Prince Philip wasn't just the longest sitting Prince Consort in British history, he had a lifetime full of more intrigue than most people can even imagine. From his dangerous beginnings as a royal fugitive to the secrets only palace aides know for sure, Philip's century-old story more than rivals that of his beloved widow, Queen Elizabeth II.
It’s difficult to imagine a time when he was anything but a British consort, but believe it or not, Prince Philip was not British at all. He was born to both the Greek and Danish royal families in the Greek Island of Corfu on June 10, 1921. In fact, his road to Queen Elizabeth was filled with tragedy, drama, and unbelievable heartbreak.
Although Philip came from a royal lineage, his childhood was more pauper than prince. His home nation was beset with conflicts, and Philip’s family felt the brunt of the danger. Not only did Philip’s uncle King Constantine I have to abdicate, his own father Prince Andrew found himself behind bars. Then, when Philip was still just a toddler, it came to a disturbing climax.
Fearing for their lives, the Greek royal family fled their country to take refuge in France. But that wasn’t even the worst part. The situation was deteriorating so fast and so violently, Philip’s family had to resort to smuggling their baby heir out inside of a fruit box. From this dramatic beginning, Prince Philip’s life only ramped up more.
As Philip grew up in France, the strapping and strikingly handsome young lad more than happily participated in French, er, liberalism. An old teacher of his described Philip as a "know it all smarty person,” and the young prince used his sharp wit and clever charms to woo women, including the beautiful socialite Olsa Benning. But the good times did not keep rolling.
In the late 1930s, tensions were rising in Europe and would eventually lead to WWII, and Philip’s family made some devastatingly dark choices. Get this: A full four of Philip’s sisters married high-ranking German princes, putting them smack dab in the upper echelons of the Third Reich. And it was about to get even more complicated…
One of Philip’s German-loving older sisters was also his favorite sibling, Princess Cecilie. Yet a horrific kind of karma came for the royal: On November 16, 1937, Cecilie perished in a plane crash alongside her husband, two sons, and mother-in-law. So yeah, pretty much Philip’s entire extended family on that side. But the tragedy doesn't stop there.
During this senseless accident, Philip’s sister Cecilie was pregnant with her fourth child. Indeed, she had started to give birth mid-flight, and it was this chaotic event that likely caused the accident. At the time, Philip was only 16 years old, and he had already seen so much devastation. Is it too early to say this family is cursed? Well…just wait.
Prince Philip was a man of duty and action above all else, and that went double when he was a young, ambitious man. In 1939, he enlisted to fight in WWII. Of course, this also meant he was directly in conflict with no fewer than two of his brothers-in-law, Prince Christophe of Hesse and Berthold, Margrave of Baden. Philip emerged from the fight as a Naval hero—and he was about to meet his destiny.
When Prince Philip met his future wife Elizabeth, he was only 18 years old. Oh, but it gets more scandalous. At the time, Elizabeth was just a bare 13 years old, and she was absolutely head over heels for her Prince Charming. The soon-to-be Queen Elizabeth II swore she would have no one but Philip. Except, well, there were some issues with that.
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The British royal family isn’t famous for its wise decisions around marriage (uh, more on that later), and in Philip and Elizabeth’s case, they had to be pulled apart. Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, made Philip promise to wait until her 21st birthday to tie the knot, just in case she wanted to back out. Then again, King George may have had another reason to be wary…
Elizabeth’s father initially did not like Philip one bit. First, there was the optics: George didn’t know how the public would take to the marriage between the female heir and a Greek Prince. Besides that, Philip’s manners were brash and to the point, befitting of a Naval officer, and they rubbed the cultured king the wrong way. Maybe that’s why the royal family made a huge demand of Philip.
In order to join the British royal family, Philip had to be nothing but British himself. So as his relationship with Elizabeth grew more serious, Philip actually gave up all of his Greek and Danish titles and adopted his mother’s family name of “Mountbatten” to become a “naturalized” British subject. Only then did he become formally engaged to Elizabeth.
On November 20, 1947, Prince Philip finally won his princess, and he and Elizabeth married at the stately Westminster Abbey. The BBC broadcast the ceremony through the radio to 200 million listeners worldwide. In the days before the blockbuster TV broadcast of Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding, those were big numbers. But there was also something big missing.
