Historian asks why private Mountbatten letters are still sealed

Were Lord Mountbatten’s files suppressed to hide royal affairs? Historian asks why private letters are still sealed because they ‘endanger national security and international relations’

  • Andrew Lownie says he has spent £250,000 trying to see Mountbatten diaries
  • The Mountbatten files include the private diaries of his wife Edwina from 1921
  • Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India and an uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh

A historian fighting for the release of a tranche of royal letters claims they may have been suppressed to hide details of ‘lovers and mistresses’.

Andrew Lownie says he has spent £250,000 of his own money trying to see the private diaries of Lord Mountbatten, written from 1918 until 1979, when he was killed by the IRA.

The Mountbatten files include the private diaries of his wife Edwina, written from 1921 until her death in 1960, along with the correspondence between the pair.

The 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and his wife Edwina, Countess Mountbatten, pictured in their ceremonial robes in 1953

Lord Louis Mountbatten , the last Governor General from Britain waving a cheery farewell to the crowds in Delhi

Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India and an uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh, while his wife was a glamorous heiress turned philanthropist.

Mr Lownie, author of the 2019 biography The Mountbattens: Their Lives and Loves, has been fighting for access to the papers, held at University of Southampton Library, for four years.

He said: ‘What is in this couple’s personal diaries and letters which is so sensational? All sorts of claims are made about endangering national security and international relations. But Edwina was never a “public servant” and her husband’s public career only became significant during the Second World War and when he became viceroy.

‘Indeed, his “official” papers have repeatedly been weeded and the correspondence with the Royal Family sent to the Royal Archives, where it is unlikely to ever be publicly available.’

He added: ‘It is perhaps the references to the royals which provides the answer. What perhaps might the diaries and letters say about the abdication, the Duke of Windsor, and the royals’ lovers and mistresses?’

Another controversial area Mr Lownie believes the diaries will cover is Lady Mountbatten’s relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the independent country’s first Prime Minister.

Lady Edwina Mountbatten (1901 – 1960) with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889 – 1964) at a reception given for him by the Indian High Commissioner in London at Kensington Palace Gardens

The university bought the papers and other documents from the Mountbatten family’s Broadlands Archive Trust in 2011 for £4million with public money, including almost £2million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. While researching his book, Mr Lownie said he was told the papers had been sealed in 2011 under a ‘ministerial direction’. He then made Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the Cabinet Office and the university. ‘No one seemed to know anything about such a direction,’ he said.

Responses to his questions about his FOI requests have been ‘evasive and cursory’, he added. He is now crowdfunding to raise money for the next stage of his legal battle, ‘having run out of money’.

Mr Lownie’s lawyers complained to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in 2018. Only after being taken to the High Court for contempt did the university start to cooperate with the ICO.

In December 2019, the ICO directed the university to disclose the diaries and correspondence. The university has launched an appeal which will be heard in November.

A University of Southampton spokesman said it has ‘always aimed to make public as much of the collection as is possible whilst balancing all its legal obligations’.

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