Prince Philip’s death was announced by Buckingham Palace at noon today. The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh “passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle”.
Much is known about Prince Philip’s role as the Queen’s “strength and stay,” but he also lived a fascinating life prior to his 73-year marriage.
Despite being a Prince of Greece and Denmark, Philip grew up with a title but without much entitlement. According to a cousin, he endured a “rather lonely and difficult childhood”.
Below is a look at his extraordinary life and lineage, in what I hope will be an informative and interesting piece.
*This piece was originally published on April 9, 2021
“I think to try and create a memorial for yourself while you’re alive is slightly indecent, I think. I’d rather other people decide what legacy I leave. I’m not trying to create one.”
A post shared by @theroyalfamily
Born on June 10 1921 in Corfu, Prince Philip was the only son and youngest of five. His parents were Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
At just 18 months old, Greece became politically unstable and Philip’s uncle, King Constantine I, was forced to abdicate. The family were forced into exile. A Royal Navy ship was provided by King George V, and the young prince was carried to safety in an orange box.
The family of seven then settled in Paris, where Prince Philip once said it was very common for four languages to be spoken among them at any one time.
By 1930, Philip’s parents had separated. According to Philip’s cousin, his father “wasn’t on the scene at all” from then on, and had fled to the south of France with a mistress. At the same time, Philip’s mother had a breakdown and spent time hospitalised over her mental health.
A GREEK PRINCE WHO WAS NOT GREEK
Despite holding the title of being a Prince of Greece, Philip did not actually have any Greek blood. Instead, he was of Danish, English, Russian and German/Prussian descent.
As mentioned, Prince Philip’s family were not of Greek descent, but Danish. Philip’s paternal great-grandfather was King Christian IX (9th) of Denmark. King Christian was also commonly referred to as the “grandfather of Europe,” as four of his six children ascended European thrones.
Back in the 1860s after a coup overthrew a previous monarchy, it was decided King Christian’s son Vilhelm, a Danish prince, would take over the Greek monarchy.
Vilhelm took the name George I, and became King of Greece. His spouse, Queen Olga, hailed from the Romanov dynasty in Russia.
One of their sons was Prince Andrew, Prince Philip’s father. He went on to marry Philip’s Mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, a descendant of Queen Victoria.
PRINCE PHILIP’S ANCESTRY
The Queen and Prince Philip were third cousins as well as husband and wife. Both descend from the two most influential European royal families of recent time - Queen Victoria and King Christian IX (9th) of Denmark.
Queen Victoria reigned as British Monarch between 1837 and 1901. King Christian reigned from 1863 until his death in 1906.
Below is a bullet point list explaining Prince Philip’s ancestry. I hope you’ll find helpful;
Prince Philip’s connection to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert;
- Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Alice, married Ludwig IV, Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine
- Their daughter, Princess Victoria of Hesse and Rhine, married Prince Louis of Battenberg
- One of their four children was Princess Alice of Battenberg, Prince Philip’s Mother
Worth noting: The Queen - like Prince Philip - is a great-great grandchild of Queen Victoria.
Prince Philip’s connection to King Christian IX of Denmark;
- King Christian’s son Vilhelm, took over the Greek throne as King George I
- One of King George’s sons was Prince Andrew, Prince Philip’s Mother
Worth noting: The Queen descends from King Christian through her great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra. Alexandra was a daughter of King Christian, and she married Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII.
PRINCE PHILIP’S PARENTS
Prince Andrew and Princess Alice married in 1903, and were together 18 years before having their only son, Prince Philip.
Prince Andrew was a first cousin of both King George V of Britain, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
In a reminder of his royal lineage, Prince Philip passed away this morning in the same place where his Mother, Princess Alice, was born - Windsor Castle.
Princess Alice was born there in 1885 and was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who was the reigning monarch at the time.
While there is much less known about Prince Andrew’s life between 1930 and his death in 1944, Princess Alice’s struggles were well documented.
Princess Alice’s mental health struggles
According to Prince Philip’s cousin, his mother was largely deaf and widely misunderstood.
Her mental health struggles - which were “rather hushed up and not very well treated or understood” - led to a forced hospitalisation by her own family after a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
In 1930, Princess Alice was treated by Sigmund Freud after being forcibly taken to a Swiss sanatorium, where she remained for two years.
Freud believed Princess Alice’s religious delusions were “the product of sexual frustration and recommended X-raying her ovaries in order to kill off her libido”.
