The Duke of Edinburgh – A Reflection at 90
Prince Philip, the now Duke of Edinburgh, was born a Prince of Greece and Denmark on the 10th June 1921. He was the youngest child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. Philip is the only serving member of his family, with his closest sister, Princess Sophie, passing away in 2001.
Prince Philip was first educated in Paris, he then moved to the United Kingdom to study at Cheam School. In 1933, he was sent to Schule Scloss Salem in Germany, but with Nazism on the rise, the founder of the school escaped persecution and founded Gordonstoun in Scotland. Prince Philip transferred to the school shortly afterwards. In 1937, the Prince was hit with a family tragedy; his sister Cecile, his brother-in-law and two nephews, as well as Cecile’s mother-in-law, were killed in an air crash.
The Duke of Edinburgh is known for his impressive naval service. After leaving Gordonstoun, he joined the Royal Navy and a year later graduated as top cadet from the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. Prince Philip spent various months on different battleships, but after the invasion of Greece by Italy during the Second World War, he was transferred to the HMS Valiant and was involved in the Battle of Crete. Prince Philip was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour for duties of lesser glory. From 1942 onwards, Philip moved from battleship to battleship during the War and in that time, he became one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy. In 1944, he was present in Tokyo Bay when the instrument of Japanese Surrender was signed.
In 1939, a young cadet met a 13 year old Princess named Elizabeth. 8 years later, the couple married in Westminster Abbey and have 4 children, 8 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Elizabeth and Philip are third cousins, and met in 1934 and 1937 before they started exchanging letters. The couple became secretly engaged in 1946, as HM The King requested that a formal engagement was delayed until Elizabeth had turned 21. On July 9th, 1947 an official announcement was made. Before the couple were married, Philip renounced his other titles, converted to Anglicanism and adopted the style Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. King George VI bestowed the style His Royal Highness upon Philip on the day before the wedding, and on the morning of the wedding he made Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich.
Princess Elizabeth and Philip were married at 11:30 GMT on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. The morning of any girl’s wedding is stressful, but for Princess Elizabeth she experienced the mother of all traumas – her wedding tiara, the King George III Fringe Tiara, snapped. The court jeweller was on hand however and Queen Elizabeth reassured her daughter that all would be remedied. During the times of austerity, a royal wedding could have become an overzealous display of pomp and pageantry however with the bride’s dress being made from material bought by ration coupons, the bride and groom knew the situation their country was in. The dress itself was designed by Norman Hartnell. Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids: Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, Lady Caroline Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Lady Mary Cambridge, Lady Elizabeth Lambart, The Honourable Pamela Mountbatten, The Honourable Margaret Elphinstone and The Honourable Diana Bowes-Lyon. The two page boys were Prince William of Gloucester and Prince Michael of Kent. As well as close family and relatives, the bride and groom were joined by numerous members of other foreign royal families to celebrate their day. Princess Elizabeth arrived with her father in the Irish State Coach. The wedding ceremony was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher and the Archbishop of York, Cyril Garbett. The ceremony was recorded and broadcast by BBC radio to 200 million people around the world. Elizabeth and Philip then proceeded to Buckingham Palace, where a breakfast was held at the Ball Supper-room. The couple received over 2,500 wedding presents from around the world and around 10,000 telegrams of congratulations. Upon their marriage, Elizabeth took the title of her husband and became Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh. They departed for their honeymoon in Broadlands in Hampshire, home of Philip’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten.
Being a naval man, Philip wanted to continue his naval career after his marriage even though he was well aware that one day his duties as Consort of the future Queen would overshadow his naval dreams. Philip returned to the navy after his honeymoon and at first, chose a desk job at the Admiralty. He then moved on to a staff course at the Naval Staff College in Greenwich. From 1949, he was stationed in Malta and Princess Elizabeth joined him, after being posted as the First Lieutenant of the destroyer HMS Chequers, the lead ship of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean Fleet. In July 1950, he was promoted to lieutenant commander and given command of the frigate HMS Magpie. He was promoted to commander in 1952, but his active naval career ended in July 1951.
Unfortunately, with King George’s declining health, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke were appointed to the Privy Council. During their tour of Kenya, King George VI passed away and Elizabeth became Queen. It was Philip who broke the news to his wife at Sagana Lodge, the party flew back the UK immediately.
As Consort to the Queen, Philip has always seemed to fit the role perfectly. However even before the coronation, the question was brought up about the name of the House. Seeing as Elizabeth would have taken on her husband’s name in a normal marriage, Philip and his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten argued that it should be House of Mountbatten, but Queen Mary advised Winston Churchill that Elizabeth’s house should be the House of Windsor. Hearing of this change, The Duke complained “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” However after the death of Queen Mary and the resignation of Churchill, Elizabeth issued an Order-in-Council declaring the surname of male-line descendants of the Duke and the Queen who are not styled as Royal Highness, or titled as Prince or Princess, was to be Mountbatten-Windsor.
In 1956, The Duke and Kurt Hahn (founder of Gordonstoun) established The Duke of Edinburgh Awards. It is a program of activities that can be undertaken by anyone aged 14 to 25, regardless of personal ability. There are three awards you can earn, Bronze, Silver and Gold – there are 4 sections for completion at Bronze and Silver level and a fifth section is added when completing the Gold award. In 2006 the Award scheme celebrated its 50th Anniversary.