Despite the humongous global audience of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding, the groom’s surviving three sisters weren’t there. After all, WWII had just ended, and all three of the sisters had still very much married those German princes. Understandably, guests like that didn’t fly with the palace. In fact, none of Philip’s German relatives were present. Ouch.
In case you get the idea that Prince Philip was nothing but a manly man, think again. For all his brusque manners, Philip truly loved Queen Elizabeth, and this was evident from day one of their marriage. Case in point: On the morning of their wedding, Philip’s “gift” to Elizabeth was to quit smoking. Ah, so sweet, Prince Philip. Okay, but he did have another gift.
Today, perhaps no engagement ring is as famous as Princess Diana’s blue sapphire ring, which now sits on Kate Middleton’s left finger. But Queen Elizabeth’s ring has its own heart-rending back story. Philip constructed the ring with diamonds from his long-estranged mother’s own tiara, plus he made a bracelet with the leftovers.
The early years of Prince Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage were bursting with happiness, and they had the children to prove it. In 1948, Elizabeth gave birth to their son and heir Prince Charles, and then later in 1950 to Princess Anne. Now, the British are infamous for their stiff upper lip, but Prince Philip really outdid them when it came to fatherhood.
To be honest, Philip’s troubles with fatherhood began right out of the gate. While Queen Elizabeth was stuck in a grueling 30 hours of labor to give birth to Prince Charles, Philip…was nowhere to be found. In fact, the royal passed the time by playing squash and swimming with a friend. He was drying himself off when a footman informed him of his first child’s birth.
Nobody is really ready to be a dad, but given Prince Philip’s completely dysfunctional family, it’s not surprising that he ran into some issues when it came to raising his children. In fact, when Prince Charles was first born, Philip dealt the newborn a cold insult. He reportedly looked at the babe and said, “He looks like a plum pudding!” This…did not get better.
Prince Charles and Princess Anne had notoriously chilly childhoods; after all, their parents were rather busy being the figureheads of a country while they were still in diapers. Prince Charles even once confessed that it was "inevitably the nursery staff" who taught him to play and looked after his emotional needs, not his father. Oh, but Philip outdid himself.
Philip had grown up in such a dog-eat-dog environment, he couldn’t help but hand the misery down to his children. Philip wasn’t just an unemotional dad; the strict disciplinarian often took to belittling both Charles and Anne as they were growing up to intentionally “help” them develop a thicker skin. It had surprising consequences.
Although Prince Charles was supposed to be the manly son and heir, his personality was more sensitive—or, as Philip might have called it, weak. Father and son reportedly had a difficult time growing close to each other, and instead, Philip’s favorite was very likely Princess Anne, who was sturdy, rational, and sharp like her dear old dad. This remained even after the birth of his younger sons.
Still, for all his difficulties as a father, Philip was about to be thrown for another loop entirely.
After his royal marriage, Prince Philip’s fast-paced life sped up even more. On February 6, 1951, Philip and Elizabeth were on a commonwealth tour when they received the news that changed their lives forever. Elizabeth’s father King George had passed, and she was now Queen Elizabeth II, while Prince Philip was officially her royal consort.
We only rarely get a peek into the private lives of royals, but we do have a heartbreaking tidbit from this day. When Elizabeth found out that her father was now gone and she was the Queen of England, it was actually Prince Philip who told her the bittersweet tidings and kick-started their immediate return back to England.
Although Philip and Elizabeth had been getting along just fine, trouble started brewing almost as soon as Elizabeth was crowned. In particular, nobody knew what to name her royal house, though the traditional Philip pushed for her to take the "House of Edinburgh" in his honor. It wasn’t to be—no less than Prime Minister Winston Churchill vetoed the idea, and Philip’s response was nothing short of nasty.
It was starting to dawn on the proud Philip that he had married a woman who would always be his superior, and he didn’t take it lying down. Although he always put on a brave face in public, the privacy of his own home was a much different story. Philip reportedly once griped, “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".
All this turmoil likely caused an immense amount of pain behind the scenes inside Buckingham Palace, so much so that many speculate Queen Elizabeth made a huge concession to her husband. See, for the first part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Philip was not a “Prince". Instead, he was still “just” the Duke of Edinburgh. Well, that changed soon enough.
