Compared to its previous three seasons of gripping—but often slow-moving—royal drama, The Crown season 4 is truly action-packed. Within the first hour of the new season, Prince Charles meets his future bride Diana Spencer, Margaret Thatcher is elected Britain’s first female prime minister, and a major character is killed in an explosion. The loss of Lord Louis Mountbatten (Charles Dance)—Prince Philip’s uncle and father figure to Prince Charles—is a shock that has a ripple effect throughout the season. Here’s the true story of his assassination.

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How did Lord Mountbatten die?

Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a paramilitary organization that fought against British rule in Northern Ireland, most famously during The Troubles (1968-1998). Mountbatten had been a target of the IRA for decades before his death, and in 1978 a sniper attempted to shoot him at sea but was thwarted by bad weather.

Mountbatten owned Classiebawn Castle, a country house on the Mullaghmore Peninsula in County Sligo that he inherited through the family of his wife Edwina. Mountbatten’s immediate and extended family spent many vacations there; they were regulars in the town of Mullaghmore and well-liked by locals. In August of 1979, they were enjoying their annual trip to the estate.

On August 27, Mountbatten took his family out on their boat to go fishing, a regular pastime for them. Knowing this, the IRA planted a 50-pound bomb underneath the boat that was detonated using a remote control. Mountbatten was killed, along with his teenage grandson, Nicholas Knatchbull, and 15-year-old Paul Maxwell, who worked on the estate. Nicholas’s paternal grandmother, Dorothy Brabourne, later died from her injuries in the hospital, bringing the bombing’s total death toll to four.

Photo credit: Des Willie
Photo credit: Des Willie

Why did the IRA kill Lord Mountbatten?

Mountbatten was well aware that he was an IRA target. In March of 1979, the Northern Irish Shadow Secretary of State, Airey Neave, was assassinated, and according to BBC History Magazine Extra, Mountbatten was warned by his protection detail that he was the likely target of a plot to assassinate a member of the royal family. Though he was strongly advised not to visit Ireland that year, Mountbatten went ahead with his regular family vacation.

The IRA claimed responsibility for the bombing of Mountbatten’s boat swiftly, referring to it as an “execution,” while also claiming responsibility for two roadside bombings on the same day. Those bombings in Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland killed 18 British soldiers and one civilian.

In the show, the IRA’s statement is read out in a voiceover, and though the exact words seem fictionalized, it’s based directly on real IRA sentiment. “Thirteen gone but not forgotten—we got 18 and Mountbatten,” the statement begins, referring to the 13 people killed in the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1971. The statement then goes on to describe how Mountbatten had become a symbol of everything the IRA stood against: “To Irish Republicans, Lord Mountbatten was the ultimate symbol of imperialist oppression. Each year he came to sit in his castle on land stolen by the English. He knew the risks in coming here, and his death represents a legitimate blow against an enemy target.”

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