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America's First Female Detective
Scandalous Affairs of Lady Mountbatten - Tales from History
92    Dibyendu Banerjee    06/01/2023

He was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria, the third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, uncle of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the mentor of his son, Prince Charles, while she was the granddaughter of a Jewish banker, who left her such an enormous inheritance that she received in a month ten times what her husband earned in a year. While he was a handsome, dashing prince, she was hailed as the most beautiful woman in England and it was the society wedding of the decade, when Lord Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Cynthia Annette Ashley walked down the aisle, in 1922.

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However, made rich by her powerful grandfather and armed with a title out of her wedding, Edwina Mountbatten made a name for herself as the saucy socialite who committed scandals in both the bedroom and the ballroom. The couple continued to endure a marriage that was marked with a series of affairs, with Edwina, described as sex-obsessed, engaged in several extra-marital trysts. Behind closed doors, their long married life for 38-year was far from perfect, even Lord Mountbatten once admitted that they spent all their married lives getting into other people’s beds.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten
Edwina in her wedding dress

A stunning, but highly-strung socialite and the sixth best dressed woman in the world at the time, Edwina had at least 18 lovers, including Indian Prime Minister Nehru and singer Leslie Hutch Hutchinson, who with one thrust propelled her the length of the dining table and she, in her turn, gifted him a jewel-encrusted penis sheath. Realizing he had little choice in the matter, Louis also began taking lovers of his own and eventually, to spare themselves the shame of a divorce, Lord Mountbatten and his wife agreed upon an open marriage.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten
On the Wedding Day in 1922

Edwina Ashely was born in 1900 to Colonel Wilfrid William Ashley and Amalia Mary Maud Cassel, daughter and only child of financier Sir Ernest Cassel, one of the wealthiest men during that time and a confidante of King Edward VII. However, Edwina was deprived of parental love, which she needed most, as her parents really wanted a son and when Edwina tragically lost her mother, Amalia at the age of only 11, her father wasted no time in remarrying, in the hope of having a son and heir.

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Unfortunately, the woman he married was far from a loving mother figure and sent Edwina off to a boarding school and out of their lives. Nevertheless, Edwina was not cut out for the strict lifestyle of the boarding school and as she was bullied and teased for her spontaneous ways, she immediately looked for a way out. Ultimately, she wrote to her Grandpa, the closest person to her, requesting him to take her to him, if he loves her at all and Sir Cassel immediately withdrew his beloved granddaughter from her studies and gave her the ticket to enter into a world of pure glamour, engaging her as a hostess for the parties thrown at his mansion, much to her delight.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

Edwina was clever enough to make her presence feel at the parties arranged by her grandpa and within a short time got herself recognized by the elites of the society and was inducted into the group. By the time she met the aptly elite, handsome Louis Mountbatten in 1920, Edwina Ashley was a leading light in London society with an inheritance of £ 2 million from her maternal grandfather to fund her party lifestyle.

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However, the meeting would turn out to be a major event that would change the life of Edwina forever. During that time, Lord Louis Mountbatten, known by his friends simply as Dickie, was wanted by all the female socialites of the day, but he helplessly fell for Edwina and the pair became engaged within a few months. Their wedding at St Margaret’s Chapel, Westminster on 18 July 1922, attracted a crowd of 8,000 and was attended by several members of the royal family, which included Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra, along with the then Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

Although the newlywed couple looked like made for each other, there was a glaring difference between the two, specifically between the bedsheets. It is believed that the two lovers were virgins when they met and after consummating their marriage Edwina got a taste for lovemaking. She openly confided her desire to her husband to go to make love in Paris, in the most awful places they could find. But unlike his lusty wife, Louis found sex less appealing and less exciting, viewing it as a mixture of psychology and hydraulics. Soon it became clear to Edwina that sex was not his priority and his strong desire to be in the navy far outstripped his desire to please his wife in the bedroom in the way that she would have liked, even jokingly nicknamed Edwina's breasts Mutt and Jeff, naval slang for medals, symbolizing her breasts to trophies. His casual, almost comical attitude towards sex made Edwina unhappy and she soon became restless, as she strongly felt that something was missing in their marriage and although she did not know what it was or how to achieve it, she was determined to find it at any cost.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten
Lord and Lady Mountbatten and their daughters Patricia and Pamela in 1938

Despite the unhappiness that was brewing for the pair, their less than satisfying lovemaking soon resulted in the birth of their first daughter Patricia, in 1924. But like her school life, Edwina was not cut out for motherhood and craved some space from her daughter. As she was sent away as a child to a boarding school by her jealous stepmom, Edwina sent off Patricia with a nanny, so that she could negate her motherly duties and resume her partying ways and embark on a series of affairs. She had a string of affairs, choosing only the most eligible bachelors of the time and desperately dated more than one of those well-known figures at a time, which included, apart from Lord Molyneux, a newspaper editor Mike Wardell and a rich and famous American polo player called Laddie Sandford. Soon she came to be known for having a different date accompanying her for each meal of the day. Much later, her daughter, Pamela Hicks revealed that one day when she returned from shopping, she met Mr Larry Gray in the drawing room, Señor Portago in the anteroom, Mr Sandford in the library, Mr Ted Phillips in the boudoir, Señor Portago in the anteroom, but had no idea about Mr Molyneux.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

