"When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife."
Prince Philip was born as Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, Prince of Greece and Denmark on June 10th, 1921 in the Greek royal residence of Mon Repos, Corfu. Son to Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Battenberg and Grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark and Prince Louis of Battenberg, Prince Philip was instantly feted as being the hope of the world's most celebrated Royal dynasties. He is related to all the strong European Royal families, Denmark, England, Hesse, Germany and Russia.
His idyllic lifestyle and happy childhood did not last long. When he was just 18 months old, in 1922, King Constantine of Greece abdicated and a military junta seized power. When a revolutionary court in Greece sentenced Prince Andrew to death, as part of the "Trial of the Six", the family were forced to flee the country.
In an act of kindness that was never to be forgotten, Britain's King George V, upon hearing the news a day after the trial, despatched a Royal Navy warship, HMS Calypso, to evacuate them. The entire family climbed aboard wearing and carrying what they could and Prince Philip was famously taken aboard in a cot made from an orange box. When the Navy dropped the family at Brindisi, they were put on a train to Paris.
The bonds and loyalty of Royalty came to their rescue again as the family were given the run of a villa on the outskirts of Paris called St Cloud. The villa belonged to Marie Bonaparte, Prince Philip's Aunt. The young Prince started school in France but went to England to attend Cheam Preparatory School in 1928.
Prince Andrew and Princess Alice's marriage suffered as a result of the trauma they suffered. Princess Alice suffered a nervous breakdown and the couple finally separated in 1930. Prince Philip's life continued to be fragmented and he hardly spent any time with his parents either before or after the breakdown of their marriage, spending his time instead with relatives (mainly the British and German Royal families). This forced Philip to be very independent from an early age and distanced him from his family. The family were very poor, in fact; Philip's inheritance from his father when he died was an ivory-handled shaving brush and a few moth-eaten suits.
Philip was 12 and at school in Salem, Germany when the Nazis took power. His headmaster there, Kurt Hahn, was Jewish and heavily influenced the young Prince. Philip found the Nazis foolish but the majority of his family did not share this opinion - his sisters all married Germans and fought in World War II. Had he stayed in Germany would have been ideal Nazi fodder (being a handsome, blonde-haired youth) and would have probably had career in the SS (an uncle already being a member).
Kurt Hahn fled the Nazi persecution and made his way to Britain, where he set up school in Gordonstoun, Morayshire, Scotland. Victoria Alberta then helped Philip move to Britain and his Uncle George became his guardian. Prince Philip followed his old headmaster and was so impressed by his education at Gordonstoun that he sent all three of his sons there too (with varying degrees of success, Charles hated it). His school career was highlighted by his becoming Head of School and also Captain of both the hockey and cricket teams.
Once his education was over, in 1939, Philip joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet. He trained at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where he was awarded the King's Dirk and was the best Cadet of his entry. It was at the Royal Naval College that Philip met the then Princess Elizabeth, she was 13 and he was 18. Lord Louis Mountbatten had organised the royal visit and had arranged for Philip to act as an escort. Her governess recalled Philip as "a fair-haired boy, rather like a Viking with a sharp face and piercing blue eyes, came in. He was good looking, though rather off-hand in his manner." She also said of the encounter that Elizabeth was instantly smitten and that "Lillibet (Elizabeth) never took her eyes off him the whole time." However, the potential relationship had to be put on hold as World War II loomed and despite a Christmas visit, the majority of the couple's early relationship was conducted via letters.
In 1940, he was assigned as a midshipman to the battleship HMS Ramillies and spent six months in the Indian Ocean. By 1941, Philip had joined HMS Valiant in Alexandria. He was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Greek War Cross for his involvement in night action (he was in charge of Valiant's search light control) during the Battle of Matapan.
After this tour of duty, he returned home and completed some technical training before joining the HMS Wallace based at Rosyth for convoy escort duties. By the end of July, 1942, he was promoted to Lieutenant and in October in the same year, he was appointed First Lieutenant (second in command) of HMS Wallace - he was unusually young for such a position, being just 21. Philip also assisted to lead the ship's crew for the Allied landings on Sicily in July 1943.
After further study, Philip was appointed First Lieutenant of the new Fleet Destroyer HMS Whelp, which joined the 27th Destroyer Flotilla. They sailed for the Indian Ocean and joined the British Pacific Fleet. The ship was present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed their surrender and returned home in January 1946.
His sisters had married into Nazi Germany and as a result, Philip continued to distance himself from them both during and after the war. In 1947, he became a British citizen and renounced his religion, nationality and his name. He became Philip Mountbatten, an Anglised version of Battenberg (from his mother's side of the family). The British public, in their own unique way, often referred to him as the Big Bubble (after the cockney rhyming slang, bubble and squeak - Greek).
It was in July 1947 that Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten's engagement to Princess Elizabeth was announced. It was at this time that he also renounced his titles as Prince of Greece and Denmark. Instead he was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich with the style of His Royal Highness and appointed a Knight of the Garter by King George VI shortly before Philip and Elizabeth's wedding at Westminster Abbey on November 20th, 1947.
Until his wife's ascension to the throne in 1952, Philip still served in the Navy. After teaching at the Petty Officers' School and attending the Naval Staff College at Greenwich, he was assigned to HMS Chequers in 1949, again as First Lieutenant. Following a promotion to Lieutenant-Commander in 1950, he was placed in command of the Frigate HMS Magpie. By 1952, he and his wife had two children (Charles and Anne) and Philip had been promoted to Commander. However, during a Royal tour of Kenya, George VI was taken ill and died, meaning Elizabeth would have to take the throne. Suddenly, Philip was required to be subservient to his wife, something which he has always found hard to do and has never fully adjusted to.
