(CNN) — When Elizabeth of York met Prince Philip, she was not destined to be queen. She was seven years old and was maid of honor to her aunt, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, at her wedding to the Duke of Kent at Westminster Abbey. 12-year-old Felipe attended as the bride’s first cousin. The children hardly spoke to each other, but foreign newspapers had already pointed to Prince Philip as a suitable husband for the little princess, much like her third cousin through Queen Victoria.
When they met again five years later, in 1939, everything had changed. Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, had abdicated three years earlier. Her father was now king and she was heir to the throne. Felipe was an 18-year-old naval cadet. And Europe was on the brink of World War II.
“How high he can jump!” Elizabeth told her governess, Marion Crawford, in July 1939 when she saw Philip jumping over the tennis nets at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Isabel led a very sheltered life with her family, spending most of her time with her sister and governess. Attending college with her parents and sister, she was dazzled by the star cadet who would soon be on active duty. Elizabeth’s charms were obvious to all, and very pleasing to Philip’s uncle, Dickie Mountbatten, who hoped to encourage a marriage… with himself as the power behind the throne.
When the royal party left Dartmouth in the royal yacht, all the cadets followed in their small boats until the king ordered them back ashore. Everyone did as they were told, except for Felipe, who continued to row with all his might as Isabel watched him through the binoculars.
Philip and his family had fled Greece when he was a baby. The family settled in Paris, but fell apart. His mother was sent to an insane asylum and his father had lovers. Philip was sent to boarding schools and flourished in Gordonstoun, Scotland, before going to Dartmouth. Without parents, he was very close to his sisters, but his beloved Cecil died in a plane crash when she was eight months pregnant. The others were married to German officers, placing Felipe and his family on both sides of the war.
Isabel, determined to marry Felipe from a very young age
During the war, Philip wrote to Elizabeth and traveled to Britain for Christmas in 1943. Elizabeth was 17 and a young woman. Felipe found her very attractive. She was not only attractive and witty, but also cheerful and practical, very different from her fragile mother.
At the end of the war, Felipe began courting Elizabeth with serious intentions and took her to concerts and restaurants and dined with her in the nursery with Princess Margaret. Palace had doubts about the match. The kings wanted her to ‘see more of the world’ before she married, and courtiers spoke of Philip as ‘not a gentleman’, ‘dark’ and possibly fickle: he signed himself in the guest books as ‘of no fixed address’. Everyone distrusted his cunning uncle Dickie Mountbatten. The government was obsessed with his origins: as one courtier put it, “it all came down to one word ‘German'”.
Isabel refused to be swayed. From the age of 13, she was determined by Felipe, and the war only intensified the romance. The King relented and the engagement was announced on 8 July 1947, with the wedding date set for 20 November. Philip became a British citizen, took the Mountbatten surname of his maternal grandparents, and was created Duke of Edinburgh.
There were concerns that a country mired in a post-war recession would not look favorably on a lavish wedding. But Winston Churchill chose magnificence, calling it “a flash of color on the hard road we have to walk.” Royal guests came from all over the world to see the princess get married in a silk dress embroidered with 10,000 pearls. Among those not invited were Philip’s three sisters with their German husbands and the Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, and his wife Wallis Simpson.
That day at Westminster Abbey, Princess Elizabeth took her vows and promised to obey her husband, something that would have been technically impossible when she was Queen.
But the fighting had only just begun. Philip was used to an active life and resented the clerical work at the Admiralty which was assigned to him. The couple’s first two children, Carlos and Ann, were born in 1948 and 1950, and the family settled in Clarence House, where Felipe was in charge of renovations. Felipe was stationed in Malta and Isabel would visit him for periods of months. There, Isabelle was free to just be an officer’s wife, away from the limelight.
The death of George VI, a shock earlier than expected
In early 1952, Isabelle and Felipe set off on a road trip through Kenya. They started with a retreat at “Treetops”, a lodge above a watering hole in Aberdare National Park. On the night of February 9, 1952, George VI died in his sleep. After the news reached the royal staff, Philip told his wife that their beloved father had died and they both returned to London.
The king’s death was a terrible shock to both Elizabeth and Philip. The king had been in poor health for years, although he was still a relatively young man of 56. Elizabeth and Philip looked forward to many more years of relative freedom. Now Philip was the Queen’s husband and everything changed.
The family had to move from Clarence House to the less intimate Buckingham Palace. Philip had to give up his naval role. And Elizabeth’s grandmother, Queen Mary, was given the royal name.
Philip believed his wife’s name to be his, Mountbatten, and his uncle Dickie boasted recklessly of the royal house of Mountbatten. But Winston Churchill and Queen Mary were determined: the surname should remain Windsor. Felipe’s heart was broken, “I’m nothing more than a damn amoeba.”
By the time her youngest children – Andrew in 1960 and Edward in 1964 – were born, the Queen had issued an order that any male offspring not bearing the title of Prince or Royal Highness would be Mountbatten-Windsors. It was a small victory.
Felipe’s efforts to get a bigger role were met with prejudice. There was opposition to his chairmanship of the Commission on Elizabeth’s Coronation, and his efforts to create a system of service awards, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards, were met with terrible derision by one minister, saying it sounded “like the Hitler Youth”.
However, with patience, hard work and his constant dedication to helping and supporting the Queen in her duties, Prince Philip has earned the respect and affection of both the government and the people.
Philip had a strong interest in technology and was the first royal to be interviewed on television when he discussed young people’s learning on the BBC’s Panorama with Richard Dimbleby in 1961. Philip also appeared in The Royal Family, a documentary broadcast in 1969. , which captivated the nation by showing the family in their home, including shots of Felipe roasting sausages.
Felipe was a patron of more than 800 organizations and, like his grandchildren, was particularly concerned about wildlife and the environment: he was president of the World Wide Fund for Nature from 1961 to 1982.
The Duke was particularly fond of the younger royals and will be fondly remembered by many for supporting his grandsons William and Harry as they walked the streets of London behind the coffin of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, before her funeral in September 1997 ..
The monarchy’s popularity hit rock bottom after Diana’s death, but when the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee arrived in 2012, the British public’s enthusiasm for the royal family was evident in celebrations across the country.
Through ups and downs, the Duke has been an inseparable companion to the Queen. She was the longest-married monarch and the Duke was the world’s longest-serving husband. At the time of his death in April 2021, aged 99, he had lived longer than any other descendant of Queen Victoria. She would outlive him by less than 18 months.
This active and intelligent man did not always find it easy to keep up with the queen. But, as Prince William said, “he put aside his personal career to support her and never took center stage.”
The Duke accepted the challenge with grace and dignity and never left the Queen’s side, seeing his great role in helping her. As the Queen said in her Diamond Jubilee speech in 2012, he was her “constant strength and guide”.