Who Exactly Was Prince Philip?

Photo by Roberto Catarinicchia on Unsplash

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was the husband of Queen Elizabeth II and father to Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. He was also a grandfather and great grandfather. Anyone who didn’t know his background would assume he came from the British royal family. However, he was not born in the UK and his ancestors came from numerous European countries.

Philip was born in Mon Repos, a villa on the Greek island of Corfu, on 10 June 1921. He was the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. He was baptised at St George’s Church in the Old Fortress on Corfu.

Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was born at the Tatoi Palace just north of Athens, Greece in 1882. He was the seventh child of George I of Greece and Olga Castantinovna of Russia.

Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born at Windsor Castle, England in 1885. She was the eldest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine.

Philip’s grandfather (his father’s father) George I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1845.

Philip’s grandmother (his father’s mother) Olga Castantinovna was born in Pavlovsk, Russia in 1851.

Philip’s grandfather (his mother’s father) Prince Louis was born in Graz, Austria in 1854.

Philip’s grandmother (his mother’s mother) Princess Victoria was born at Windsor Castle, England in 1863.

In September 1922, Philip’s uncle King Constantine I was forced to abdicate, after he was blamed for his country’s defeat in the Greco-Turkish war. The new military government arrested generals, politicians and Philip’s father Prince Andrew, who had commanded an army division in the war. Five senior politicians and the commanding officer were tried and executed, and then in December a court banished Prince Andrew from Greece for life. After hearing of the situation, the British sent a cruiser, HMS Calypso, to evacuate the family. They left Greece with few possessions and Philip was said to have been taken on board in an orange box. After crossing the Adriatic they landed at Brindisi in southern Italy and then took a train to Paris.

The family moved into a property in Saint-Cloud, a suburb to the west of the city centre, which was lent to them by Philip’s wealthy aunt, Princess George of Greece and Denmark. Philip attended a local American school called The Elms up until 1930. He was then sent to the UK to attend Cheam School in Surrey. For the next three years he lived with his maternal grandmother, Victoria Mountbatten, at Kensington Palace in London and his uncle, George Mountbatten, in Bray, Berkshire. During this time his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was put in an asylum, his father moved to Monte Carlo and his four sisters all married and moved to Germany.

In 1933 Philip was sent to southern Germany to attend Schule Schloss Salem, a school owned by the family of his brother-in-law. However, due to the rise of Nazism, the school’s Jewish founder, Kurt Hahn, was forced to flee the country, and he moved to the UK. After settling in Scotland he set up a new school called Gordonstoun; Philip joined him a few months later. In 1937 his sister Cecilie, her husband, three of her children and her mother-in-law were killed in an aircraft accident near Ostend, Belgium. Philip attended the funeral, which took place in Darmstadt, Germany.

Philip’s uncle and guardian, George Mountbatten, died of cancer in 1938. His younger brother, Louis Mountbatten took over parental responsibility, and in later life would help mentor Philip’s son Charles. In 1939 Philip left Gordonstoun and joined the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, Devon. However, after only one term he left the UK and went to live in Greece with his mother. After a month, his cousin the Greek king, George II, managed to persuade him to return to complete his training.

In July 1939 King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters toured the Royal Naval College where Philip was studying. During the visit Philip was asked by the Queen and Lord Mountbatten to escort the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. Although they had seen each other a few times before, this was the first publicised meeting where Philip and Elizabeth met properly; he was eighteen and she was only thirteen. Although she was only young, Elizabeth took a shine to the naval cadet, and they started corresponding by letter.

During WW2 Philip saw active service with the Royal Navy. In January 1940 he was appointed to midshipman and spent four months in the Indian Ocean aboard HMS Ramillies. Later that year he was transferred to the Mediterranean Fleet where he served aboard HMS Valiant. After completing a number of courses at Portsmouth, Philip was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in February 1941. Over the next few years he was involved in numerous engagements, including the battle of Crete and the invasion of Sicily. He was mentioned in dispatches, was awarded the Greek War Cross, and became one of the youngest first lieutenants in 1942. Towards the end of the war he served with the British Pacific Fleet, and was in Tokyo Bay at the time of the Japanese surrender. He returned to the UK in January 1946 and became an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur in Wiltshire.

Seven years after the Dartmouth meeting, Philip asked the King for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Although he agreed, the formal engagement was postponed until the following year when Elizabeth reached the age of 21. During 1947 Philip became a naturalised British subject, adopted the surname Mountbatten and gave up his Greek and Danish royal titles. He was also officially received into the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury, having been baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church as a baby.

Philip and Elizabeth married on 20 November 1947 in Westminster Abbey, London. The day before he became His Royal Highness, and on the morning of the big day he was given the title Duke of Edinburgh. Philip’s German relations were not invited to the wedding, as it was only two years since the end of the war. The ceremony was recorded and broadcast by the BBC. The couple spent their honeymoon at Broadlands in Hampshire, England, the Mountbatten family home. The rest, as they say, is history.

Prince Philip: 10 June 1921 — 9 April 2021

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