He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.
– HM Queen Elizabeth II toasting her husband on the occasion of their golden wedding in 1997.
The Greek Royal Dynasty
Until the 19th Century Greece was annexed to many empires, the last being the Ottoman Empire. During an uprising which brought together Greek partisans, the great powers of Europe, and romantic adventurers such as Lord Byron to fight for their cause, the Ottoman Turks were finally overthrown. In 1832 the Great Powers of Britain, France and Russia decided the newly created throne should be given to the German Prince Otto of Wittelsbach. Unfortunately, Otto was not very popular, nor did he create a dynasty. So, childless he abdicated in 1862. Again, the Powers cast about Europe for another suitable prince.
Prince William of Denmark became King George I of Greece, and was very popular with the people. To find him a suitable wife, George was invited to Russia in 1867 to meet the eligible ladies of the Romanov family. It was there he set eyes on the 15–year–old Grand Duchess Olga. It was reported to be love at first sight for both and the couple married the same year on 27 October. And so began the Greek Dynasty without a drop of Greek blood in their veins!
Prince Philippos of Greece
Born on 10 June, 1921, in Mon Repos House in Corfu, according to royal folklore baby Philippos made his first public appearance on the dining room table. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was a first cousin of George V, while his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was a great–granddaughter of Queen Victoria. During the Military Coup in 1922, Prince Andrew was stripped of his title and banished from Greece when young Philippos was just a year old. With the young prince safely tucked up in a carry-cot made from a recycled orange box, the Royal Family refugees made their way to France, where they eventually settled in St Cloud on the outskirts of Paris.
Philip's early education began at the American school in St Cloud. Unfortunately, his parents' marriage began to deteriorate causing them to separate. Philip's mother was persuaded by her British relatives – the Mountbattens – that it would be more stable for Philip to be settled in England. Shortly after, he was enrolled into Cheam Preparatory School in Surrey, where he remained until he was 12 years old.
Planning for his future, the family felt Philip needed a more international education. The decision was made to send him to Schule Schloss Salem in Germany. The school happened to be owned by one of Philip's older brothers-in-law, Berthold, Margrave of Baden. It would have saved the family a fortune in fees. It was at Salem that Philip met Kurt Hahn1, a man who was to have a major role in both his own education, and years later, that of Philips' offspring. The political situation in Germany was beginning to make it difficult for Philip to remain there. His British family were not happy either, and so made further plans to bring him back to England.
At his own request Philip was transferred to Gordonstoun in Scotland, a school set up by Kurt Hahn. Philip remained there until he finished his education in 1939.
Having adopted the surname Mountbatten from his mother's side of the family, Philip joined the Royal Navy, where he graduated top in his class from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. In 1940 he was commissioned as Midshipman Mountbatten aboard HMS Ramillies. For the next four months his ship was on escort duty in the Indian Ocean, protecting the Australian Expeditionary Forces. Philip was moved to HMS Kent and HMS Shropshire for about two months, until he reached Ceylon3.
Then transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet aboard the battleship HMS Valiant, Philip became embroiled in many skirmishes, including the Battle of Crete. Philip was mentioned in despatches for his services during the Battle of Cape Matapan. It seems he was very good at finding enemy vessels when in charge of the search light control, and later he received the Greek War Cross of Valour. This all may seem rather 'gungho!', but he also did many menial tasks such as, when aboard the troop transport carrier ship RMS Empress of Russia, stoking the boilers!
Promoted to Sub–Lieutenant, he attended courses in Portsmouth and in June 1942, joined HMS Wallace on convoy escort duty off the east coast of Britain. The Wallace was also involved in the allied invasion of Sicily. Rapid promotions followed; Philip was made a Lieutenant in July 1942, and in October 1942 he became one of the youngest First Lieutenants in the Royal Navy at 21 years of age.
In 1944 he was posted to the British Pacific Fleet aboard the new destroyer HMS Whelp. The ship was assigned to Tokyo Bay when the instrument of surrender was signed, formally ending World War II.
First Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten returned home in 1946, where he was posted in-shore to >HMS Royal Arthur, Corsham, Wiltshire, as an instructor for Petty Officers. Philip's formal courtship of Princess Elizabeth began soon after.
The Tour of South Africa and Rhodesia
The King, Queen and the two princesses departed for their Royal Tour on 31 January, 1947. It had been arranged so the Head of the Commonwealth – the King – could officially thank the people for their help and support during the war years. On 17 February, arriving on board HMS Vanguard, the Royal Family entered Cape Town harbour to a tumultuous welcome with loud cheers ringing in their ears and enthusiatic flag waving.
During the tour Elizabeth celebrated her 21st birthday, and she broadcast a radio message of thanks for the many gifts she received. She also made her (now famous) speech in which she dedicated herself to her people and her duty, little realising how soon her 'duty' would be taken up.
The Royal Family attended many formal engagements, but also delighted everyone by going on impromptu walkabouts and chatting to ordinary people who lined the routes. The Royal Tour officially ended when the family returned to the Vanguard on 24 April for the trip home.
There was much speculation and it seemed to us in South Africa that Princess Elizabeth was looking quite 'triste' (sad) most of the time. We all speculated as to the reason why!
– An h2g2 Researcher.
An end was soon put the speculation when, on 10 June, 1947, Buckingham Palace left a formal announcement of the Royal Betrothal on the notice plaque on the main gates of the Palace.
Philip met his distant cousin Princess Elizabeth when she was just 13. After a suitably long courtship (during which the couple were never without a chaperone), Philip asked King George VI for Elizabeth's hand in marriage. He was deemed a suitable husband for the future Queen due to his royal bloodline and the fact that he was already schooled in royal duties. Just before the wedding Philip was given the title of Duke of Edinburgh (and also Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich) by the King. Philip renounced his Greek titles and citizenship, and converted from Greek Orthodoxy to the Church of England.
Rationing of clothing was still in force despite the end of the Second World War, and most people had to 'make do and mend'. It wasn't unusual for brides of the same family to reuse a wedding dress, which was painstakingly altered to fit the latest bride. However, it was decided that Elizabeth should have a new dress, to mark the new era. People even sent their ration books for the princess to use. These were returned with suitable thanks. So it was an enormous thrill for many people to eventually gaze upon the fairytale dress after queuing for hours.
The couple married in Westminster Abbey on 20 November, 1947. After the service the 21–year–old princess, with her husband, laid her bouquet on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Upon her marriage she became known as the Duchess of Edinburgh. The wedding dress was exhibited around the British Isles to allow people to admire it at first hand.
The first few years of the royal couple's marriage were happy and carefree. The Duchess was able to travel wherever her husband was posted, with no constraints, although she did have protection in the form of bodyguards due to her status as heir-presumptive to the British throne.
For a while they lived in married quarters on Malta, and it is well documented that both enjoyed their time here. The Duchess returned to London to give birth to Charles Philip Arthur George of Edinburgh in 1948 and then Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise of Edinburgh in 1950. The Duke's naval career continued from strength to strength; with promotion to Lieutenant–Commander he was given command of his own vessel HMS Magpie the same year his daughter was born.
The King Is Dead, Long Live The Queen
On 6 February, 1952, while in Kenya on the first stage of a tour of Africa which she had undertaken in place of her ailing father, Princess Elizabeth received the news of King George VI's death and her own accession to the throne. The King was a heavy smoker and had contracted lung cancer. He had a successful operation to remove his diseased lung, but when he was recuperating, a coronary thrombosis (a blood clot in his heart) killed him. It was Prince Philip who was informed, and he broke the news to his wife. His private secretary Colonel Michael Parker said that day Philip 'looked as though half the world had dropped on him'. That same year Philip was promoted to Commander, but his naval career was effectively over with the death of the King; his duty was now to be given to his wife, Queen and Country.
