Edwina Mountbatten knew better than anyone that behind the glittering, softly lit ballrooms of high society, there were dark, twisting corridors full of secrets—after all, behind closed doors, Edwina had more than a few secrets of her own. From her scandalous marriage to her tragic twist ending, this beautiful socialite lived ten lives in one.
1. She Wasn’t Like You Or Me
Edwina Mountbatten was a huge society catch. Born Edwina Ashley in 1900, she was the maternal granddaughter of the powerful magnate Ernest Cassel, a financier to royals and one of the most influential men in England. In other words, baby Edwina was rolling in dough…but all her money couldn’t stop the tragedy coming her way.
2. She Suffered A Child’s Worst Nightmare
When Edwina was just 11 years old, her consumptive mother Amalia passed, leaving the young girl without a feminine role model in her life. But that wasn’t the worst part. Her father Wilfred soon forgot all about her mother and remarried Molly Forbes-Sempill. Now, second wives get a bad rap…but Molly may have truly deserved the title of "evil stepmother".
3. She Had An Evil Stepmother
Edwina’s father had desperately wanted a male heir, and he looked upon his daughter Edwina as a mere inconvenient mouth to feed. Well, Molly was happy to follow the party line—and then some. Called a "wicked woman," it wasn’t long before Molly thrust poor Edwina into her own Cinderella-story, packing her off unceremoniously to boarding school. And then the real trouble began.
4. She Was Unpopular
Edwina Mountbatten didn’t find her people at boarding school, she only found further misery. Her classmates teased her mercilessly about anything they could find, and the vivacious, spontaneous girl found the strict and somber routine of school life near suffocating. Within a few months, she was at her wit’s end—and desperate times called for desperate measures.
5. She Begged For Mercy
Lonely and crestfallen at school, Edwina wrote a heart-wrenching letter. Through the tragedies of her formative years, her grandfather Ernest Cassel had remained her strongest supporter, and she sent him a message, begging him to "Please take me away, dear Grandpa, if you love me at all". Thing is, this pitiful letter had surprising consequences.
6. She Knew How To Party
For most people, even a dramatic message like this one wouldn’t get their parents to pull them out of school. Then again, Edwina wasn’t most people. Her doting grandfather not only eventually let her drop her studies, he then hired the teenager to act as his party "hostess" at his palatial house instead. Yeah, Edwina was spoiled as heck—but this was just the beginning.
7. She Was A Bright Young Thing
Within a few years, Edwina the "hostess" was partying like it was her job—which, well, it was. She took to it like a duck to water: Friends and admirers immediately noticed how bright, clever, and curious she was, and she fell in with some of the leading socialites of her day, including the wealthy and beautiful Gloria Vanderbilt. Indeed, it was Edwina’s friendship with Gloria that sealed her fate.
8. She Fell In Love With A Royal
When Edwina was just 19 years old, she met Lord Louis Mountbatten, a relative of the current British Royal Family and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria in his own right. Translation: He was one heck of a catch. Lucky for Edwina, Louis only had eyes for her, and they struck up a whirlwind romance. Yet immense tragedy was just around the corner.
9. She Lost Her Father Figure
In the middle of her intense courtship with Louis Mountbatten, Edwina received the worst news of her life. Her grandfather Ernest Cassel had passed, simultaneously turning her into a wealthy heiress while leaving her overwhelmingly heartbroken. As if that weren’t enough, Louis’ father also passed around this time. Huh, maybe this was a bad omen…you think?
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10. She Wanted A Fairy Tale Wedding
Both Edwina and Louis didn’t heed these cosmic warnings signs and went full speed ahead with their love. Within months of meeting each other, they had decided to marry, and they weren’t about to go back on their (ill-advised) word. Edwina poured all her newfound money into planning their wedding—and what a wedding it was.
11. She Had The Wedding Of The Year
When Edwina married her Prince Charming on July 18, 1922, it was "the wedding of the year". Not only did many members of the royal family attend the nuptials on the grounds of Westminster Abbey, the Prince of Wales himself, the future King Edward VIII, was the best man at the proceedings. But the real extravagance came just after.
12. She Went "Hollywood"
The newly-minted Mountbattens treated themselves to a lavish six-month honeymoon after tying the knot. One leg of the globe-trotting adventure even had them touring the United States and partying with enormous Hollywood stars like Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. But behind closed doors, the cracks were starting to show.
