Born: 10 June 1921 in Corfu, Greece
Family: Prince Philip was the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. He had four elder sisters – Cecilie, Sophie, Margarita and Theodora. Philip’s ancestors include King George I of Greece, Prince Louis of Battenberg, and Queen Victoria.
Remembered for: Being married to the queen and being the longest-serving consort of a British monarch in history.
His life: Prince Philip was born with the title of Prince of Greece and Denmark. Shortly after his birth, Prince Philip’s uncle, King Constantine I, abdicated the Greek throne, while the military government had Philip’s father, Andrew, arrested, and oversaw the execution of five politicians. Prince Andrew was officially banished from Greece after 1922, and Philip and his family travelled to France, where they settled in Saint-Cloud in Paris.
Philip was first educated at an American school in Paris, before moving to Britain in 1928 to attend Cheam School in Hampshire. In 1933 he attended a school in Germany, and then became a pupil at Gordonstoun School in Scotland.
Prince Philip first met Princess Elizabeth in 1934, when they attended the wedding of Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece to The Duke of Kent, who was an uncle of Princess Elizabeth.
The couple met for the second time in 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the Britannica Royal Naval College in Dartmouth – at which Prince Philip was enrolled – with their two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth and Philip exchanged letters following this meeting, and continued to do so throughout the Second World War.
Philip served on British ships during the conflict, while two of his German brothers-in-law served for the opposing side. After being commissioned as a midshipman in 1940, Philip served on the battleship HMS Ramillies for six months in the Indian Ocean.
In 1942, at the age of 21, Philip was promoted to first lieutenant of HMS Wallace, making him one of the youngest first lieutenants in the British Royal Navy. He spent the rest of the war serving the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, and Philip was aboard HMS Whelp in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered on 2 September 1945.
After returning to Britain in 1946, Prince Philip asked for George VI’s permission to marry Princess Elizabeth. The king accepted this request, yet asked that any formal engagement should be delayed until the princess’s 21st birthday the following year. Philip became a British subject in 1947 after taking his mother’s surname, Mountbatten, and renouncing his lineage to the Greek and Danish thrones.
After accepting his proposal, Princess Elizabeth and Philip’s engagement was publically announced on 9 July 1947. The couple married at Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947, and the ceremony was broadcast live to radio listeners across the world.
According to Channel 4, “the royal and political elite disliked Philip for his German connections, looked down on him for his lack of education, and questioned whether he would be faithful to Elizabeth. Moreover, they disliked his larger-than-life, ferociously ambitious uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten.” The broadcaster says the documentary, Prince Philip: The Plot to Make a King, will explore how “the Queen struggled to reconcile the love of her husband with the suspicions of her family and her government.”
- Lord Mountbatten: Did Prince Philip’s uncle attempt to lead a coup against Harold Wilson’s government?
On this podcast, Andrew Lownie explores the colourful and controversial lives of Louis and Edwina Mountbatten. It’s a story that incorporates Indian independence, royal connections and scandalous love affairs:
Despite being married to the heir to the throne, Philip continued with his naval career. In 1949 he was appointed as first lieutenant of HMS Chequers and was promoted to lieutenant-commander in 1950. The prince was then appointed as commander.
Prince Philip received the news of George VI’s death while travelling in Kenya on a royal tour on the king’s behalf. It was during their stay at Sagana Lodge that Philip broke the news to his wife. After immediately travelling back to Britain, Elizabeth formally proclaimed herself queen on 8 February 1952.
Although his naval career ended following Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, Prince Philip has continued to be actively involved in the armed forces. In 1952 he was made admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, air commodore-in-chief of the Air Training Corps and colonel-in-chief of the Army Cadet Force. He was then promoted to admiral of the fleet, marshal of the Royal Air Force and field marshal in 1953.
Over the decades, Prince Philip has accompanied his wife on numerous state visits and the openings of parliament, while becoming the president and patron of around 800 organisations and charities. With a particular interest in sport and the welfare of young people, Prince Philip was most prominently involved in the creation of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme in 1956. The award scheme has since gone global – today more than 140 countries and territories across the world offer the award.
In 1961, Prince Philip became the first member of the royal family to be interviewed on television. Richard Dimbleby interviewed the prince about his involvement with the Commonwealth technical training week, which looked to acknowledge the work of technically trained people in Britain and the Commonwealth, and promote working in the industrial sector for future generations.
Prince Philip has, over the decades, been made chancellor of a number of universities: of Edinburgh (1952–2011), Cambridge (1976–2011), Wales (1948–76) and Salford (1967–91). With an interest in environmental conservation, Philip was also made the first president of World Wildlife Fund UK from 1961 to 1982, and served as the international president of WWF from 1981 to 1996.
Despite now being 99 years old, Prince Philip continues to attend hundreds of public engagements every year.
This article was first published by HistoryExtra in 2015