat reluctantly to revive for his new sister-in-law a long extinct title based on a north Hessian village called Battenberg. Julie thus became Countess (Grafin) von Battenberg, but was shortly afterwards raised in status to Princess of Battenberg, in 1858. Her eldest son, Prince Louis of Battenberg was naturalized as a British Subject, and was in fact in the Royal Navy by 1968. Being far-seeing, clever, charming and good at his job he rose to become a Rear-Admiral (1904), and Sea-Lord. As Sea-Lord, he was responsible for the complete state of readiness of the British Navy when war was declared in 1914. This was just the beginning: he married Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter (who was also his own first cousin once-removed) Princess Victoria of Hesse, which was terrific enough, but George V told him he must change his name, on account of it sounding very German, and Britain was at war with Germany. Prince Louis did not want to, but had to, and in 1917 his family name was changed by a simple translation to Mountbatten. George V was happy with Louis’s acceptance of the inevitable; he made Louis and his wife the Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven. Things were looking up and up. The second son of the marriage was Lord Louis Mountbatten. This tall, distinguished, drawling, ambitious and at times irrascible sailor served almost thirty years in the Royal Navy, and famously had a warship sunk under him though he survived. His friend Noel Coward made a film of the incident, even playing Lord Louis in the movie. Meanwhile he became Chief of Combined Operations in 1942. As Supreme Allied Commander in South-East Asia he defeated the Japanese in Burma in 1943-45 Never able to stand still or enjoy his laurels for long, Louis was made the last Viceroy of India when such things really mattered, and as such supervised the partition of India and saw its end as part of the British Empire. This momentous event was not without criticism, of the event itself (which some said could have been avoided) and of Lord Louis’s handling of it. He became the first Governor-General of India of independent India in 1947. When he retired from service (but never from public life) he was Admiral of the Fleet and Chief of the Defence Staff (1965). He and members of his family were blown up by the IRA in 1979. While all these momentous things were happening, his sister Princess Alice of Battenberg married Prince Andrew of Greece (1882 – 1944). In 1921 their son Philip was born. His blood was Danish, Greek, Russian, German and naturalized English, which is enough to be going along with though he is also related to every other royal family in Europe, through Queen Victoria and her consort Albert. To the astonishment and fury of many Mamas, Philip married the future Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, Canada etc., on 20 November, 1947, the same day he was made Duke of Edinburgh – a royal title. Other Battenbergs had not been idle. Countess Julie’s second son, Prince Alexander of Battenberg was the first Sovereign Prince of Bulgaria from 1879 to 1886. Her third son Prince Henry of Battenberg married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice, and served in the British Army. He died in uniform during a campaign against the Ashanti in what is now Ghana (1896). Prince Philip tried hard to get the British royal family’s official surname changed (as his own had been changed) from Windsor to Mountbatten-Windsor, but he did not succeed. This seems to be the only matter which the Battenberg/Mountbattens have not been able to resolve either by their ineffable charm or irrefutable bloodlines. The Queen and Prince Philip have four children, now adult parents – Charles (1948, Heir to the Throne), Anne (1950), Andrew (1960) and Edward (1964).
The Battenbergs and Mountbattens
About the Author: Dean Swift
‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.