The name Mountbatten was the anglicised name that the Battenberg family in England took during the First World War. But who were the Battenbergs to begin with? The name was created for Julia von Hauke, who became Countess and then Princess of Battenberg. Julia was the great-grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Julia von Hauke, born in 1825, was the daughter of a Polish general, Count John Moritz Hauke, and Sophie Lafontaine. Her father was killed during the Polish November uprising of 1830, and her mother died shortly thereafter. Julia was then made a ward of the Russian Emperor who controlled Poland at the time.
Julia became a lady-in-waiting to Marie of Hesse, the wife of the future Emperor Alexander II of Russia. As a result, she met Marie’s brother Alexander of Hesse, who had accompanied Marie to Russia at the time of her marriage and had remained as a member of the Russian army. Alexander of Hesse and Julia fell in love, but the Emperor forbade their marriage as he had plans for Alexander to marry his niece. In 1851, Julia and Alexander eloped – leaving Russia behind. They married in Breslau, and their first child – named Marie – was born in 1852. The Emperor struck Alexander from his position in the army, but Alexander’s brother, the Grand Duke of Hesse, was more sympathetic. He allowed the couple to settle in Hesse, but the marriage was considered morganatic. Alexander and his descendants were removed from the line of succession to the. The Grand Duke did, however, grant Julia the title of “Countess of Battenberg”, and their children were styled as “Illustrious Highnesses.” The name Battenberg was taken from a small ruined castle in the north of Hesse. Their daughter Marie remembered visiting Battenberg only once as a child.
The young couple must have had a certain charm because they did manage to bring many of their relatives around. A few years after their marriage, Alexander’s brother raised Julia’s position to that of “Princess of Battenberg” and with the style of “Serene Highness.” The children were then styled Princes and Princesses of Battenberg. It certainly helped that back in Russia, Marie and Alexander were now Emperor and Empress, and they remained friendly with the couple. When they would visit Marie’s family in Hesse, they would often be entertained by Alexander and Julia, and it was to their home that the diplomats would come to meet with the Emperor.
Alexander joined the Austrian army, and initially, he and Julia moved around depending on his postings. After the Austrian defeat by Prussia, he and Julia lived in Heiligenberg Castle in Darmstadt. They had five children: Marie, the only daughter; Louis, who married Victoria of Hesse – a favourite granddaughter of Queen Victoria; Alexander, who was briefly King of Bulgaria; Henry, who married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Beatrice; and Franz Joseph, who married Princess Anna, the daughter of the King of Montenegro.
Queen Victoria seems to have had no issue with her relatives marrying into the morganatic Battenberg family. Her daughter Alice had married Alexander’s nephew, the future Grand Duke of Hesse, in 1862, and she seems to have been fond of the whole family. In her letters to her granddaughter Victoria, the wife of Julia’s son Louis, she would often refer to Julia as “your dear mother-in-law.” When Julia died in 1895, Queen Victoria wrote: “The dreadful news of your mother-in-law distresses me so much. She was much beloved at Jugenheim and Darmstadt and was so charitable and kind to the poor. You will, I am sure, try to make them feel that you will follow her example.“
At times, however, the issue of Julia’s humble beginnings did raise issues for her children. Prince Alexander had hoped to marry Princess Viktoria of Prussia, but the word from Germany was that “no Hohenzollern would marry a Battenberg.” And when Prince Henry and Princess Beatrice’s daughter Victoria Eugenie became engaged to King Alfonso XIII of Spain, there was much grumbling in Spain about her origins.
Two of Julia and Alexander’s children ended up in England. Prince Louis had joined the Royal Navy at the age of 14 and rose to become First Sea Lord. He was forced to resign in 1914 because of his German origins. Prince Henry had had to agree to live with Queen Victoria in order to get approval to marry Beatrice. After the First World War, when King George V was removing German names from his relatives, the Battenbergs became the Mountbattens. The princely title was dropped, and Louis was made Marquess of Milford Haven, and Henry’s son was made Marquess of Carisbrooke.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was a grandchild of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine. He took the Mountbatten name as his surname at the time of his marriage to Princess Elizabeth. Other descendants of Julia include Queen Louise of Sweden (1889-1965), the Spanish royal family, and Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979).