The story behind The Crown: 'Uncle Dickie' Mountbatten is assassinated by IRA bombers on family fishing trip

The fourth season of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown opens with a tragedy that shocked the Royal Family and the nation – the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten by IRA terrorists.

By Rhys Lewis Published: 15 November 2020 - 10.29am
Netflix

Season 4 of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown opens with a shocking tragedy when the Queen's cousin Lord Louis Mountbatten, a highly decorated former Royal Navy officer, Chief of the Defence Staff and Viceroy of India, is assassinated by an IRA bomb.

Mountbatten – who was known as ‘Uncle Dickie’ in the royal household – was on a fishing trip on his boat Shadow V off the coast of Mullaghmore, a small village in Sligo, around 12 miles from the border with Northern Ireland.

Once Shadow V was a few hundred metres out to sea, a 50lb remote-controlled bomb, placed under the deck of the Earl’s fishing boat by IRA man Thomas McMahon, was detonated.

The remains of Mountbatten's boat Shadow V Independent News And Media/Getty
The remains of Mountbatten's boat Shadow V

According to reports at the time, the boat was “blown to smithereens”. One of the Earl's twin grandsons, Nicholas Knatchbull, 14, and a local boy, 15-year-old Paul Maxwell, also died in the explosion.

All seven occupants of the boat were thrown into the water by the blast at around 11.45am. Fishermen raced to rescue, but the Earl died of his injuries shortly after being pulled out of the water. Another passenger, the Dowager Lady Brabourne, 83, would die the following day.

Nicholas’ identical twin Timothy, the Earl’s eldest daughter Patricia, Lady Brabourne and her husband Lord John Brabourne, would survive the explosion despite suffering serious injuries.

The IRA issued a statement taking responsibility for what they called the Earl’s ‘execution’. Several weeks later, Sinn Fein vice-president Gerry Adams would add: “What the IRA did to him is what Mountbatten had been doing all his life to other people; and with his war record I don't think he could have objected to dying in what was clearly a war situation.”

Later the same day, the IRA also killed 18 British soldiers in Northern Ireland, 16 of them from the Parachute Regiment, in what became known as the Warrenpoint ambush - the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles.

Lord Mountbatten and the Duke of Edinburgh Getty Images
Lord Mountbatten with his nephew the Duke of Edinburgh

Lord Mountbatten had spent summers at his Irish home, the nearby Classiebawn Castle, for many years and was a well-known figure around Mullaghmore, where his unguarded boat was moored. The Earl had never had a bodyguard.

He would receive a full ceremonial funeral at Westminster Abbey on September 5 in the presence of the Queen and members of the Royal family, his coffin drawn in procession by 118 naval ratings. The Earl was later buried at Romsey Abbey.

Mountbatten's family never returned to Classiebawn Castle. In May 2015, Prince Charles visited Mullaghmore where he met survivor Timothy Knatchbull (pictured below) and attended a prayer service for peace and reconciliation.

Thomas McMahon was later convicted of murder and was released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Prince Charles visiting Mullaghmore with survivor Timothy Knatchbull in 2015 AP/Press Association Images
Prince Charles visiting Mullaghmore with survivor Timothy Knatchbull in 2015

Who was Dickie Mountbatten?

Lord Louis Mountbatten was born in Windsor as Prince Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas of Battenberg on June 25, 1900. He was an uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and second cousin once removed to the Queen.

Although ‘Richard’ was not among his given names, Mountbatten became known as ‘Dickie’ after his great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, suggested the nickname ‘Nicky’; to avoid confusion with the many Nickys of the Russian Imperial Family, including Tsar Nicholas II, it was changed to Dickie.

As Chief of Combined Operations during World War II, Mountbatten was largely responsible for the disastrous raid on Dieppe, which caused thousands of Allied casualties, many of them Canadians.  As a result, he was an unpopular figure in Canada for the rest of his life.

Promoted to Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia Command (SEAC) as acting full admiral by Churchill in 1943, his command oversaw the recapture of Burma from the Japanese by General William Slim.

After the war, Mountbatten was made last Viceroy of India (and subsequently its first Governor-General) with responsibility for overseeing the country’s transition to independence; his decision to bring this forward by a year has been praised and criticised in equal measure.

He would later serve as Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and Nato Commander Allied Forces, Mediterranean, before becoming First Sea Lord between 1955 and 1959, and then Chief of the Defence Staff until 1965.

Charles Dance as Louis Mountbatten in The Crown Netflix
Charles Dance as Louis Mountbatten in The Crown

How does 'Uncle Dickie' Mountbatten feature in The Crown?

Mountbatten features prominently in the first three seasons of The Crown. In season 1, played by Greg Wise, he is seen as both a father figure for his nephew Prince Philip and a confidant to the Queen.

In the second season he becomes a surrogate grandfather to Prince Charles – in episode 9, Paterfamilias, he takes Charles to buy his uniform for Eton, only for Prince Philip to insist on sending the boy to his own alma mater, Gordonstoun.

Lord Mountbatten and Prince Charles Getty Images
Prince Charles regarded Lord Mountbatten as his honorary grandfather

In season 3, and now played by Charles Dance, Mountbatten’s military past comes back in focus in the episode Coup, in which he is placed at the heart of a plot to overthrow Harold Wilson’s Labour government.

Mountbatten is also seen to advise Charles about matters of the heart, and in real life was keen for the Prince to marry his granddaughter Amanda Knatchbull. As episode 1 of season 4 shows, Charles would give a reading at the Earl’s funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Season 4 of The Crown is now available to watch on Netflix.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

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