The Assassination That Shook the British Royal Family 40 Years Ago

When Prince William and Kate Middleton named their son Louis, many considered it a tribute to a man known in The Crown as “Uncle Dickie.” His full name was Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten, and he was a great-grandson of Queen Victoria.

Prince Charles, William’s father, had been close to Mountbatten. In fact, remembering him after a visit to the site of Mountbatten’s death in 2015, Charles said he represented “the grandfather I never had.”

Looking back at Mountbatten’s life story, it’s easy to see how important he was to the royal family. (Some say he introduced Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Phillip — both relations of his — in the 1930s.)

After a distinguished career as a naval officer and statesman, Mountbatten’s life ended suddenly and tragically at the hands of Irish Republican Army terrorists in 1979. He had celebrated his 79th birthday a few months prior.

IRA assassins blew up Mountbatten’s boat with him and his grandsons aboard.

5th September 1979: Queen Elizabeth II (centre), Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900-2002) and Charles, Prince of Wales leading their family at the funeral service of Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten. | Central Press/Getty Images

On 27 August 1979, Mountbatten took his family out on a boating trip in Donegal Bay, off the coast of Ireland. Nicholas, his 14-year-old grandson, joined him that day. Several other passengers, including Nicholas’s twin brother and Baroness Brabourne, also took the trip.

IRA terrorists had planted a large bomb aboard the ship. After the vessel went out to sea, they detonated the bomb. Mountbatten, the baroness, Nicholas, and a boy working on the boat all died from their injuries.

The others barely escaped with serious injuries. Historians have described the bombing as possibly “the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom.” It represented the first deadly IRA strike against a member of the royal family.

Charles later reflected on the grief he and his family felt following Mountbatten’s death. “I could not imagine how we would come to terms with the anguish of such a deep loss,” he said in 2015. Mountbatten’s funeral took place on September 5 1979.

What Mountbatten meant to Britain and the Queen

7th June 1977: Queen Elizabeth II waves from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during celebrations for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Louis, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900 – 1979), stands at her right. | Central Press/Getty Images

In addition to his close family relationships with Elizabeth, Phillip, and Charles, Mountbatten was an important figure in English history. After working his way up through the Royal Navy, Mountbatten became supreme allied commander of the Southeast Asian front during World War II.

In that position, he led the campaign that recaptured Burma for the Allies. While his leadership appointment prompted cries of nepotism, Mountbatten proved he was a skilled leader after the war as well.

As the final viceroy of India, Mountbatten oversaw the transfer of power from Britain to India. Back home in the 1960s, he became governor and, later, lord lieutenant of the Isle of Wight.

When he died in ’79, the IRA quickly took responsibility for the attack. That same day, another bombing killed 18 people in County Down. Thomas McMahon, the bomber convicted of the attack, served 19 years in jail before he was freed in 1998.

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