Spanning over eight decades; the most senior and longest serving British royal consort, who sadly passed away at Windsor Castle on 9th April, was married to Queen Elizabeth II, for 73 years.
While it has been well-documented that the young Princess Elizabeth first fell for her future husband when she was only 13 years old, they had actually known each other since childhood. Prince Philip was the Queen’s distant cousin, both being great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria.
When Queen Elizabeth met Prince Philip in 1934, they were both guests at the royal wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent, to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark. At the time, Philip was 13 and Princess Elizabeth was eight years old.
How did they spend their childhood?
Prince Philip was born in 1921 on the Greek island of Corfu, the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg, who was of British ancestry. Due to the political instability of the era, Prince Andrew and Princess Alice left Corfu with their family in December 1922.
They fled to safety in England on a Royal Navy ship, on the instructions of King George V. Prince Philip, then 18 months old, was carried in his cot. Subsequently, he grew up in England and his family moved in the same social circles as the young Princess Elizabeth, who was born in Mayfair, London, in April 1926.
Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret were educated at home, studying language, literature, history and music under the guidance of their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford. Philip was educated at Cheam School in Headley and later attended the prestigious Gordonstoun School in Scotland.
Royal couple’s first meeting
The wedding of Prince George, Duke of Kent, to Princess Marina on 29th November 1934, comprised two ceremonies: the first was a Church of England ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and this was followed by a Greek Orthodox service at Buckingham Palace’s Private Chapel.
A momentous occasion, it was the first time a royal wedding was broadcast live over the radio to the British public. Around 1,500 guests attended the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey, where the young Princess Elizabeth was a bridesmaid. Although they were first introduced to each other at the wedding, as relatives of the bride and groom, Elizabeth and Philip were little more than acquaintances at that time.
Their next meeting was at the coronation of George VI in May 1937. Princess Elizabeth, now aged 11, watched her father and mother as they became King and Queen of England and the Commonwealth at Westminster Abbey.
Although Prince Philip was again in attendance as a family member, he and the young princess had different circles of close friends and remained simply acquaintances and distant cousins.
Tennis court love
The youngsters’ third meeting two years later was much more memorable. When Philip met Elizabeth in 1939, the 13-year-old princess fell for the dashing 18-year-old straight away, according to royal biographers.
Elizabeth and Margaret went with their parents on a family visit to the Royal Naval college, in the port of Dartmouth in Devon. Following a service at the college chapel, Philip was asked to accompany the royal party on a tour of the campus.
They walked to the tennis courts, where he began fooling around, jumping over the net, according to the girls’ governess, Marion Crawford. At 6ft tall, with his fair hair and blue eyes, he looked like a Viking, she recalled. Princess Elizabeth was smitten and remarked on his athleticism to her governess.
Later that day, Prince Philip was invited to attend a royal dinner party on board the King’s yacht, where Elizabeth blushed a little when she chatted and laughed with him, Marion remembered.
Lord Louis Mountbatten later wrote in his journal what a “great success” his nephew Philip had been with the princesses, while Elizabeth’s cousin, Margaret Rhodes, said the young princess was “truly in love” with him from that moment onwards.
At this stage, Prince Philip didn’t return the romantic feelings. In an interview, many years later, he explained he viewed her as a friend, although said the horseplay on the tennis court had been “a very amusing experience”. At 13, she was a little young to be romantically linked to an 18-year-old, although he enjoyed her friendship.
Romance by letter
Soon after their meeting at the naval college, World War II broke out. Philip served with the Royal Navy, including on HMS Valiant, a battleship in the Mediterranean Fleet. He fought in the battle of Crete and his subsequent bravery in the Battle of Cape Matapan led to his being mentioned in dispatches.
He was promoted to one of the Royal Navy’s youngest first lieutenants at 21. In July 1943, at the age of 22, his heroics saved his ship, the destroyer HMS Wallace, from enemy attack in the Mediterranean.
He devised a daring plan to distract the enemy bombers from a night attack by launching a decoy – a raft covered with smoke floats. His actions enabled his ship to sail safely away unnoticed
By this time, Princess Elizabeth was 17 and had written diligently to Philip throughout the war. Although she was said to be in love with him, he had largely regarded her letters as being a sign of their friendship – until he went to Windsor Castle later that year, during shore leave.
After meeting the Princess again, Philip began carrying her photo with him for the rest of the war. He later revealed that he was thinking seriously about marriage soon after the war, when he went to Balmoral to visit the royal family. His formal request to Elizabeth’s father to be considered as her suitor was accepted and he proposed in 1946. They married a year later, on 20th November 1947, at Westminster Abbey.
The couple’s first child, Prince Charles, was born in November 1948, followed by Princess Anne in August 1950, Prince Andrew in February 1960 and Prince Edward in March 1964.
The most life-changing moment of their early marriage occurred on 6th February 1952, during their official visit to Kenya. Until this time, they had lived a relatively carefree life as newlyweds, but the untimely death of King George VI, at the age of 56, led to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953.
Prince Philip, who was 32, gave up his much-loved naval career to become his wife’s consort for the rest of his life. At the age of 27, Queen Elizabeth’s life of service and public duty began. Prince Philip remained at her side for 73 years, supporting his beloved wife every step of the way.