In 1983 the Queen and Prince Philip returned to Kenya to plant a fig tree, which is known as the 'Queen of Trees', on the spot at the Treetops Hotel4 where they had been staying when they received the news. The original hotel had been burned down by the Mau-Mau in 1954 during the rebellion against British colonialism in Kenya.
In November 1999 the Duke accompanied the Queen to Africa, travelling to Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa. The Duke represented the Queen at a poppy wreath-laying ceremony to remember those who perished in the Anglo–Boer War. After laying wreaths at both war memorials commemorating the glorious dead of the British and the Boers, he rejoined the Queen to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Later on they went to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Durban.
The Duke of Edinburgh
A woman married to a king at least gets a crown and the title of Queen when her husband comes to the throne, as in the case of George VI's wife, the former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. For a man who marries a queen (like Prince Albert) there's no crown and no 'Your Majesty'; he is known as 'the husband and royal consort'. Even his title is not automatic but has to be created. The Duke's official title was HRH* Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. In 1957 the Queen made Philip a Prince of the United Kingdom in recognition of his support; his full title then became HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
In 1954 the Queen was asked for permission for the Household Cavalry officers to be allowed to play polo in Great Windsor Park; she agreed and suggested they use Smith Lawn as it was already used for three-day events. The park now holds ten polo grounds, with the groundsmen preparing another three to be called The Princes' Grounds after Charles, William and Harry.
Not one for 'resting on his laurels', the Duke took up many activities to keep himself busy in between Official Engagements and his charities. He was renowned for his enjoyment of polo and like his son, Prince Charles, had many tumbles during the game which would come to plague him in later years. Due to his arthritis, Philip retired from polo in 1971.
Looking for something to keep himself occupied, Philip entered Carriage Driving events as a 'geriatric sport'. He thought it would be:
... a nice weekend activity, rather like a golfing weekend. Which it was, until some idiot asked me to be a member of the British team!
In a recent television interview with Alan Titchmarsh, host of 'All The Queen's Horses', the Prince said:
I gave up polo when I was 50 – and then this started and I thought, 'Well, you've got horses and carriages, why don't you have a go?' So I started in 1973 and it's been going on since then. These were carriage horses from London – they'd never been through anything bigger than a puddle. I made a little crossing – a stream, and had to bribe them across. I sent my groom across the other side with a jar of sugar – and they decided to get their feet wet!
Although no longer driving competitively because his arthritis sometimes made it impossible to steer the carriages, the Duke always returned to the reins at the earliest opportunity.
The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme
Young people from all walks of life can take part in the Duke of Edinburgh's Awardscheme, since its inception in 1956. With the Duke as Chairman, the scheme was originally set up for boys. Each grade was observed and marked within the timescale for gaining a pass mark:
- Bronze – 6 months
- Silver – 12 months
- Gold – 18 months
Girls were allowed to join the scheme in 1958, the same year the first Gold awards were being distributed.
At the beginning of the awards youngsters were encouraged to join outdoor events such as orienteering or volunteer work; gradually it has grown from local events into something more global. So you may be working on a project about conservation in the Norfolk Broads one year, and aiming for your Gold Badge by joining an expedition to Canada the next.
The values of the scheme are fundamental to a young person's development, in that they achieve something for themselves, probably for the first time in their lives.
The World Wide Fund for Nature
In 1961 the Duke co-founded the World Wildlife Fund and was appointed the first President of the WWF UK division. He became the International President of the newly named World Wide Fund for Nature in 1981, and held that position for 16 years until his retirement in 1996. Now, as President Emeritus, the Duke still actively campaigns on behalf of the fund.
For more than 40 years he has tirelessly visited over 50 countries on five continents, where he helped raise funds and promoted awareness to governments and corporate companies at the highest levels. The Duke's involvement and passion for the WWF could not be ignored.
