On April 9, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip, passed away at the age of 99. The couple had been together for more than seven decades. In view of the sad news, let us remember how this relationship developed and what it was like.
Elizabeth is thought to have met her future husband as a teenager, but in reality the very first meeting of the future spouses occurred even earlier. The 8-year-old Elizabeth and 13-year-old Philip first saw each other at the wedding of his cousin, the Greek princess Marina, and Prince George, Duke of Kent (he is Elizabeth’s uncle). Elizabeth and her husband, incidentally, were distant relatives: both were great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. However, for European royal families, this is not particularly uncommon.
The husband and wife-to-be were once again at the same event: the coronation of George VI, Elizabeth II’s father.
Officially, the 13-year-old Elizabeth and 18-year-old Philip met when her family visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where the Prince of Greece was one of the cadets. Elizabeth’s governess Marion Crawford later wrote in her diary that her pupil “kept her eyes” on the young man. And it is not surprising—young Philip clearly knew how to impress girls. This is how Vanity Fair describes him, according to his biographers:
Six feet tall, with bright blue eyes, chiseled features and blond hair, Philip was a true Adonis, athletic and handsome, radiating confidence and even boldness, resourceful and perky, but at the same time a sort of loner. The barbarity was more of a defensive reaction to him.
While Lilibeth (as the family called Elizabeth) was immediately interested in the new acquaintance, he himself, according to the same observations of Marion Crawford, “did not show any special signs of attention. However, since that visit between the two young people began a correspondence. It continued while Philip was serving in the Navy during World War II, and gradually began to go beyond the scope of friendship.
During those years, the prince sometimes came to visit the girl’s family. It is said that the sympathy between them became apparent when Philip arrived at Windsor Castle again in 1943 – for Christmas celebrations. George VI thought it was too soon for his 17-year-old daughter to think seriously about marriage, but he liked Philip: the king wrote to his mother that the prince seemed “intelligent, with a good sense of humour and the right frame of mind”.
It was no secret that Elizabeth’s entourage generally did not consider Philip an ideal match for her. The financial condition of the potential groom left much to be desired, as did the reputation of his family. The Greek King Constantine I, Philip’s uncle, had been overthrown and banished from the country along with all his relatives. Philip’s parents separated, his mother ended up in a psychiatric hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, his father was having affairs in Monte Carlo, and family friends and relatives paid for his son’s education in England. In addition, since his youth, Philip was not the most malleable character.
In short, not everything in the groom’s background and personality suited the bride’s entourage. Nevertheless, the correspondence between him and the young Elizabeth was becoming more and more romantic, and later it became clear to the heir to the throne that a marriage proposal was only a matter of time.
The turning point came in the summer of 1946, when Philip spent the vacations with the family of his future wife at Balmoral Castle. After the war, he finally settled in London and spent increasing amounts of time with the king’s daughter: they dined at the palace together, had long conversations, took walks, and were often accompanied by Lilibeth’s younger sister Margaret. As biographers have written, for Elizabeth, communicating with the prince was like “a breath of fresh air in her clearly structured life. According to Philip’s cousin Patricia Mountbatten, he too truly fell in love, especially since the princess was “beautiful, fun and interesting.”
Philip had the ability to love sincerely, it just had to be brought out in him, and Elizabeth managed to do it… He is a more sensitive person than one might assume. He had a difficult childhood, so that life has made him outwardly hardened so as not to break down,
– Patricia noted.
When Philip proposed to Elisabeth, she immediately said yes (as far as the press knows, without even consulting her parents). George VI, however, did not object, but insisted that the engagement be announced the following year, when Elizabeth would be 21. The engagement ring was created by London jeweler Philip Antrobus, using diamonds from the groom’s mother’s family tiara.
The lovers dutifully paused, and in July 1947 the engagement of the heiress to the throne was announced. This came as no great surprise, for rumors of the princess’s fiancé had already been circulating. Elizabeth and Philip did not appear in public together, but, for example, in the autumn of 1946 at the wedding of Patricia Mountbatten the cameras captured the moment when they exchanged meaningful glances. The palace did not comment on the rumors until the announcement of the wedding. Before the wedding, Philip renounced his former titles (Prince of Greece, Prince of Denmark), accepted British citizenship, converted from Orthodox Christianity to Anglicanism, and took new titles, becoming Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron of Greenwich. He took the English version of his mother Alice Battenberg’s surname, Mountbatten, as his last name.
The wedding ceremony took place on November 20, 1947, in Westminster Abbey, to which some 2,000 guests had been invited. Interestingly, on the morning of the wedding day, Philip gave up smoking – giving up the habit that irritated his bride, and so the orderly tired of his father’s smoking.