13. Her Husband Had A Fatal Flaw
Edwina barely knew Louis when she married him—and once they made it official, she started to discover some unsettling traits in her new husband. The effervescent girl already had a healthy taste for misadventures, but Louis…not so much. In fact, he could be downright stern, even teaching his houseguests how to "properly" eat strawberries. Um, not fun. And that wasn’t all.
14. She Had Strange Kinks
While still on her honeymoon, Edwina unleashed her secret wild side. Although she and Louis were both inexperienced on their wedding night, it didn’t take long for the socialite to discover she liked falling into bed very much. So much, in fact, that she reportedly begged Louis to take her to Paris for the explicit purpose of getting it on in "the most awful places we could find". Louis, however, had a much different reaction.
15. She Wanted More In The Bedroom
While wedded bliss had awakened Edwina’s desires, the same didn’t go for her husband. Louis, ambitious for a career in the Navy, thought of marriage as a "smug diversion" from his real goals and reportedly considered intimacy as an awkward mix of "half hydraulics and half psychology". In fact, we have evidence of their bedroom life—and it’s not pretty.
16. Her Husband Gave Her A Cringe-Worthy Nickname
When I say that Louis Mountbatten was awkward in the royal bedchambers, I really mean it. This guy was so unused to the idea of Edwina’s real, warm, womanly body next to him that he "lovingly" nicknamed her chest…"Mutt" and "Jeff". In case this can sound any less romantic, that’s Naval slang for medals. Later, it was the name of a comic. Uh, this is going nowhere good.
17. She Was Repressed
Whether because of her dismal private life or other issues, Edwina began to exhibit unsettling signs. She grew restless in her seemingly perfect existence, with one friend commenting that, "For Edwina, there was always something missing. She didn't know what it was or where it was but she was determined to find it". Still, she went looking in all the wrong places.
18. She Was Jealous Of A Baby
In 1924, Edwina and Louis had their first child, a daughter named Patricia. While this would be a joy for many young mothers, Edwina didn’t count herself in that number—not by a long shot. Instead of coddling and cooing at the girl, she was actually jealous of the attention her baby was getting. And let me tell you, jealous people do some unhinged things…
19. She Betrayed Her Husband
After Patricia’s birth, Edwina Mountbatten went off the deep end. One day while Louis was away in the Navy, she packed up her babe with a nanny and sent her off to the coast so she could have some Mommy alone time. Only, she wasn’t so alone. Edwina proceeded to spark up a string of affairs with society’s most eligible bachelors. And somehow, this wasn’t the most scandalous detail.
20. She Had Several Lovers At Once
Once Edwina decided to jump the Good Ship Fidelity, she really went for it. She not only took lovers, she took them near-simultaneously, hopping around town with a Lord Molyneux in the morning, the dashing polo player Laddie Sandford in the afternoon, and newspaper editor Mike Wardell in the evening. It wasn’t long before it got messy.
21. She Had A Harem
By the time Edwina’s second daughter Pamela was born in 1929, her philandering had reached epic proportions. Edwina had to work overtime to coordinate her little black book, and she often came home to her staff trying frantically to keep her paramours separated. She had so many men in her life, those in the know—and there were many—dubbed the lovers the "ginks". But loose lips sink ships…
22. She Was Caught Red-Handed
Soon enough, all Edwina’s lies unraveled. Although Louis had been happily (if unbelievably) ignorant of his wife’s cavorting, the bottom had to drop out sometime. One day, the Prince of Wales himself tipped Louis off to what everyone else in London already knew. Mountbatten’s response was both exactly like you’d expect, and nothing like you’d expect.
23. She Broke Her Husband’s Heart
When Louis first realized the extent of Edwina’s double life, he was "devastated," but he also had to think practically. As a member of the royal family, he could hardly divorce her without causing an uproar. So instead, they came to a scandalous and very secret agreement: They would have a marriage where they both could do what they wanted. You know, some would say this wasn’t the best idea.
24. She Had Fierce Competition
To be fair, the Mountbattens’ salacious arrangement started out well enough. Not one to be outdone, Louis soon started a dalliance with the gamine Yola Letellier, the French It girl who became the inspiration behind Colette’s novel Gigi. The brash, steamy Yola was a fitting first-time mistress—until Edwina got her claws into her, that is.
25. She Kept Her Enemies Close
Edwina made it her business to know about all her husband’s conquests, so she found out about Yola in no time flat. Then she made a bizarre move. After confronting the vixen about it, Edwina took her out to lunch, later writing to Louis, "Your girl is sweet…and I like her and we got on beautifully and are now gummed and I am lunching with her at her house on Tuesday!!!"
