Mountbatten tied in knots over Windsor
THE Conservative Prime Minister harold Macmillan used to enjoy telling the story of the day in 1959 when he had dropped in on the Queen at Sandringham.
The elderly Duke of Gloucester greeted him in the hallway. ‘Thank heavens you’ve come, Prime Minister,’ said the Duke. ‘The Queen is in a terrible state. There’s a fellow called Jones in the billiard room says he wants to marry her sister, and Prince Philip’s in the library wanting to change the family name to Mountbatten.’
There has always been a theatrical element to the Royal Family, but the tale of Prince Philip’s quest to change the family name to Mountbatten comes very close to farce.
A few days after the death of the Queen’s father, King George VI, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle, announced to his guests: ‘The house of Mountbatten now reigns.’ This was, of course, absurd: since 1917, the Royal Family’s name had been Windsor.
Among the guests who heard Mountbatten’s rash pronouncement was Prince ernest August of hanover, who swiftly passed it on to Queen Mary. Queen Mary was furious.
From here on, the story becomes reminiscent of the A. A. Milne shaggy- dog poem, The King’s Breakfast, in which the King’s request for a little bit of butter on his bread is passed from the Queen to the dairy maid to the cow, and then all the way back again.
Queen Mary complained to Jock Colville, the Prime Minister’s secretary. Colville passed on the complaint to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
Churchill raised the matter with his Cabinet, who sided with Queen Mary. The Cabinet minutes of February 18, 1952, read: ‘The Cabinet was strongly of the opinion that the Family name of Windsor should be retained; and they invited the Prime Minister to take a suitable opportunity of making their views known to her Majesty.’
This the Prime Minister did. The poor young Queen had to decide which side to take. On the one hand, Prince Philip and Lord Mountbatten wanted to change her family name to Mountbatten, and on the other side her grandmother and her Prime Minister were equally convinced that it should remain Windsor. Six weeks later, the Queen came to a decision: ‘My descendants who marry and their descendants shall bear the name of Windsor.’
‘Philip was spitting,’ recalled his Private Secretary, Mike Parker.
But it was Lord Mountbatten who had been the driving force. A renowned snob, he remained determined that his name — itself an invention, being the anglicisation of Battenberg — should be forever linked to the British Royal Family.
In June 1973, he wrote to his nephew, Prince Charles: ‘ When Anne marries in November, her marriage certificate will be the first opportunity to settle the Mountbatten-Windsor name for good . . . If you can make quite sure . . . that her name is entered as Mountbatten-Windsor it will end all arguments. I hope you can fix this.’
Shortly before Mountbatten’s death in 1979, my great friend the late hugh Massingberd went to see him at his home in Belgravia, hoping to persuade him to write the foreword to a new Burke’s Peerage Guide to the Royal Family.
‘The tiny mews house seemed awash with young, muscular and suspiciously good-looking Naval ratings bustling about the place to no apparent purpose,’ noted hugh.
Mountbatten agreed to write the foreword, but only if hugh promised to ‘give maximum positive exposure throughout the book to the house of Mountbatten and the correct Royal Surname of Mountbatten-Windsor. Got that? Mountbatten-Windsor! But, of course, no one is to know that I played any part in this and what I am telling you now is strictly off the record’.
MOUNTBATTEN ranted that, in 1952, ‘ that old drunk Churchill, backed up by that crooked swine Beaverbrook’, had forced the young Queen to announce that the ‘house of Windsor’ would continue as before. ‘My nephew was furious, as you can imagine. “It makes me into an amoeba,” he said, “a bloody amoeba.” have you ever wondered why there is a ten- year gap between the births of Princess Anne and Prince Andrew?’
Mountbatten believed that if Burke’s Peerage pushed the point strongly enough, the Queen would be bound to take notice.
Accordingly, the constitutional expert Dermot Morrah was given the job of grafting Mountbatten’s thesis onto an essay on the Queen’s reign that was to form the centrepiece of the book.
‘It took several attempts before this was achieved to Mountbatten’s satisfaction,’ hugh recalled.