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The Duke of Edinburgh – a biography of his life

Prince Philip has served as the Queen’s long-standing companion for nearly 70 years. The partnership with the Queen is said to be one of the great achievements of the Queen’s reign and is certainly one of true love and commitment. Prince Philip has a long list of achievements ranging from militarily to diplomatic.

Birth

Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born on the Greek island of Corfu, the 10th of June 1921.He was the only son, and final child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. Philip was baptised into the Greek Orthodox Church; a religion he gave up so he could marry the Queen.

Shortly after his birth, Philip’s uncle, King Constantine I, was made to abdicate due to the Greco-Turkish war which was going badly for Greece. The new military government arrested Philip’s father, alongside several others; his life was believed to be in danger and Alice was under surveillance.

Philip’s father was banished from Greece. The HMS Calypso evacuated the family with Philip carried to safety in a cot made from a fruit box. They later settled in Paris where Philip spent a brief period of time.

Youth

Philip was first educated in Paris where he was described as being a “rugged, boisterous boy, but always remarkably polite.”  He later moved to the UK  and stayed at Kensington Palace with George Mountbatten, his uncle. Later, in 1933 he was sent to a school in Germany which was owned by the family of his brother-in-law, they did this as it had the “advantage of saving school fees”, which perhaps highlights the economic outlook his family had with life considering their exile. The rise of Nazism in Germany meant that the school’s Jewish founder fled persecution and founded a new school in Scotland. Philip moved with the school to Scotland. This is the school that ended up being a Windsor tradition and Philip sent his children there among other family members that attended.

Early in his youth in 1937, he faced a tragic circumstance in which his sister, her husband, their sons and her mother-in-law were all killed in an air crash. It fell to the school headmaster to break the news to then 16-year-old Philip who had already experienced a life’s worth of tragic sadness. The headmaster recalled; “His sorrow was that of a man.” He flew alone to Germany for the funeral. As the coffins of some of the key figures in his life were carried, the streets were filled with swastikas. As he travelled with the coffins, he was joined by his surviving German brother-in-law Prince Christoph of Hesse who marched in his SS uniform, Christoph’s brother in the brown shirt uniform of the SA and Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was just behind in traditional British naval dress. Prince Philip’s opposition to the Nazis can not be called into question. He can not be blamed for the company these family members kept. He fought passionately for Britain in the war in Greece and Sicily and served alongside one of the proudest forces that stood against Nazi Germany.

Only a year later, his uncle and guardian Lord Milford Haven died of cancer.

Naval and war service

Philip left his Scottish school, Gordonstoun, in 1939 to join the Royal Navy.  He graduated from the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth the following year as the best cadet in his course. He served with the British Forces in the Second World War.  Two of his brothers-in-law fought on the opposing German side.

Prince Philip has been credited with saving scores of lives during the war. Philip was second-in-command of a ship during the Invasion of Sicily at the age of 21.The ship had come under repeated bombardment during the night and the crew realised that soon they would suffer a fatal hit. Philip made up a plan to throw a wooden raft overboard with smoke attached that would create the carefully crafted illusion of burning debris on the water. The German bomber fell for the ruse and attacked the raft while Philip, the ship and his now safe crew sailed away under darkness. A fellow veteran, Harry Hargreaves, spoke about the quick thinking Duke who helped foil a Luftwaffe bomb attack which would likely have destroyed their ship.

“Prince Philip saved our lives that night. I suppose there might have been a few survivors, but certainly, the ship would have been sunk. He was always very courageous and resourceful and thought very quickly. You would say to yourself “What the hell are we going to do now?” and Philip would come up with something.”

Philip became one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy at just 21 years old.

Wooing the Queen…and a nation

Prince Philip first met The Queen in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the Royal Naval College where the Duke was studying at the time.; Earl Mountbatten asked Philip to escort the King’s two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. From then, they exchanged letters as often as they could.

“To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty.”

-Prince Philip, Letter to the Queen

Philip arrived back in the UK at the start of 1946 and took up several postings at home which allowed for travel into London.  In May, Philip was photographed next to Elizabeth at the wedding of her new lady-in-waiting and was described in the press as “a figure largely unknown to the British public.” They avoided being seen together and did not dance with each other. However, away from the prying eye of the press, the relationship entered a new phase.