Yep, Louis and Edwina were that couple…and the real weirdness was yet to come.
26. She Had A Type
Around this time, Louis started getting cozy right back with Edwina’s lovers. Friends considered her next sidepiece, Bunny Phillips, as Louis "with the volume turned down," so it only made sense when Louis struck up a friendship with him, even attending the theater together on his wedding anniversary. Still, under the surface, this seemingly enlightened marital agreement had a very dark side.
27. She Almost Divorced Her Husband
In truth, Edwina and Louis’ arrangement was playing a dangerous game. If anyone from the outside world ever found out about it, the British Royal family would be exposed to moral outrage. Louis lived in terror of this exposure, and the possibility of divorce always hung in the background, with the couple reconsidering it several times.
Well, within a few years, Louis might have wished he’d split…
28. She Caused A Huge Scandal
In 1932, Edwina’s world crashed in on her. After spending nearly a decade hastily suppressing public knowledge of their extramarital activities, the Mountbattens found themselves in the middle of a true scandal. A gossip columnist published a story claiming that a well-heeled socialite—who everyone knew was Edwina—was having an affair with a, gasp!, Black man. The royal reaction was swift and mortifying.
29. She Was In A Notorious Court Case
Almost immediately, the reigning King George V ordered Edwina and Louis Mountbatten back to England, demanding that they sue the publication for libel while denying all claims of an affair. There was just one big problem: The information was very likely true, and the details were even juicier than people knew.
30. Her Lover Was A Casanova
The rumor mill went into overdrive trying to reveal the identity of Edwina’s Black lover, but experts today think they know the truth. Although some suggested she had taken up with the actor Paul Robeson, it’s more likely that the man in question was the dashing cabaret singer Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson, who was quite the hit with society ladies.
But it was one story in particular that almost decimated the monarchy.
31. She Gave Her Lover A Disturbing "Gift"
People claimed that Edwina had given Leslie Hutchinson an extremely racy and extravagant gift to show her "affection": She presented him with a custom-made, diamond-encrusted Cartier cod, er, piece. Yep. It was enough dirty laundry to nearly exile Mountbattens from the inner royal circle, and even after Edwina won her libel case, this rumor stuck. I mean, diamonds are forever.
32. Her Children Resented Her
As much as Edwina and Louis’s affairs nearly ruined their reputations, their two daughters were having an even worse time of it. Their youngest, Pamela, later lamented the string of strange "uncles" that made up her childhood. After all, as Louis once put it, "Edwina and I spent all our married lives getting into other people's beds". And upheaval of a very different kind was around the corner.
33. She Was A Spoiled Brat
In 1939, WWII broke out, and Edwina’s first reaction was disturbing. Pretty, posh, and used to only the best in life, the society girl balked at the idea of rationing and tightening up her belt buckle. In fact, when the conflict started, her biggest "sacrifice" was to swear she would heroically…give up chocolate and stop painting her toenails. But then something strange happened.
34. She Underwent A Transformation
After years of searching for fulfilment in jet-set living, champagne dreams, and midnight pillow talks, WWII finally gave Edwina the one thing she had been missing: a purpose. Before long, she threw herself into work for the Allies, primarily inspecting air-raid shelters, hospitals, and leave camps—and always dressed in perfectly-tailored uniforms, natch.
It was a huge transformation…for the most part.
35. She Got Promoted
Edwina went into WWII as a spoiled debutante obsessed with chasing conquests, and came out the other side a hardened, practical woman. So when Louis Mountbatten got an enormous promotion in 1947 as the last viceroy of India—making Edwina the vicereine—she finally seemed poised to take up the challenge.
Still, Edwina could never help misbehaving.
36. She Had A Forbidden Desire
Becoming the vicereine of India didn’t make Edwina stop falling into people’s beds, it only made her more serious about her lovers. Her next infatuation couldn’t have been more inappropriate. While serving, Edwina became obsessed with none other than the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Yes, that’s a major conflict of interest…and Edwina had to go and make it even tenser.
37. She Orchestrated Her Own Meet-Cute
See, Nehru wasn’t just an idle snack for Edwina’s man-eating tendencies; he was the whole darn meal. She was head over heels for him before she even saw him, and when Louis first met the politician solo, Edwina insisted he drive Nehru by where she was volunteering so she could meet him, too. Except Nehru was no easy victory, and for perhaps the first time in her life, Edwina would really have to earn something.
