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Louis Battenberg: Prince and First Sea Lord of the British Navy

As an author who writes about British and European royalty, I enjoy focusing on less known royals. Meet Louis Battenberg/Louis Mountbatten.

Prince Louis Battenberg circa 1884.

Prince Louis Battenberg circa 1884.

Ludwig von Battenberg

Louis Battenberg or Ludwig Alexander von Battenberg was born in Graz in modern-day Austria on the 24th May 1854, Queen Victoria’s 35th birthday. He was the eldest son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine (1823-1888) and the former courtier Countess Julia van Hauke (1825-1895.) Their union was a love match but because Julia was not of royal birth the marriage was classed as morganatic. At birth, Louis was an Illustrious Highness, Count of Battenberg.

In 1858 Julia was created Princess of Battenberg by her brother-in-law Ludwig III, Grand Duke of Hesse (1806-1877) so Louis and his siblings were raised to Serene Highnesses. Louis had three younger brothers Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph, and an elder sister, Marie. The Battenberg children were educated to speak German, French and English fluently. They either resided in Italy when Prince Alexander was on military duty or at Schloss Heiligenberg in Jugenheim.

Schloss Heiligenberg in Jugenheim, Germany.

Schloss Heiligenberg in Jugenheim, Germany.

Louis Battenberg, British Citizen

At the age of fourteen, Louis was encouraged by Princess Alice of Hesse (1843-1878,) Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s second daughter, and their second son Prince Alfred (1844-1900) to become a British citizen and serve in the British navy. Despite his parents' objections to his change of nationality, he became a naturalised British citizen and was accepted into the navy on the 3rd October 1868. This was the start of a remarkable career.

His first ship was the HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s former ship, which was in dock at the time. Between autumn 1868 and summer 1885 he rose through the ranks to commander after serving aboard various ships including the HMS Serapis, Sultan, Ariadne, Inconstant and, at the request of Queen Victoria, aboard the royal yacht.

Lillie Langtry

In 1880 he had an affair with the married socialite and actress Lillie Langtry (1853-1929), who would later become Edward, the Prince of Wales’ (1841-1910) mistress. Approximately seven months after Louis’ departure on the HMS Inconstant Lillie gave birth to a daughter that she called Jeanne Marie (1881-1964). Lillie led Louis to believe that he was Jeanne's father but it could have been her other lover Arthur Clarence Jones. It was definitely not her husband. Louis did not publicly claim paternity but he paid towards Jeanne Marie’s upbringing.

Royal Marriage

Cousins once removed, Louis and the intelligent and spirited Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine (1863-1950), the eldest daughter of Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse (1837-1892) and Princess Alice, had known one another since childhood and they developed feelings in 1882. They married on the 30th April 1884. According to Charles Nevin, the Battenberg cake was invented for their wedding. The four coloured squares of cake within marzipan and icing denoted Louis and his three brothers.

Victoria and Louis had two girls and two boys. Alice (Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh’s (1921-2021) mother,) Louise, George and Louis who was known as Dickie.

Louis' bride Princess Victoria with her sisters l-r Irene, Victoria, Elisabeth (Ella) and Alexandra (Alix/Alicky.)

Louis' bride Princess Victoria with her sisters l-r Irene, Victoria, Elisabeth (Ella) and Alexandra (Alix/Alicky.)

Controversial Promotions

When Louis was promoted to the rank of navy commander in 1885 a group of xenophobic politicians questioned why a foreigner was being promoted instead of hard-working British men. It was even mooted that he should not have been permitted to join the British navy in 1868.

In 1889 he was appointed Assistant Director of the Naval Intelligence Division. Through his extensive family tree, he managed to glean information to help the British military. In 1891, despite further political disapproval, he was elevated to captain. By winter 1894 he was an integral member of the Committee of Imperial Defence. During the 1890’s he captained crafts in the Mediterranean Fleet and the Channel Fleet in the English Channel.

In 1897 he was appointed an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. He continued in this role during Edward VII and George V’s reigns. On the 1st July 1904 he became a rear admiral. 1907 saw him become a vice admiral and in 1909 he was placed in command of the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Home Fleet.

Second and First Sea Lord in the British Navy

In 1912 when he was recommended for the prestigious role of First Sea Lord there was again dissent in parliament about Louis not being British by birth. To soothe the situation Louis was made an admiral and the Second Sea Lord, answerable to the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman (1848-1929). In late 1912 Louis was promoted to First Sea Lord after Bridgeman and his replacement Arthur Wilson (1842-1921) resigned from the post.

The outbreak of World War One marked the reappointment after a four-year break of Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher (1841-1920) as First Sea Lord. Louis, of German ancestry, was considered an enemy by many people so his role as head of the navy defending the nation against his (by birth) countrymen was contentious. Louis commented:

"It was an awful wrench, but I had no choice from the moment it was made clear to me that the Government did not feel themselves strong enough to support me by some public pronouncement."

Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven.

Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford Haven.

Name Change: Battenberg to Mountbatten

George V made him a privy counsellor, one of his key advisors. In 1917 he renounced his German titles to become Louis Mountbatten, Marquess of Milford-Haven, Earl of Medina and Viscount Alderney. He refused a dukedom from George V because he was concerned that his income was not large enough to entertain or live as a duke was expected to. His youngest son Dickie never quite recovered from the indignity of being demoted to a lord after being a prince.

The Russian Revolution saw the cull of the royal family there, including his sisters-in-law Ella (Elisabeth) and Alexandra, the Tsarina known as Alix or Alicky in the family. The Mountbatten's tried to save her relations, but sadly the revolutionaries were deaf to their pleas for mercy.

In the final days of the war Louis, by then living with Victoria at Kent House on the Isle of Wight, was informed by letter by the First Sea Lord Sir Rosslyn Weymss (1864-1933) that he would not see active naval duty again. Louis officially retired on the 1st January 1919.

Louis and Victoria Milford-Haven

The Milford Haven’s were forced to sell Kent House and Schloss Heiligenberg and to auction some of Louis’ medals after the collapse of the German economy and the fall of Russia left them in straitened financial circumstances with their investments rendered worthless.

Louis was created Admiral of the Fleet (Retired) in George V’s 1921 New Year’s Honours but he did not see another new year. He died at the Naval and Military Club in London on the 11th September 1921. He was buried at St. Mildred’s Church at Whippingham on the Isle of Wight. Victoria survived him by twenty-nine years.

Dickie Mountbatten, like his father, served as First Sea Lord after a distinguished navy career. Today, George Mountbatten (b.1961) is the 4th Marquess of Milford-Haven. His son Henry (Harry) uses the title Earl of Medina.

Louis and Victoria Milford Haven were laid to rest at St. Mildred's Church on the Isle of Wight, near Osborne House. Picture from 1910.

Louis and Victoria Milford Haven were laid to rest at St. Mildred's Church on the Isle of Wight, near Osborne House. Picture from 1910.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten (Dickie) as First Sea Lord, 1943.

Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten (Dickie) as First Sea Lord, 1943.

Sources

© 2021 Joanne Hayle

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 25, 2021:

Joanne, you're welcome.

Joanne Hayle (author) from Wiltshire, U.K. on September 25, 2021:

Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for your comment:-)

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 24, 2021:

This is a great historical write and an interesting read. Very enlightening also. Thanks.

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