When a major fire swept through the decks of the Cutty Sark on 21 May, 2007, it was feared that the last Tea–Clipper would be lost from our heritage for ever. More by luck than judgement, many major parts of the ship had been removed for renovation or storage, and when a full inspection of the decks were carried out, it was just a few of the antique decking planks which were destroyed. Fortunately, many of the planks were able to be restored.
The Duke, who is president of the Cutty Sark Trust, visited the ship and announced that more money was being promised for its restoration. Currently the Trust has been able to raise £30 million of the anticipated £35 million required to fully restore the ship to its former glory.
The Duke and the Press
The Duke has revealed that he is frustrated by the 'unfeeling' image given of him in the UK press. He describes himself as a pragmatist, and: 'because I don't see things as a romantic would, I'm unfeeling'. He admits he is outspoken, but insists comments like Don't stay here too long or you'll all become slit–eyed (to British students on an exchange visit to China) were merely icebreakers, but negative newspaper stories have made him wary of the British press on foreign visits.
Often the Duke's jokes are taken out of context, or are badly reported in the press.
In 1982 the Queen and Prince Philip came to open the new Arrowe Park Hospital. The children in Birkenhead, and surrounding areas, were given the day off school so they might attend. We stood on the corner of Prenton Park football ground (Tranmere Rovers FC). As the Royal car crept closer the cheering voices slowly went very quiet. The rear window of the car was open an inch or so – there they were, just inches away from us!
'HOORAY!!' shouted my eldest daughter.
The Queen jumped in surprise... Prince Philip roared with laughter!
This is a man with a very good sense of humour, which is rarely appreciated, or acknowledged.
A Proud, Private Moment
After many years of campaigning by Freddy Cohen, a survivor of the Holocaust, the story of Princess Alice's bravery during the occupation of Greece was finally acknowledged. On 11 April 1993, she was posthumously awarded as 'Righteous among the Nations' and was approved by the Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.
As well as helping other Jews, Princess Alice had taken the Cohen family into her home until they could be smuggled out of Athens. Freddy Cohen and his brother finally reached Turkey where they joined the army. Many Jews were not so lucky. The Nazis almost wiped out the Jewish population of Greece.
Alice was often suspected by the Nazis, but used her acute deafness to her advantage!
As her two surviving children, Prince Philip and his sister Princess George of Hanover travelled to Jerusalem and received the award on behalf of their mother in October 1994.
After many years of searching, the whereabouts of the Romanov Tsar Nicholas II and his family were finally discovered. The bodies were found buried in shallow ditches in a forested area, where the truck transporting them to a mineshaft was said to have broken down.
Although given a Russian Orthodox funeral, the remains were put into the Imperial Vaults without any pomp. After many debates and campaigns, the family were canonised as 'Passion Bearers' in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church.
A Lifetime Together
While he has never really won the affection of the British people (possibly due to his outspoken gaffes), he has undoubtedly earned their respect after a lifetime of supporting the Queen. In their marriage, 'it's the Queen who wears the crown, but Philip who wears the trousers'. In 1960 Philip had his family name altered to Mountbatten-Windsor to continue the 'Windsor' line.
They have been each other's best friend and on 20 November, 2007, celebrated 60 years of marriage. To complete their anniversary the Queen and Prince Philip made a short sentimental visit to Malta, where they received a rapturous greeting from the islanders and allowing Prince Philip to again show his mischievous sense of humour!
In 2008, the year he turned 87, Prince Philip notched up 350 official engagements.
On 18 April, 2009, the Duke attained the record as the longest surviving consort in British Royal history. He surpassed the previous record-holder Queen Charlotte, who was King George III's queen-consort for 57 years, 70 days.
Prince Philip retired from royal duties in August 2017, aged 96 years. The Queen and the Duke celebrated 70 years of marriage in November 2017. Prince Philip died on 9 April, 2021, aged 99 years, which is the record for the longest-lived male member of the British royal family in history.