38. She Threw Herself Into Immense Danger
Edwina refused to rest on her laurels while serving as vicereine, especially not with the handsome Jawaharlal Nehru watching her. The bold, stubborn woman became infamous for going out in the middle of conflicts, with snipers still shooting, to rescue bodies and bring them to the hospital. Well, that certainly caught Nehru’s attention.
39. She Was Fatally Charming
When Edwina and Louis landed in Delhi in 1947, India was in the midst of partition from Pakistan, and anti-British sentiment and suspicion ran deep even among their high-class contacts. That’s when Edwina surprised everyone. She turned her charm up to 11 and won everyone’s trust. "She was quite marvelous," one aide recalled, "She was almost better with women than men, and that's saying a lot".
But once more, there was one man she had in mind.
40. She Had One "Great Love"
Although Edwina and Louis only served in India for a little over a year, it was enough time for one of the most extraordinary loves of her life to develop. Over the months, she and Nehru grew intensely, spiritually close to each other, drawn together by their concern for his country and by their own sharp intellects. Today, experts consider Nehru as Edwina’s "great love". The truth, however, is much more complicated.
41. She Had A Higher Love
Although Edwina’s relationship with Nehru made all her previous affairs and lovers look like child’s play—including, let’s be honest, her marriage to Louis—there is still a lot of mystery shrouding their intimacy. Although they shared a close bond, researchers still argue about whether things ever got physical between them. Still, one person close to the couple thought they knew the real story.
42. Her Husband Had A Creepy Keepsake
Louis Mountbatten himself firmly believed that Nehru and his wife were in a physical relationship, and he was more than a little proud of the big fish Edwina had snagged. So proud, in fact, that he kept the flurry of correspondence Edwina and Nehru wrote to each other—and it’s these letters that reveal the most detailed clues.
43. She Got Intimate Presents
Even on the surface, Edwina and Nehru’s correspondence shows the deep connection that they had together. Louis Mountbatten later recalled that Nehru’s own letters to him "were always typed," while Nehru’s letters to Edwina "were always hand-written". This gesture is intimate enough, but the words themselves are overwhelming.
44. Her Letters Bare Her Soul
In these private missives, Edwina and Nehru show sweeping feeling, with Edwina writing in an early passage, "I hated seeing you drive away this morning…You have left me with a strange sense of peace and happiness". In his own letter to her, Nehru writes: "Life is a dreary business, and when a bright patch comes it rather takes one's breath away". You decide what these words might tell us.
45. She Dominated The Relationship
Maybe it’s no wonder that Edwina dictated nearly all the terms of her relationship with Louis Mountbatten. When they first married, he might have had royal connections, but he didn’t have much money to his name. Meanwhile, Edwina was rolling in it: Her monthly allowance was ten times her husband’s salary. Our girl was rich-rich.
46. Her Body Started To Fall Apart
With her late-in-life romantic awakening in full bloom, Edwina must have thought she had the rest of a long life to enjoy her second spring. Yet fate had crueler plans. Her health declined throughout the 1950s, though she never slowed down despite both her husband and Nehru’s concerns. Eventually, she had to pay the piper.
47. She Died Young
On February 21, 1960, Edwina Mountbatten passed in her sleep from an unknown cause at the still-youthful age of 59. When Louis first heard of her passing, he called it a "poleaxe blow"—yet it was Nehru who got the last piece of Edwina’s heart. Touchingly, his handwritten letters were right by Edwina’s bedside when she passed.
48. She Had "Extremely Low Morals"
As she reached late middle age, Edwina had completed her transformation into a stalwart symbol of Britain. Yet few knew her biggest secret—and it’s contained in an FBI file. Dating from 1944, the file deems the Mountbattens "persons of extremely low morals". See, although the affairs of their younger days shocked polite society, there were more dangerous proclivities that they kept locked very, very tight…
49. The FBI Kept Her Secrets
In the government files, there is evidence that both Edwina and Louis Mountbatten were bi—a boudoir taste that was considered utterly depraved for their time. Indeed, there are suggestions that the husband and wife would "enjoy" their clandestine lovers together as a couple. Sadly, though, there are much darker allegations.
50. Her Husband Had A Double Life
The final blow of these documents are the harrowing—and infamous—accusations against Edwina’s husband. Although there’s no evidence she was involved, sources now claim that Louis Mountbatten sought out the company of young boys in some of his affairs. It’s a black mark on the scandalous Mountbattens that no amount of today’s progressive morals can erase.