Few families can boast of not one but two saints among their ancestors, a great-aunt who was the last tsarina of Russia, a father who was Grace Kelly’s pinup, and a grandmother who was not only a princess but could also argue the finer points of naval law. Pamela Mountbatten entered a remarkable family when she was born at the very end of the Roaring Twenties.
As the younger daughter of the glamorous heiress Edwina Ashley and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Pamela spent much of her early life with her sister, nannies, and servants—and a menagerie that included, at different times, a bear, two wallabies, a mongoose, and a lion. Her parents each had lovers who lived openly with the family. The house was always full of guests like Sir Winston Churchill, Noël Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, and the Duchess of Windsor (who brought a cold cooked chicken as a hostess gift).
When World War II broke out, Lord Mountbatten was in command of HMS Kelly before being appointed chief of Combined Operations, and Pamela and her sister were sent to live on Fifth Avenue in New York City with Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1947, her parents were appointed to be the last viceroy and vicereine of India and oversee the transfer of power to an independent Indian government. Amid the turmoil of political change, Pamela worked with student leaders, developed warm friendships with Gandhi and Nehru, and witnessed both the joy of Independence Day and its terrible aftermath. Soon afterwards, she was a bridesmaid in Princess Elizabeth’s wedding to Prince Philip, and was a ladyin- waiting at the young princess’s side when she learned her father had died and she was queen.
Daughter of Empire (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible.com) (AbeBooks) was one of several books about the royal family that was available to me as part of the Audible Plus catalog. I’ve seen Lady Pamela Hicks in several documentaries so I was curious to hear more about her life and relations within the royal family.
Pamela is the daughter of Lord Louis Mountbatten, who, through Queen Victoria, was royalty, so she moved in those rare circles one can only imagine. The story begins with her parents’ lives and how they met and were married. Her mother, Edwina, was a notorious philanderer, and Hicks does not try to hide it and speaks about it openly, just as her mother and father did. I can’t imagine living in a world where cheating on one’s spouse was just accepted, but that’s how the aristocracy worked back then. Lord Louis had his own lover later on, and that’s also talked about openly.
Even though Lady Pamela’s world was one of great privilege, she doesn’t come across that way in the book, just as I didn’t get that feeling when watching interviews of her. She speaks of her life as an ordinary, yet extraordinary life because of who she was related to.
During World War II, her parents shipped both her older sister and Pamela to the United States to safety, but after a time, she convinced her parents to return. Her sister stayed in the states to complete her studies and returned later. Hicks travelled with her parents all over the world, and speaks fondly of her time in India, when her father was named Viceroy. She speaks of meeting Gandhi and Nehru, and claims her mother never could have had an affair with the latter because they were never alone. Given Edwina’s track record, I find that hard to believe. And she had a pet mongoose, which made its way back to England with her.
As a cousin to Prince Philip, she had a close up look at the royal wedding to Princess Elizabeth. She eventually became one of the Princess’ ladies-in-waiting and travelled with her extensively, including that fateful trip to Africa in 1952, when Elizabeth took the place of her ailing father. Lady Pamela was there when Elizabeth found out her father died and became queen. In fact, Hicks tells of giving the new queen a hug when she heard the news, and then realized her friend and cousin was now her sovereign, so she quickly bowed.
Lady Pamela was also on the Commonwealth tour with Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh that lasted six months. She relates many stories and has a special fondness for Australia and New Zealand.
Overall, I found Lady Pamela Hicks’ story interesting, as it gives a closer look into how that rarefied few live, with a humility I found refreshing from someone from the royal family.
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