Perhaps to make up for his sudden "fall from power", Philip took to revolutionising the monarchy and the way the family was seen. He reasoned that if the monarchy was to survive that they must rid themselves of their anachronistic habits and think of themselves as a family with a job to do - in an almost Mafia style. He was resisted at every turn but the more resistance he encountered, the more he pushed for change. His concern has always been that if the monarchy did not change and adjust their role, that they would die out - and he has helped transform the Royal Family from a dinosaur to an active part of British charitable and industrial life.
Despite not having an active career in the forces, Philip retained close links with them. In 1952, he was appointed Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the Army Cadet Force and Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps. The following year, he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet and appointed Field Marshal and Marshal of the Royal Air Force. He is also Captain-General of the Royal Marines and Colonel-in-Chief, or Colonel, of a number of British and overseas regiments.
Throughout the 1950s, the marriage was dogged by stories of affairs and problems - the British press (with the majority of the British people revering the monarchy) said nothing of his almost bachelor lifestyle but the European papers had field days, reporting debauchery and extravagance at every turn. His behaviour was eventually curtailed when one of his "partners in crime", a Mr Michael Parker, was reported as being sued for divorce by his wife for "sexual misconduct". It opened a floodgate with the British press and Prince Philip was suddenly seen by the British public as an unknown quantity, something to be reigned in and put in its place. Having previously been unrecognised by the constitution, he was created a Prince of the Realm in February 1957, when Elizabeth declared that Philip was to be granted the style and dignity of a Prince of the United Kingdom, and that in future he would be known as "The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh". Finally, Philip had a place and in a landmark speech, he told the people that he was prepared to make many more personal sacrifices in deference to the common good.
Despite the issues in their marriage, Philip and Elizabeth had another two children (Andrew and Edward) and have lasted longer than many believed they would. All the children have the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor, which was given to them by Queen Elizabeth II in honour of Prince Philip by an Order-in-Council in 1960 and on his 47th birthday, in June 1968, she appointed him to the Order of Merit.
In September 1953, Queen Elizabeth declared by Royal Warrant that Prince Philip had "place, pre-eminence and precedence" next to herself "on all occasions and in all meetings, except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament". As a result, Prince Philip accompanies Queen Elizabeth during her political engagements and on all her Commonwealth tours and State Visits overseas. He also accompanies The Queen on a great many of her engagements within the UK. He has also travelled abroad a great deal by himself, in 2004 he undertook around 423 engagements with The Queen and on his own in the UK and abroad.
Contribution to society
Prince Philip has many important and varied roles in the Royal household, although society and the media do not notice many of them. For example, since 1952 he has acted as Ranger of Windsor Great Park. The sprawling park covers some 14,000 acres in Berkshire and Philip has the responsibility for the entire running. This huge role sees the Prince looking after a farm, forest and great swathes of publicly accessible parkland.
This, alongside his often controversial involvement of the World Wildlife Fund (he was the first President but has oft been criticised for his involvement in blood sports), highlights his interests in the environment and conservationism (something he has certainly passed to his eldest son). He is also Patron or President of some 800 organisations and charities.
As mentioned before, Philip still contributes a great deal to the armed services, he is Grand Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire, and Master of Trinity House. He is also President of Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron, and has twice served as President of the Marylebone Cricket Club (the MCC).
1956 saw the formation of what many recognise as the Prince's greatest contribution to society, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. The scheme was created in order to encourage creative achievement among young people between 15 and 25, able-bodied or disabled. There are three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold - which each include four sections : service, expeditions, skills and physical recreation. More than 4 million people in over 60 countries have taken part since its inception and the Prince acts as Patron and Chairman of Trustees. He also devotes a lot of time to presenting Gold awards and promoting the project both in the UK and overseas.
He has been Chancellor of the University of Wales (1948 onwards), Edinburgh University (1952 onwards), Salford University (1967 - 1971) and Cambridge University (1977 onwards) and also acts as Life Governor of King's College, London and Patron of London Guildhall University.
Prince Philip is a huge fan of polo. He learned to play while stationed in Malta and played on a regular basis until 1971. He also has represented the UK at several European and World four-in-hand driving Championships. His love for horses is demonstrated by his Presidency of the International Equestrian Federation from 1964 to 1986.
Philip, the great ambassador?
"What do you gargle with - pebbles?"
Said to Tom Jones after the The Royal Variety Performance in 1969.
Prince Philip is often critised for his gaffes and socially unacceptable outbursts. Philip, however, is not someone to keep their piece of mind to himself and sometimes actually says what many are thinking. He has very strong opinions and loathes hypocrisy (which is unsurprising, when one considers his life experience), which can sometimes lead to him "putting his foot in it". Often though, they are meant to be jokes and are either very misguided or misread by a society who just expect him to make a gaffe. When he asked a group of Aboriginals, "Do you still throw spears at each other?", the group he was speaking to found it funny and laughed but it was (and still is) counted as "another awful gaffe from the Prince" by many.
"Do you know they have eating dogs for the anorexic now?"
Said to a blind woman with a guide dog.
Sometimes, though, one is lead to wonder what he was thinking. He once greeted Helmut Kohl as "Reichskanzler", a title Hitler gave to himself which has never been used since.
"If it has got four legs and it is not a chair,
if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane,
and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it."
Said at a World Wildlife Fund meeting in 1986
Ill-timed comments aside, the Prince has resigned himself to being a caricature, portrayed by the media as a crass, tactless man. When asked, in a recent interview, whether he wished to be remembered as the "Duke of Gaffes", his reply was, "What you wish to be remembered for has nothing to do with it. You can wish all sorts of things. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Noded for Everything's Most Wanted