Beautiful, vivacious, intelligent and compassionate, Edwina Ashley (born on this day in 1901 in London) was a wealthy heiress when she married Lord Louis Mountbatten, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria and a rising star in the British Royal Navy, in 1922. They went on an extended honeymoon in the U.S., rubbing elbows with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, and becoming favorites among the Broadway set in New York City. Lady Mountbatten is credited with having rescued George Gershwin's classic song "The Man I Love" from a Broadway flop and popularizing it among London bands, and she was rather famously (and somewhat morbidly) painted by Salvador Dali in 1940.
While her husband fought in World War II and served as Supreme Allied Commander in South East Asia, Lady Mountbatten worked devotedly with the Red Cross, and following the War inaugurated the relief effort with respect to returned prisoners of war. In 1947, Lord Mountbatten became Viceroy of India -- the last, as it turned out, as Great Britain granted India later that year. A persistent rumor held that Lady Mountbatten's close relationship -- some said "affair" -- with Indian partisan Jawaharlal Nehru helped to influence Lord Mountbatten in dividing Kashmir between the Indians and the Pakistanis, to the detriment of the Pakistanis. The "affair" has been consistently denied -- U.S. ambassador to India John Kenneth Galbraith once asking impatiently, "Can't people realize that men and women can be friends?" -- but is known that they were devoted intimates. Whatever their relationship or the measure of her influence over the Kashmir partition, Lady Mountbatten was a perceptive and persuasive politician during the founding of independent India.
She was traveling on behalf of relief organizations in South East Asia when she died suddenly on February 20, 1960, and was buried at sea.