Prince Philip’s life hasn’t been without scandal. For numerous years, the Duke has been plagued with rumors of infidelity – with Lady Kennard’s daughter, the Duchess of Abercorn, it has been whispered; with the actress Anna Massey, or Penny Romsey, the wife of Lord Mountbatten’s grandson, Lord Romsey. But if he was unfaithful, it was with incredible discretion. No courtier has ever spoken of an extramarital fling and Philip himself once pointed out to a foolhardy journalist that, “for the last 40 years I have never moved anywhere without a policeman… So how in the hell could I get away with anything like that?” It was a classic Philip put-down.
Another part of the Duke which has sometimes landed him in hot water is his ‘wit and humour’, which can often spark a little bit of controversy. If taken in the wrong way, gaffes like the ones below could have been taken with serious offence. But often they were laughed off and people blamed it on his age perhaps.
- ‘You managed not to get eaten then?’ To a British student who was trekking in Papua New Guinea, during an official visit in 1998.
- ‘I would like to go to Russia very much — although the bastards murdered half my family.’ In 1967, when asked if he would like to visit the Soviet Union.
- ‘So who’s on drugs here? He looks as if he’s on drugs.’ To a 14-year-old member of a Bangladeshi youth club in 2002
- ‘You are a woman, aren’t you?’ To a Kenyan woman in 1984, after accepting a state gift.
- ‘If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.’ On his daughter, Princess Anne.
- ‘If you travel as much as we do, you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort, provided you don’t travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly.’ To the Aircraft Research Association in 2002.
- ‘You have mosquitos. I have the Press.’ To the matron of a hospital in the Caribbean.
- During a state visit to the People’s Republic of China in 1986, in a private conversation with British students from Xian’s North West University, Philip joked, “If you stay here much longer, you’ll go slit-eyed.”
With the death of Diana in 1997, accusations surfaced that the Duke didn’t favour his eldest son’s ex-wife, and Mohammed Al Fayed (the father of Dodi Al Fayed) has constantly claimed that it was the Duke who ordered the death of Diana and the accident was staged.
Like almost every British Royal, Prince Philip has a passion for horses and he has competed in the sport of Kings, Polo, and expanded on the sport of carriage driving. Philip also has a thing for the wide open blue sky and since his first flying lesson in 1952 up until his 70th birthday he had flown for 5,150 hours. Surprisingly the calm, humorous and controversial Prince has an appetite for painting and his works are hanging in Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham House, and Balmoral Castle. Hugh Casson described Philip’s own artwork as “exactly what you’d expect … totally direct, no hanging about. Strong colours, vigorous brushstrokes.”
A well decorated man to boot is Prince Philip; from 1940 to 1952 Philip went from a midshipman to a Commander on various naval ships. Before he became consort, the Duke was appointed to the Order of the Garter on 19 November 1947. Since then, Philip has received 17 different appointments and decorations in the Commonwealth, and 48 by foreign states.
Upon his Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1952, the Duke of Edinburgh was appointed Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the British Army Cadet Force, and Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps. The following year, he was appointed to the equivalent positions in Canada, and made Admiral of the Fleet, Field Marshal, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. He was then awarded various similar appointments throughout the commonwealth. To celebrate his 90th birthday, the Queen appointed him Lord High Admiral of the British Navy (the highest rank in the organisation anyone other than the sovereign can hold) and as an honorary Admiral of the Maritime Command and a General of the Land Force Command and Air Command of the Canadian Forces (all the highest ranks available in each branch).
Besides the reams of engagements Philip performs year in, year out, the creation of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards and being a loving husband for 64 years, his possible proudest achievements are his four children, sons Charles, Andrew and Edward and daughter Anne. Charles was born in 1948, followed by Anne in 1950, then Andrew in 1960 and finally Edward in 1964. Anne was the first to marry and the first to give Philip a grandchild, Peter Philips born in 1977 – only 13 years after the birth of Anne’s youngest sibling, Edward. Philip watched Anne marry Mark, Charles marry Diana, Andrew marry Sarah and Edward marry Sophie. The man has seen the births of Peter, Zara, William, Henry, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise and James. In the 90s he stood by his children as they went through brutal divorces and later watched Anne and Charles re-marry for a second happier time. In 2007 he celebrated 60 years of marriage to Elizabeth, while 2008 saw his first grandchild marry and Peter gave Philip his first great-grandchild, Savannah, in 2010. Finally in 2011, Philip had to partially share his celebratory year with Prince William, who married his long term girlfriend, Catherine Middleton, in April. With his eldest granddaughter marrying this July, five more grandchildren’s weddings to witness, presumably numerous great-grandchildren to celebrate and anniversaries to pass by, there is a lot left for the Duke to live for.
On the celebration of his 90th Birthday, His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh said he would, “now slow down and reduce his duties as he has done his bit.” Philip has served the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth at war, and as consort to Her Majesty. On April 18th 2009, Prince Philip overtook the record of 57 years and 70 days set by George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, for the longest serving royal consort. Next year as well as celebrating The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Philip will celebrate 60 years of being a true royal consort.Filed under British Royals
Tagged Biography, Birthday, The Duke of Edinburgh.
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