Prince Philip had the distinction of having the longest tenure as consort to a reigning monarch in the long history of Great Britain’s monarchy. At the time of his retirement from royal duties in August 2017 at the age of 96 he had completed 22,219 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. Additionally, at his death at the age of 99 years and 10 months he was the third-most enduring member and most enduring male of any British royal household. By any measure, Philip had lived a long and eventful life.
Philip was born on the dining room table of the family home on Corfu, one of the Greek Islands, on June 10, 1921. He was a great-great-grandchild of Queen Victoria (as is Queen Elizabeth). As a descendent of both Greek and Danish kings he was an heir of both thrones. This situation could only occur in Europe where members of royal families had intermarried among themselves for centuries. The interlocking familial relationships among Europe’s royalty is both bewildering and uninteresting to all but the most ardent royal scholars, which does not include me, so I will not discuss it further.
When Philip was but 18 months old, as a result of losing a civil war, King Constantin I, Philip’s uncle, was forced to abdicate his throne, and the family was exiled by the victorious military leaders. Philip and his mother settled in France. As a youth he was educated in France, Germany and the UK. Although he became fluent in German, French and English, he never did learn Greek. He always said he considered himself to be Danish.
Philip and Elizabeth met in 1939 when he was 18 and a naval cadet at Dartmouth Naval College about to “ship out,” and she was but 13. While King George, Queen Elizabeth and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, were touring the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, the Queen arranged for Philip to escort the two girls. Afterwards, according to a royal biographer, Philip was “flattered” to ascertain that both Elizabeth and her younger sister, Margaret, had developed “crushes” on him.
In 1946 Philip formally asked the king for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. The king approved his request on the condition that the marriage be delayed until after April 1947 when Elizabeth would turn 21. In the meantime, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish royal titles, became a naturalized British subject, and adopted his mother’s family surname of Mountbatten. They were married in November 1947.
Upon the sudden death of her father Elizabeth became Queen. At the time the couple was on a tour of Africa, and, communication being relatively primitive there, it took some time before they could be located, notified and returned home. Following Elizabeth’s ascension a question arose as to the official name of the monarchy. Normally, Elizabeth , as wife, would have taken Philip’s family name, which would have meant a name change to the House of Mountbatten. This was favored by the Mountbatten branch of Philip’s family. Philip proposed the House of Edinburgh consistent with his ducal title. Ultimately, Prime Minister Winston Churchill prevailed upon the queen to retain the House of Windsor name. Another oddity was that Elizabeth now outranked and was the boss over both her mother and grandmother, who, themselves, were former queens
At first, Philip struggled to adjust to his new role as consort to the queen. There was no defined role for the husband of the queen. At times, he was described as “irascible,” “tough-minded,” and “out of touch.” He often chafed at the restrictions of his role. He was known for making politically incorrect, or even racist remarks. On the other hand, many found his candor, especially for a royal, to be “refreshing.”
Simply put, as consort, Philip’s role was to support his wife in her duties as sovereign. As observers of the royal family know, that was both simple and complicated. The couple had to separate their relationship as husband and wife from that of monarch and consort. It was difficult for both of them, perhaps more so for Philip who as the husband viewed himself as head of the household. In his official role, for example, he was required to walk three steps behind Elizabeth as a sign of deference. Moreover, he was outranked not only by his wife, but also by his son, Charles. Elizabeth was sympathetic to his situation, and tried her best to accommodate him. It was difficult for both of them, but eventually, they figured it out. Elizabeth often referred to Philip as “her rock.” In turn, his pet name for her was “Lilibet.” It helped matters when, in 1957, Elizabeth granted Philip the title of “Prince of the United Kingdom by Letters Patent.”
Philip’s hobbies included polo, flying and yachting. In his later years Philip was plagued by various ailments. For example, in April 2018 he had a hip replacement; in January 2019 he was involved in a car accident; in December 2019 he was hospitalized for what was termed “a preexisting condition; and finally, on February 16, 2021 he was hospitalized as a “precautionary measure” as a result of “feeling unwell.”
Philip passed away on April 9, 2021 at the age of 99, just two months short of his 100th birthday. The official cause of death has not been disclosed. Queen Elizabeth characterized Philip’s death as “having left a huge void in my life.”
Philip had often said that he really had no interest in living a really long life. In 2000 when he was 79 he told an interviewer that he had “no desire whatsoever” to live to be 100 as “bits of me are falling off already.”
Rest in peace Prince Philip. You served your country and your queen with distinction, and you will be sorely missed.