In 1957, Elizabeth promoted her husband to official Prince Consort of the United Kingdom. Happy husband, happy life…or so Elizabeth thought.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth had an incredibly long marriage—the longest of any British ruler and their consort—but this doesn’t mean it was scandal-free. Indeed, early on in their union, dark rumors started swirling. Sources whispered that Prince Philip had a wandering eye…and his sense of timing couldn’t have been more insulting.
One of the most dogged rumors about Prince Philip was that he had engaged in an affair with actress Pat Kirkwood, who he wrote letters and paid visits to in 1948, while poor Elizabeth was actually pregnant with Prince Charles. Of course, the palace has vehemently denied these rumors as mere gossip…but Kirkwood says differently.
Though Kirkwood claims nothing intimate happened, it doesn't mean Philip didn't want it. As she stated once in an interview, “I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question". There is, however, another interpretation of Philip’s naughty behavior.
Nearly everyone who knew Philip agrees that he did always notice attractive women—but all he did was look. As one insider noted, “He has always liked window shopping, but he doesn’t buy". Philip himself once addressed the rumors by noting that since he constantly had a security detail, "how...could I get away with anything like that?"
People who admired Prince Philip often noted how down to earth he was; he was a simple military man who wanted to look people straight in the eye. One former White House butler even recalled a visit in 1979 where Philip struck up a conversation with him and a co-worker, and even took the liberty of pouring their drinks. But as with many of Philip’s qualities, this informality was a double-edged sword.
Over the years, Philip became infamous for his "witty" comments, some of which were offensive, while others were simply rude. Thing is, Philip was totally aware of his reputation, and once commented, "Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practiced for a good many years". At least he had a sense of humor about it.
Not one to make waste, Prince Philip once asked his tailor to adjust a pair of pants that he had first worn a full 52 years ago. For the record, this was in 2008, so those royal leggings saw even more things since then. But I mean, what else could we expect from a man who started his life fleeing a country in a fruit box?
For Philip’s wedding back in 1947, Mahatma Gandhi sent the royal couple a wedding gift of cotton lace with the embroidered words “Jai Hind,” which means “Victory for India". Gandhi had spun the piece himself, but this didn’t stop it from causing a scandal. Philip’s mother-in-law thought it was a loincloth and called it an “indelicate” gesture.
Philip is worshipped as a god by a sect of people on the island of Tana, Vanuatu. When knowledge of the “Prince Philip Movement” was brought to the consort himself, it was suggested he send them a signed portrait. Philip agreed, and the grateful villagers sent him a club in return. He sent them another portrait back, featuring the consort himself posing with the club.
Like his grandson Prince Harry, Prince Philip loved flying—indeed, he might have taught Harry everything he knows. Philip was actually the first member of the British royal family to fly a helicopter, and he also loved flying planes. By his 70th birthday, Philip had amassed over 5,150 pilot hours, and had been flying airplanes since 1952.
Imagine being called a "fat little Canadian" by Prince Philip. Okay, that’s not exactly what happened, but Philip did cause a minor Canadian scandal in 1959 when apparently, he made remarks that inferred Canadian kids were too out of shape. Was it all the Tim Hortons donuts? He later revised his comments to clarify he was simply encouraging a culture of fitness.
Believe it or not, Elizabeth and Philip were just beginning their reign as this new-fangled device called “the television” was making rounds as a common device. As a result, Philip was the first-ever member of the royal family to be interviewed on television in 1961. The hot topic? His take on Commonwealth Technical Training Week, where he advocated for more skilled workers in the labor force. Exciting stuff.
Prince Philip was actually a prolific author, with several books under his name on environmentalism, horses, and other animal subjects. A brief summary of his bibliography follows: Selected Speeches 1948-1955, Birds from Britannia, and Survival or Extinction: A Christian Attitude to the Environment. Whew, Philip. How did you do it all?
Amongst his other royal hobbies, Prince Philip was also an oil painter. The English artist and writer Hugh Casson once described his works as “exactly what you'd expect...totally direct, no hanging about. Strong colors, vigorous brushstrokes". Okay, I have to point out here that this man was CONSISTENT. Talk about a straight shooter.
