Edwina and Nehru: Love in the Shadow of Empire

The British Raj’s last vicereine and India’s first prime minister shared a profound connection that still captures imaginations today.

henri cartier-bresson nehru-edwina
Henri Cartier-Bresson's iconic image of the Mountbattens and Nehru

Sukhada Tatke


June 29, 2021


14 min

Sometime in 1952, Edwina Mountbatten was hospitalized after a hemorrhage. Afraid she might die, she passed on her most valuable treasure to her husband for safekeeping: a stack of letters from her friend, or perhaps paramour, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“You will realize that they are a mixture of typical Jawaharlal letters full of interest and facts and really historic documents,” Edwina wrote to Louis Mountbatten in a note about the letters. “Some of them have no ‘personal’ remarks at all. Others are love letters in a sense, though you yourself will realize the strange relationship — most of it spiritual — which exists between us…I think I understand him, and perhaps he me, as well as any human beings can ever understand each other.”

Edwina didn’t die that year, and neither did her marriage. Dickie, as friends and family called Louis, wrote back to her: “I’m glad you realize that I know and have always understood the very special relationship between Jawaharlal and you, made the easier by my fondness and admiration for him…I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever known what jealousy means, and if it concerns the happiness of anyone I’m as fond of as you, then only my desire for your happiness exists."

The historian Andrew Lownie narrates the above vignette in his book The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves, exemplifying what the last viceroy of India and the first prime minister of India had in common. And it wasn’t just the keys to the future of the Indian subcontinent.

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