Later in the summer Philip proposed and asked for the King’s approval of the marriage. The request was granted, as long as they waited until Elizabeth’s 21st birthday the following April. Any misgivings Elizabeth’s parents previously held had clearly vanished.

Philip abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles and became a naturalised British subject.

The engagement was announced on the 9th of July 1947 with their first public appearance being at a garden party at Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth was described as looking “flushed and radiant with happiness.”

Coronation portrait of Prince Philip with Elizabeth via Wikimedia Commons

Marriage

Philip and Elizabeth were married in Westminster Abbey in a service that was broadcast to 200 million people around the world.  At the wedding breakfast, King George VI said “Our daughter is marrying the man she loves.”

“I ask nothing more than that Philip and I should be as happy as my father and mother have been, and Queen Mary and King George before them.”

-Then Princess Elizabeth

The crowd on the day was 50 people thick despite the cold November weather.  This was the very first time news cameras were allowed to follow the wedding party into the abbey itself.  All around the world people hurried to the cinemas to see the royal wedding; a fairytale event and the forming of a marriage that would last over 60 years.

Consort

Princess Elizabeth and Philip toured Canada, with the King’s health worsening both were appointed to the Privy Council. At the start of 1952 Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip set out on a tour of the commonwealth. While they were in Kenya, Elizabeth’s father died and she became Queen. It was Philip who broke the news of her father’s passing to Elizabeth.

Prince Philip, then Princess Elizabeth and Canadian Prime Minister Louis St Laurent. Bliboarchives/LibraryArch

The death was as much a shock to Philip as it was for Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth had her coronation in 1953. Prince Philip was the very first to swear allegiance to her and said he would be her “liege man of life and limb.”

Rumours have sprung up over the years that the relationship between Philip and the Queen was strained due to the official nature and her precedence over him in terms of royal authority but these rumours are unfounded. It is clear that Philip and Elizabeth have a very strong bond.

“totally put his personal career aside to support her, and he never takes the limelight, never oversteps the mark.”

-Prince William comments on Philip

Philip has stood alongside the Queen throughout her reign and has often times acted as her rock encouraging her and supporting her in the tasks that at first did not come easily; the social and pleasing of the crowds accustomed to royal roles.

“always on her side, and he’s an unwavering companion.”

-Prince William on Philip

Nineties

Most notably, Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997 after being pursued by the paparazzi. For five days, both Philip and Elizabeth shielded Diana’s sons, Harry and William from the press. While this, at the time, angered the public the mood was transformed later due to a live broadcast made by the Queen. When it came to the funeral, Diana’s sons were hesitant as to whether they should walk behind her coffin. Philip told William, “If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?” On the day of the funeral, Philip, William (15) and Harry (12) walked through London together with the funeral procession.

2000s-Present

Currently, Philip’s time as royal consort has exceeded that of any other consort in British history; with 65 years of marriage and counting the bond between Philip and Elizabeth is strong and clearly everlasting.

Philip is currently patron to over 800 organisations with special interests on the environment, industry, sport and education.  He has visited countless laboratories, engineering works and factories.

Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace, 2012

He has seen his grandson, Prince William, marry Catherine Middleton. Two years later in 2013 he celebrated the birth of his great-grandson Prince George and two years after that, Princess Charlotte

He has been hospitalised a couple of times in the last few years and said in an interview in June 2011, marking his 90th birthday, that he would slow down and reduce his duties as he had “done his bit.” Despite this, Prince Philip still attended 250 events in 2015.

In May 2017, it was announced that the Duke would retire from public life at the age of 96. What the future has in store for Prince Philip is unknown, although we will certainly be seeing less of him and more of the younger royals in the years to come.

Photo credit: Coronation portrait of Prince Philip with Elizabeth via Wikimedia Commons, Prince Philip, then Princess Elizabeth and Canadian Prime Minister Louis St Laurent, Biblioarchives/ LibraryArch via Flickr, Queen and DoE at Buckingham Palace via Wikimedia commons.

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