The life and works of Louis Mountbatten, as seen in 1974 | Life and style
An extract from Richard Hough’s Louis and Victoria in the Observer Magazine of 8 September 1974 (‘The Prince and the plotters’) recalls the joke in Blackadder Goes Forth when Captain Darling patriotically says he’s as British as Queen Victoria, to which Blackadder replies: ‘So, your father’s German, you’re half-German and you married a German?’
Prince Louis Alexander of Battenberg, a German prince related to the British royal family (he married his cousin Victoria, the favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria), rose to become head of the British navy. Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Herbert Asquith ‘needed Louis as First Sea Lord in war even more than they needed him in peace,’ wrote Hough.
Victoria talked a lot and not always tactfully. ‘She knew so much because she was sister-in-law to Prince Henry,’ Hough quoted someone who knew her well. ‘She would get so much information about the German army from him. And because she also told everybody who would listen to her, people wondered what she would be saying about the British navy when she went to Germany.’
‘It is almost impossible today to understand the depths of jingoistic nationalism and xenophobia aroused in the early weeks of the First World War,’ wrote Hough, ‘when dachshund dogs were reviled and stoned, shops with German names had their windows smashed and people with even faintly foreign names publicly insulted. It was a very unpleasant hysteria, inflamed by the popular newspapers and magazines.’ Not too dissimilar to, say, a foreign country knocking England out of the World Cup or Euros.
Such an atmosphere reached new heights in the summer of 1917, and ‘not even the editor of Burke’s Peerage could say what the royal family’s name was’. Churchill and Asquith bowed to public pressure and Louis was asked to resign.
‘The new family name’ was changed to Mountbatten and Louis became Marquess of Milford Haven, and the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha became the House of Windsor for the same shameful reason.