The King insisted that the ceremony not be too lavish, for it was the first major official event in Britain since the war, from which the country had not yet had time to recover. Elizabeth arrived at the ceremony wearing a Norman Hartnell dress decorated with ten thousand pearls. She bought her own veil by saving up cards, which were used at the time to issue clothing and food to the population. By the way, the princess received them from women all over the country, but she would not be able to use them – the cards were personal. After the wedding, only 150 guests (quite a few for a royal ceremony) went to the wedding banquet at Buckingham Palace.
The newlyweds spent their honeymoon at the Mountbatten family estate in Hampshire and then at Balmoral Castle, the Scottish residence of the English rulers.
On November 14, 1948, the couple’s firstborn, Prince Charles, was born. The birth took place at Buckingham Palace, where one of the bedrooms was specially equipped for it.
Philip then went to Malta to serve, Elizabeth and her son remained in England, but she tried to do her best to spend more time together with her husband. As soon as Charles celebrated his first birthday, she flew to her husband in Malta, leaving the child in the care of nannies and relatives. So for a while, Elizabeth lived in two countries, spending extended periods with Philip. Her cousin Margaret Rhodes says:
I think it was one of the happiest times for her—almost a normal life, when she could socialize with other military wives, go to the barbershop, to cafes and shopping.
Elizabeth and Philip had a daughter named Anna. Soon Elizabeth was on a long flight to Malta again. But by the following summer, both she and her husband had returned to England when King George VI’s health began to deteriorate rapidly. Philip had to end his military career, which was not easy for him.
There was no choice. That’s life, you have to make compromises. I just accepted it,
– he said afterwards.
Elizabeth, 25, ascended the throne after her father passed away in February 1952. When the tragedy occurred, the princess and her husband were in Kenya and she was proclaimed queen immediately after George VI’s death. The following summer, a coronation ceremony was held at Westminster Abbey, attended by some 8,000 guests.
In her new capacity, Elizabeth II was given a great many responsibilities, and the couple’s life changed overnight. Not all changes were to Prince Philip’s liking: we know, for example, that he did not like Buckingham Palace and wanted the family to continue living in Clarence House, but Elizabeth listened to the government’s recommendations and the couple moved. Philip also had to accept his wife and children bearing the Windsor name, although he had insisted on the Mountbatten option. The prince is said to have complained to friends about being “the only man in the country who cannot give his children his surname.”
In 1953, the couple embarked on a five-and-a-half-month world tour, leaving five-year-old Charles and three-year-old Anne in London with their grandmother. According to biographers, Philip’s support was very important for Elizabeth, who had a nervous tic after communicating with a huge number of people during this trip (sometimes the Queen had to shake several thousand hands in one day).
In February, the couple became parents again: a boy was born who was named Andrew, in honor of his late father Prince Philip. A few days before this event, Elizabeth II announced that her children would henceforth bear the double surname of Mountbatten-Windsor. She had earlier announced this decision to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who wrote in his diary:
The queen does everything to please her husband, whom she loves madly… The only thing that upsets me is that the prince is being almost cruel to the queen in this matter.
The couple’s youngest son Prince Edward was born on March 10, 1964.
Elisabeth and Philip were congratulated by people from all over the world on their 25th anniversary of marriage: 15,000 letters and two and a half thousand telegrams were announced, sent to the palace by officials and ordinary citizens from all over the world.
Not an easy year in the life of the family, the queen even called it terrible. This year alone there were several loud and not too pleasant events for the palace: Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated, Prince Andrew broke up with Sarah Ferguson, and Princess Anne broke up with Mark Phillips.
The queen and her husband celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a reception. Prince Philip, giving a toast to his wife, noted:
I think the main lesson we have learned is that the most important component of a happy marriage is tolerance. And this is a quality that the queen possesses in abundance.
Elizabeth II, on the other hand, said the following about her husband:
He has always given me strength and support over the years. The whole family, this country and other countries owe him a lot-perhaps we have no idea how much.
On the 70th wedding anniversary of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the palace published their new family photos. That’s when the couple made history as the first royal couple to celebrate 70 years of marriage (in England, this date is called a platinum wedding).
In the same year, Philip officially resigned his public duties as a member of the royal family, while continuing to accompany the queen at public events. By that time, the Duke of Edinburgh had made more than 22,000 “solo” appearances in public, had made some 600 solo visits to other countries and given some five and a half thousand speeches.
In November 2020, the queen and her husband accepted congratulations on their 73rd wedding anniversary, and unfortunately, that anniversary was their last. On that day, the royal family’s official account presented a previously unpublished photo taken during the couple’s honeymoon.
A little earlier, in the summer, was made public a new photo of the couple, timed to celebrate the 99th birthday of Philip.
As a reminder, the prince did not live to his 100th birthday just a couple of months: he would have celebrated the anniversary on June 10.