Edwina had her second daughter, Pamela, in 1929, but that did not deter her in any way from her philandering ways. However, despite half of London knowing about Edwina's harem, Lord Mountbatten could not do anything to stop his strong-willed wife and her promiscuous ways, as divorce, especially within the Royal family, was frowned upon. Finally, the pair agreed to a discreet open marriage and according to Pamela, her father did it for the total happiness of her mother and the mutual acceptance of the proposal made the marriage work. After that, while Louis Mountbatten was posted in Malta in the early 1930s, Edwina enjoyed a fling with American golfer Bobby Sweeney. On the other side of the coin, in 1931, Dickie Mountbatten began to flirt with 18-year-old Margaret Whigham, the future Duchess of Argyll, who later became infamous for her sex scandal in 1963, when she was photographed performing sex on an unidentified man. Later he entered into a long term affair with the high profile French sensation girl Yola Letellier, who inspired Colette's 1944 novella, Gigi. However, while everyone waited eagerly with bated breath to see how Edwina would react when she got a taste of her own medicine, no one was ready for the unexpected consequences, as she decided to become a friend of Letellier. She invited Yola out to lunch, informed her husband all about it and also stated that she liked the sweet girl.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten
Golfer Bobby Sweeney (L) and Leslie Hutchinson (R)

However, despite everything, the biggest scandal that shocked the country was a report published in a newspaper in 1932, about a leading hostess in the country enjoying a steamy affair with a black man, which was a huge taboo in 1930s British society. While the scandal had shaken society to its very depth, the woman was soon identified as Edwina and initially, the man was wrongly thought to be the famous singer and activist Paul Robeson. But mostly it was believed that it was West Indian cabaret singer and pianist, Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, who was becoming infamous for bedding society women. It was also reported that Edwina interrupted Hutch from playing the piano, kissed his neck and led him by the hand behind the closed doors of the dining room, where with one thrust Hutch propelled her the length of the dining table. In her turn, Edwina showered him with gifts from time to time, which apart from a jewelled gold cigarette case, a gold ring and a gold and diamond watch, included a jewel-encrusted penis sheath. Nevertheless, after a court case held in secret, the paper finally apologized, offering deep regrets.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

At the outbreak of WW II, Edwina was reluctant to give up her lavish lifestyle and limited her sacrifice to chocolate and nail varnish on her toes, while the rest of the country lived off of rations. But later, as the situation worsened, she probably had a change of heart and started to visit hospitals, camps and shelters for the Allies, though always looking glamorous when doing so. After the end of the Great War, Lord Mountbatten was appointed Viceroy of India and charged with overseeing the country’s transition to India in 1947 and the couple moved to Delhi. During that time, Edwina rose beyond her role as vicereine and often braved entering areas of conflict to rescue bodies and take them to the hospital. But basically, she was not changed and she still had her wandering eyes, which this time wandered to none other than the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was 58, ten years her senior.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

Edwina strongly felt that Nehru was not like her other conquests and she did her best to create a good impression on him to make him return her feelings. Soon enough her efforts paid off and the two entered into an intense love affair that continued even after India became independent. However, despite their mutual fondness was evident, it is not known whether the romance was ever consummated. Although Lord Mountbatten left in India with Edwina in 1948, Edwina would return to visit yearly and Nehru would make an annual trip to London whenever she was there and in between, they wrote long love letters to each other. Edwina's passionate love for Nehru made all of her other affairs pale and she could no longer be bothered to play with the young eligible men of London. Unfortunately, she found true love late in life and her health started to decline alarmingly during the 1950s. Sometime in 1952, before she was hospitalized after a haemorrhage, she passed on her most valuable treasure to her husband for safekeeping, which was a stack of letters from her friend, Jawaharlal Nehru.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten
Edwina with Nehru, his daughter Indira and Rajiv

Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Nehru’s sister Vijaylakshmi Pandit, once stated that her mother had read many of them and she said they were beautiful, they are literature. The Mountbattens were not against publishing them, but the Nehru-Gandhi family was against the publication of the letters and probably Sonia or maybe Rahul Gandhi has them now. Possibly, Sonia was afraid that the political opposition might try to gain an advantage out of it. When Catherine Clement (author of Edwina and Nehru: A Novel) asked Sahgal what political advantage opposition parties can have, Sahgal stated that Indian national leaders are not supposed to have sex organs and it would be a shame and disaster, if it is proved that Nehru had them.

scandalous affairs of lady mountbatten

Edwina Mountbatten died peacefully in her sleep on 21 February 1960 of unknown causes, at the age of 58, while she was on an inspection tour for the St John Ambulance Brigade in North Borneo. According to her wishes, she was buried at sea off the coast of Portsmouth from HMS Wakeful on 25 February 1960; when Nehru had the Indian Navy frigate INS Trisul escort the Wakeful and cast a wreath.

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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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