Role of religion
Following her release from hospital, Princess Alice decided to become a nun, much to the surprise of her own mother who was quiet “skeptical” about it.
If you look back at footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, you can see her Mother-in-law Princess Alice walking through Westminster Abbey wearing a habit.
By 1935, the unstable Greek Monarchy was restored once again and Princess Alice returned to Athens.
During her time in Athens, Princess Alice set up a religious order, ‘The Sisterhood of Martha and Mary’. It was in a poor suburb of Athens, where Alice is said to have lived the simple life of any other nun.
Connection to Judaism
By the early 1940s, the Nazis had taken over Athens during WWII.
During the height of the occupation, Alice hid a prominent Jewish family from the Gestapo - the secret police of the Nazis.
Pretending she could not lip read, Alice fooled officers into thinking she did not understand them when they called to enquire who was at the premises.
“Without her, without any doubt, they would have perished, perished completely… and perished in a very, very monstrous way. Yes, she has been the angel of the family.” - Stella Cohen speaking about her family who were saved by Princess Alice
By 1967, the Greek monarchy was ousted once again and Princess Alice moved back to the UK to live with her son and his family at Buckingham Palace.
Before her death at the palace in 1969, Princess Alice revealed her wish to be buried at Mt of Olives in Jerusalem.
In 1988, after years of negotiations between church authorities, Princess Alice’s coffin was flown to Jerusalem and interred in the Orthodox Church in the Mt of Olives.
As mentioned, Prince Philip’s parents separated in 1930. Following this, a young Prince Philip went to England where he was raised by his maternal grandmother and uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten.
Like the royal family - who changed their name to the House of Windsor to sound less German during WWI - Prince Philip’s uncle changed their family name from Battenberg to Mountbatten.
Reflecting on this time, Mountbatten’s daughter once said it was a “rather lonely and difficult childhood” for Prince Philip.
For example, Philip once signed their guestbook by listing his address as “no fixed abode!”
In terms of education, Philip was briefly enrolled in a German school until “the Nazi’s had almost taken over,” and he was then brought back to the UK. There he attended Gordonstoun boarding school.
In 1937, a teenage Philip suffered a devastating loss when his sister Cecile - who was eight months pregnant with her fourth child - and her family were killed in an accident while flying to the UK.
According to his cousin, Philip never spoke much about the tragedy, but “one day produced something out of his pocket and said ‘oh this is a bit of the aeroplane’, just that, no more”.
Throughout this period of Philip’s life, his uncle Lord Mountbatten had a significant influence over him - even playing somewhat of a matchmaker.
Important to note: Prince Philip’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was murdered by the IRA in 1979 during the height of ‘The Troubles’. A bomb was planted under his boat off the coast of Mayo, where he had a holiday home.
MEETING PRINCESS ELIZABETH
According to the Royal Family website, Princess Elizabeth and Philip first met when she was just eight years old, at a family wedding in 1934.
The wedding was of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip’s first cousin) to George, Duke of Kent (uncle of Princess Elizabeth).
Five years later and just months prior to the outbreak of WWII, the pair met again at Dartmouth College where Philip served as a chaperone to the young princess.
By the mid 1940s, rumours circulated about the relationship between the two.
According to a cousin of Prince Philip that match was “not altogether something which made old-fashioned courtiers very comfortable”.
“I think they were rather worried that too much fresh air was going to be let in.” - Prince Philip’s cousin, the Countess of Burma
Despite the King’s Private Secretary refuting rumours of an imminent engagement announcement, speculation continued to mount when a small newspaper notice revealed Philip had “submitted an application for naturalisation”.
Less than three month’s after the Queen’s 21st birthday, their engagement was announced. The couple got married on November 20, 1947.
The couple went on to have four children, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren with an 11th on the way.
In 2007, their marriage became the longest in the British Monarchy’s history, when the couple celebrated their 60th (Diamond) wedding anniversary.
Prince Philip became the longest-serving British consort (companion to the Sovereign) in 2009.
Prior to his retirement in August 2017, Prince Philip had carried out more than 22,000 solo engagements and delivered nearly 5,500 speeches. He often humorously referred to himself as “the world’s chief plaque unveiler”.
*Please note that the official Royal Family website is temporarily unavailable “while appropriate changes are made” following today’s announcement. Much of my research for this piece came from there, but that is why I have not included many links in this piece.