Introduction to the Mountbatten Archive

Profile of Earl Mountbatten of Burma

The archive of Earl Mountbatten of Burma contains a wealth of material, both private and official, covering the whole of Lord Mountbatten's life. Much of the material dating from before 1943 is of a private nature, mainly files of correspondence from the office of Lord Mountbatten's private secretary, but there are also sequences of letters from friends and acquaintances. The period of Lord Mountbatten's naval service in the early years of the Second World War and as Chief of Combined Operations was poorly represented by official material in the papers at Broadlands and attempts were made to fill this lacuna with copies of the papers of other individuals, together with some original material, which is now included in the archive. From 1943 onwards, however, the archive is much fuller, containing significant quantities of demi-official and official papers, firstly connected with Lord Mountbatten's service as Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia Command, and subsequently with all his official appointments. In many cases these are the files maintained by Lord Mountbatten's secretaries, both his official secretaries and his private secretaries; and the archive was maintained and continued by Lord Mountbatten and his assistants at Broadlands until his death in 1979.

The first comprehensive arrangement of the archive was made by David Brice, an assistant private secretary to Lord Mountbatten, in 1951-2. A guide, referred to as `Brice's index', encompassed both the then current filing system at Lord Mountbatten's house at Wilton Crescent, designed to hold all the correspondence carried on from London by Lord and Lady Mountbatten for a period of up to three years, in the first instance, from 1948, together with a description of material that had been sent to Broadlands as `archives'. the current filing system divided the papers into three categories: organisations, personal and miscellaneous.

  • The section on organisations was intended to cover all Lord Mountbatten's public activities and included material concerning all the organisations with which he dealt.
  • The personal correspondence included all private correspondence, with files arranged by individual, and also all correspondence, some partly of an official character, resulting from appointments Lord Mountbatten had held, as any action taken by Lord Mountbatten relating to these former appointments was regarded as private.
  • The miscellaneous section was an alphabtical sequence of iles, concerned almost exclusively with correspondence with individuals who had not had files allocated to them in the personal sequence.

The archves at Broadlands was arranged in a broadly chronological order, with sections devoted to particular periods of Lord Mountbatten's career, for example, South East Asia Command, India, Malta; and the material was arranged alphabetically by file title. Another group of papers was described as `black box' material, deriving from an original container of that description in which Lord Mountbatten kept papers he considered of special personal interest. By 1952 these papers filled five boxes (not all of them black) and `black boxes' came to be used to designate any special file in which these papers were kept. These papers were filed annually and listed in 1952; they now form for the most part the files entitled `Papers of special interest', which are located chronologically through the whole archive as it is presently arranged.

Further accessions of papers, official and private, accrued to the holdings at Broadlands throughout Lord Mountbatten's life. From the Admiralty and the Ministry of Defence, he sent home his entire sequence of private, unregistered files relating to his service as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff. It was one of the tasks of his retirement to sort the collection, to obtain further mateiral and the reminiscences of former colleagues to fill out thin areas or to provide supplementary evidence on matters of wider interest, and to put the papers in order with an eye to the work of a future biographer. The sequence of current files was gradually intergrated into the archive in an overall arrangement founded on the main periods of his life. The whole archive was then numbered. Nothing has been done to disturbe this arrangement.