Prince Philip’s Early Life: How a Greek-Danish Exile Became Duke of Edinburgh
Regular readers of this blog may remember that last year we published an article celebrating the Queen and Prince Philip’s 73rd wedding anniversary. It was our intention to continue the theme of uplifting royal news with a feature about the Queen’s husband’s 100th birthday in June. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.
As you’ll have heard, Prince Philip, who was also known by the elite title Duke of Edinburgh, sadly died on 9 April at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, where he and the Queen had resided during the lockdowns. Instead of organising centenary celebrations, Prince Philip’s relatives found themselves planning his funeral at Windsor’s St George’s Chapel.
We join the rest of the country and Commonwealth in sending sincere condolences to the Royal Family.
Fresh Insights about the Royal Patriarch
Shortly after her father-in-law’s passing, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, spoke movingly to the press about the royal patriarch. The Countess emphasised that many of us are discovering a great deal about Prince Philip’s remarkable life, thanks to numerous tributes and extensive media coverage.
‘I think it’s so lovely for so many people to learn about what he did, because I think quite a lot of things that have come out will have surprised some people,’ she commented. ‘I have heard things which I didn’t even know as well, so for many people they’ll have been learning a lot about him, which I think is important.’
From Greece to Buckingham Palace via Dartmouth
How a Greek-Danish exile became Duke of Edinburgh and husband to the Queen is one of the most remarkable chapters in Prince Philip’s long life story.
He was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in Corfu in 1921, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. Prince Philip’s father commanded Greek soldiers in the Greco-Turkish War, but Greece’s poor performance led to the military turning against him.
After a military uprising in 1922, Prince Andrew was exiled from Greece. The young family settled in a French cottage, but life wasn’t peaceful for long. Princess Alice had a breakdown and was sent to a sanatorium in 1930.
Prince Philip was placed in the care of his mother’s relatives in England. His uncle, George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquis of Milford Haven, was a Royal Navy captain and took particular interest in his upbringing. The boy was educated at Cheam and Gordonstoun, two strict boarding schools. He responded well to their focus on discipline, becoming Gordonstoun’s Head Boy.
Prince Philip was also mentored by another uncle with a distinguished Royal Navy career: Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. He encouraged the athletic 18-year-old to train for life at sea. ‘Most crucially, it was his uncle who arranged for Philip to entertain Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret on the eve of war in 1939, during a royal visit to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth,’ observes historian Philip Eade.
The Proud Bearer of a British Title
The importance of the royal visit to Dartmouth can’t be overestimated. The beautiful harbour town became the setting for the first official meeting between Prince Philip (ultimately named the best cadet on his course) and 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen.
By the time they were in their twenties, the pair’s friendship had deepened into love. They married in 1947 at London’s Westminster Abbey. Just before the wedding, Prince Philip became the bearer of a British title when Princess Elizabeth’s father, George VI, made him Duke of Edinburgh. Until her ascension to the throne five years later, the princess was styled as Duchess of Edinburgh.
Prince Philip led a life of duty and service as the longest-serving royal consort. He excelled in this role, just as he’d excelled at school and in the Royal Navy, completing well over 20,000 solo engagements. His influence won’t be forgotten, nor will his royal dukedom. Prince Philip’s eldest son, Prince Charles, the future monarch, is now Duke of Edinburgh.
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