In Britain’s long history, Prince Philip was just the fifth male consort of a reigning British queen. He follows in the royal footsteps of Philip II of Spain (husband to Mary I), William III (co-sovereign to Mary II, who was closer in the line of succession), Prince George of Denmark (husband to Queen Anne), and Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria.
Shockingly for a British consort, Philip was not reportedly fond of tea. Instead, he preferred to go with a black coffee. Can’t blame him.
Throughout his years as consort, Philip got himself into some very hot water, and not just over his own supposed relationships. He also reportedly stuck his nose in the drama of his extended family. Specifically, when Princess Margaret tried to marry and then broke things off with her lover Peter Townsend, many thought that Prince Philip’s disapproval was behind their split.
The whispers grew so loud, the prince had to reply in his characteristically laconic style: "I haven't done anything". But when it came to the even spicier relationship between his son Prince Charles and Princess Diana, he most certainly did do something.
Philip and Queen Elizabeth walked a long road, but everyone agrees they ended their years together still completely and utterly in love. One royal dresser even recalled a touching moment where she was finishing the hem on one of the queen’s gowns. When Prince Philip walked in and commented, “hmh, nice dress,” Elizabeth apparently couldn’t help but blush furiously. Aw, these crazy kids.
Few British subjects would even dream of showing Queen Elizabeth II less than complete respect, but as her husband, Prince Philip got away with being playful. He even had a cheeky pet name for her: “cabbage". See, “mon petit chou” is a popular term of endearment in French. It can mean “my little cabbage” or, more likely, “my little pastry puff".
During his childhood, Philip had almost no contact with his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg. Why? During the conflict, Alice started to believe she was getting “divine” messages and possessed healing powers. Eventually, doctors diagnosed her with schizophrenia, and she spent Philip’s formative years in sanatorium in Switzerland. Well, that would mess up anyone...and sadly, Alice had more tragedies in store.
The hardships of WWII left Princess Alice impoverished. By the time the occupying forces left Athens in October 1944, she was in “squalid conditions". One of her letters reveals the full, heartbreaking truth. She confessed to her son Philip that she hadn’t eaten meat in several months, and only had bread and butter left for the week before the liberation.
As Prince Charles came of marrying age, both Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth wanted him to marry well, and they had their sights set on the young, naïve, and well-bred Lady Diana Spencer. We know now that this idea was an utter disaster, and that Charles was still very much in love with his ex Camilla Parker Bowles. But few people know about Philip’s role in the matter.
Ever the strong, decisive man, Prince Philip pushed Charles to make up his mind about Diana. In 1981, Philip apparently even wrote to his son, demanding Charles either propose to the poor girl or else break it off forever. Feeling the pressure from dear old dad, Charles and Diana married just six months later. Of course, it ended in tragedy—but Philip did try to make it up to his family.
When Princess Diana passed in that horrific car crash in 1997, just a year after her divorce from Prince Charles went through, the royal family was polarized about how to respond. They were at a loss about what the right path forward was, both in their roles as monarchs and in their roles as family members. Everyone, that is, except Philip.
Philip didn’t often show his vulnerable side, but when he did, you can bet he made the most of it. At Princess Diana’s funeral, Philip’s grandsons William and Harry were so young and apprehensive, Philip swooped in to help them. Philip reportedly told his eldest grandson, "If you don't walk, I think you'll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?"
So at the funeral, Philip, William, Harry, Charles, and Diana’s brother followed the bier.
Before his health troubles, Prince Philip made the news once more after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview on Oprah. Because of Philip’s outspoken nature, many people assumed that he was the infamous family member who tried to predict the color of their son Archie’s skin. However, Meghan and Harry quickly denied this and cleared Philip of wrongdoing.
In his later years, Philip was still one of the hardest-working members of the royal family, even surpassing young bucks like Prince William. For example, when he was 96 years old, Philip logged 110 days of public engagement. In 2016, he was the fifth-busiest member of the entire family. Safe to say, his golden years were strong and long.
On April 9, 2021, Prince Philip passed after months of health complications at the age of 99, just two months before he turned 100 years old. We do have details about the perfect way Philip signed off. In classic Philip fashion, he has demanded that his funeral have no “fuss". Isn't that just like him.
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