Did Lord Mountbatten Toy With Treachery?

Updated on December 10, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

By the late 1960s, the socialist government of Britain’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson was presiding over an economic downturn. A group of business leaders and aristocrats began hatching a plot to take down the government and replace it with men such as themselves. Lord Louis Mountbatten, a grandson of Queen Victoria and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, expressed interest in being the nominal head of such an administration.

Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, known to close associates as “Dickie.”
Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma, known to close associates as “Dickie.” | Source

1960s Britain

Middle and working class Brits were doing quite well in the 1960s. Wages were up and people were able to buy cars and appliances for the first time. Trade unions were flexing their muscle and demanding better working conditions. The first wave of baby boomers was coming of age and getting quite rebellious.

In 1964, Harold Wilson led his socialist Labour Party to victory in a general election. But, it turned out to be a bad time to take over the reins of power. The industrial powerhouse that the country had once been was undergoing a wrenching dislocation. Its manufacturing supremacy was being challenged by nimbler economies such as those of Japan, the United States, and Germany.

Increasing labour strife led to strikes that crippled the country. Annual inflation was climbing into the double digits. Taxes were rising, in particular for the wealthy, to pay for increased government spending. Then, in November 1967, the government devalued the pound by 14 percent. That set the cat among the corporate pigeons in the nation’s board rooms.

Cecil King: Chief Conspirator

Cecil King was a newspaper tycoon who inherited the gig from his family, which contained several lords and other aristocrats in its pedigree.

Towards the end of the 1960s, King developed the notion that the United Kingdom was headed for disaster and that a great man was needed to rescue the country from its imminent demise. King was clearly deeply impressed with his own business skills, so when he looked in the mirror and saw just such a great man staring back at him he came to believe that destiny was calling out to him.

Cecil King.
Cecil King. | Source

King held dinner parties at his newspaper headquarters. His biographer, John Beaven, writes that he used these gatherings “to persuade other business leaders that there would have to be an emergency government containing men like themselves. King feared there would be hyperinflation and even bloodshed in the streets.”

There were those who thought King had gone off his rocker and counselled against his planned coup, but King pushed ahead.

Harold Wilson.
Harold Wilson. | Source

The Plot Thickens

Cecil King recruited Peter Wright, an assistant director of MI5, Britain’s security service. Wright had been involved in a long-term effort to root out Soviet agents who were buried deeply in the U.K’s spying apparatus. He would certainly be aware of the rumours that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent.

Others sounded out about participation were Lord Cromer, Chairman of the Bank of England, Coal Board chairman Lord Robens, and Sir Basil Smallpeice, head of the Cunard shipping line. Blue bloods and reliably conservative to the core.

But, they needed a figurehead, someone highly respected and not tainted by the grubby business of business. Lord Louis Mountbatten hove into view; uncle of Prince Philip, Royal Navy Admiral, and recently retired Chief of the Defence Staff. He was known to be angry about military budget cuts instituted by the Wilson government.

Admiral Lord Mountbatten.
Admiral Lord Mountbatten. | Source

A Fateful Meeting

King wrote that when he first put the idea Mountbatten he replied there was a need for “talent and administrative ability which does not exist in Parliament must be harnessed. Perhaps there should be something like the Emergency Committee I ran in India.”

Like King, Mountbatten was somewhat in awe of his own leadership qualities and organizational abilities, although these talents had previously escaped the notice of others. Mountbatten was also vain and flattered to be asked to take on a role for which he believed he was born.

In early May 1968, Cecil King and his editorial director Hugh Cudlipp met with Mountbatten at his home. Also at the meeting was senior civil servant Sir Solly Zuckerman.

The idea of Lord Mountbatten, known to his friends as “Dickie,” becoming titular head of an interim government was raised, at which Solly Zuckerman got all huffy.

Hugh Cudlipp wrote in his autobiography that Sir Solly said “This is rank treachery. All this talk of machine guns at street corners is appalling. I am a public servant and will have nothing to do with it. Nor should you, Dickie.” Meeting adjourned.

Cecil King had an entirely different recollection of the meeting. He released his diary’s contemporaneous account: “Dickie does not really have his ear to the ground or understand politics. After Solly had gone, Mountbatten said he had been lunching at the Horse Guards and that morale in the armed forces had never been so low. He said the Queen was receiving an unprecedented number of petitions, all of which have to be passed on to the Home Office. According to Dickie, she is desperately worried over the whole situation.”

We need a third-party arbiter, and here one comes in the shape of Sir Solly Zuckerman’s private papers: “Dickie was really intrigued by Cecil King’s suggestion that he should become the boss man of a ‘government.’ ” Zuckerman added that Mountbatten made several suggestions about people who would be good cabinet members.

According to historian Alex von Tunzelmann, the Queen got wind of what Lord Mountbatten was up to and ordered him to back off. Harold Wilson continued to serve as prime minister in Number 10 Downing Street until his resignation in 1976.


Bonus Factoids

  • In past generations, Lord Mountbatten’s enthusiasm for joining a coup to bring down the duly elected government would have meant a stay in the Tower of London and a date with the headsman. As it was, capital punishment was suspended in Britain in 1965, although the crime of treason was still punishable by death until 1998.
  • Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten was the main architect of the near-suicidal raid on Dieppe in August 1942. Against the advice of many, more than 6,000 soldiers, mostly Canadian, attacked the heavily defended French port. It was an unmitigated disaster with more than 1,000 young men being killed in just six hours. As noted by Legion, a Canadian military history magazine, “Mountbatten was allowed to rewrite the draft [report on the raid] to make it almost totally self-serving.”


  • “The UK Economy in the 1960s.” Tejvan Pettinger, Economicshelp.com, April 6, 2016
  • “Cecil King.” John Simkin, Spartacus Educational, undated.
  • “The Day the Mirror’s Megalomaniac Tried to Launch a Political Coup.” Roy Greenslade, The Guardian, September 16, 2011.
  • “Lord Mountbatten: Did Prince Philip’s Uncle Attempt to Lead a Coup Against Harold Wilson’s Government?” Andrew Lownie, BBC History Extra, November 29, 2019.
  • “DIEPPE: ‘They Didn’t Have To Die!’ ” J.L. Granatstein, Legion, July 1, 2012.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Rupert Taylor 

      5 months ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      It isn't clear how she found out.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      5 months ago from Ohio

      All that planning down the drain at the Queen's request. Did Solly tell her?


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)