On the 99th birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh husband of Queen Elizabeth II, we take a look back at his extraordinary life.
Our story follows him through his schooling, his exploits during the war years of the World War II up until his marriage to his childhood sweetheart, the future queen of England.
Born in Greece, given the name of Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, on the 10th June 1921, exiled from Greece along with his family when only an infant, Prince Philip would spend most of his childhood years being shunted between friends and family while at the same time, completing his education in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
In 1939 at the outbreak of the II Second World War, he joined the Royal Navy as a very young 18-year-old sub-lieutenant and served with much courage and distinction in both the Mediterranean and Pacific fleets; it was while here that he started corresponding with 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, whom he had met back in 1934.
At the close of the II World War, the now dashing Royal Naval Commander, Prince Phillip, gained the permission of George VI, to marry his wartime sweetheart, Princess Elizabeth on the condition that he would renounce his Greek and Danish royal titles and become a naturalised British subject.
After renouncing his Greek and Danish titles, he then took up the surname of Mountbatten, the name of his maternal grandparents. The betrothal followed in July 1947, with the marriage taking place on the 20 November 1947, Just before the marriage ceremony he was given the title of Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth and Duke of Edinburgh, he would become a British Prince only after leaving military service in 1957.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip sired four children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward thus ensuring the line of succession to the Royal Crown. At this point, it would be amiss if I did not mention all of which the young Prince had given up when marrying into the Royal Family, his family name, his royal titles to mention just two.
As a result and probably to appease such losses, in 1960, through a British order in Council all descendants of the Queen and Prince Philip, who do not hold Royal Titles will be entitled to use the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor.
Philip, known for his diligence, hard work and saying things just as he sees them, is a patron or a member of over 780 organisations. Serves as the chairman of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award for people aged 14 to 24, an organisation he set up, is the longest-serving consort of a reigning monarch and the oldest member of the Royal Family, not retiring until very recently, on the 2nd August 2017.
Amazingly our young Prince Philip, now at the age of 96 has completed over 22,219 solo engagements and many more in the company of Queen Elizabeth II since 1952
Early years of childhood and revolution
Philip’s childhood can only be described as both tragic and nomadic and might explain why in later life, he could be so forthright and sometimes quite crusty with his fellow men. However, if you have ever sat with Prince Philip, the man, you will know that he has such an excellent way of putting anyone at ease, a gift which he probably learned during his turbulent childhood.
Philip, although born in Greece to the royal family was mostly Danish, and it must be said intensely supportive and proud of his Danish heritage, the Greeks in urgent need of a royal family approached Philip’s Grandfather a Danish Prince with both German and English connections to be their King.
At this point, it would be wise to explain the close family connections of the future Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, and his future wife Queen Elizabeth II. (my apologies for the complexity but there is no other way I fear to write it)
Philips great grandfather carried the title of Marquess of Milford Haven after renouncing the title of Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1917. He then married Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine who was the daughter of Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse. The line carries on with yet another son Prince Henry of Battenberg, who married Princess Beatrice who was the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, making both Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip third cousins.
Now with that out of the way we can all breathe a breath of fresh air and get on with our story.
His grandfather's reign would not last long due to a revolution in which the Greek royal family for their safety fled the country into exile. During the hard-fought revolution, Philips own father Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark who had only evaded execution by the skin of his teeth was forced to place the then young Prince into an apple crate before smuggling him out of the country in 1922.
Now living in Europe, Philips father Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, became more and more disillusioned to the point where he closed the family home and went to live with his mistress never to return. And with the young prince's mother Princess Alice of Battenberg who was born death becoming more and more depressed, she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic later to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Our young Prince was eight years of age and was by all purposes left as a lonely orphan.
The schooling of a Prince
Because of the nomadic lifestyle, Philip had after escaping the Greek revolution at such an early age most of his early infant schooling days became shrouded in mystery. However, we do know that while living in Paris he did attend an American school called the Elms run by a Donald MacJannet who many years later when asked to describe the future Prince simply said, “he was a bit of a smarty-pants but always remarkably polite”.
We next catch up with Philip in 1928 when he was sent to the United Kingdom, here while living at Kensington Palace with his grandmother Victoria Mountbatten, Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, and his uncle George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven living at Lynden Manor in Bray, Berkshire with his four sisters he went to Cheam School. Cheam School was not the average type of school any of us would attend. It was founded in 1645 by George Aldrich and continues today as one of the most prestigious prep schools in the United Kingdom. Some of its most famous ex-pupils include our young prince, of course, Randolph Churchill, Conservative cabinet minister and father of Winston Churchill, Charles, Prince of Wales, heir apparent of Elizabeth II, to mention two.
It was while attending Cheam and leading quite a normal family life that his world turned upside down. His four sisters leaving for Germany after marrying German Princes? Furthermore, it was at this time that his adored mother was torn away from him, sent to an asylum suffering from schizophrenia and his father left to set home in Monte Carlo, our young prince would have minimal contact with his parents for the rest of his life
After his sisters left for Germany, Philip went to school in Germany where he attended Schule Schloss Salem school. Some say the choice of school chosen was merely to save money as the school was owned by the family’s brother-in-law, Berthold, Margrave of Baden. The headmaster at the time was a Jewish gentleman going by the name of Kurt Hahn, who would in later years flee to Scotland to escape the persecution of the Nazis where he would set up Gordonstoun, a school which both our young prince and his future son Prince Charles, both would attend.
Just when life for our young prince seemed to be on the up tragedy once again raised its ugly head. It was 1937; the war was a foregone conclusion in Europe, Hitler had already started his ruthless plans for world domination. Hitler so sure of himself, openly laughed at world leaders and even convinced Neville Chamberlin that there would be peace in our time. It was evident that war was about to break out.
Then, just before war broke out, Phillips sister Cecilia, her husband Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse along with her two sons, Ludwig and Alexander, her newborn infant and her mother-in-law Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich, all perished in a plane crash just outside Ostend leaving Phillip alone in the world once again.
The funeral was held in Darmstadt, Phillip attended alone evidently nothing else could happen but it would, and it did, his much-loved guardian and uncle, Lord Milford Haven, died of bone marrow cancer the following year.
Phillip had come of age, he was 16, his tormented school years had come to an end, and war was on everyone’s lips.
Next Chapter: The War Years