By Obadiah Mailafia
PRINCE Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, passed away on Friday April 9, aged 99. He was barely two months away from his 100th birthday. He will be buried on Saturday April 17 at the cemetery at Windsor Castle after a family funeral service at St. George’s Chapel. In strict adherence to his wishes, it would be a low-key family affair.
It is the end of an era. For more than 70 years, the duke faithfully served as royal consort; putting duty before everything else; a loving husband and a doting father to his children. While she reigned as monarch, he held sway as head of the tribe; keeping “The Firm” in steady-state in good times and in bad. It has been said that a few bloodlines rule the world.
His spiderweb of kinship linked him with nearly all the monarchies of Europe: from the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs to the Romanovs and Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He and Elizabeth were third cousins removed; both of them great-great grandchildren of Queen Victoria. His mother Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969) was a niece to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, wife of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
He never forgave the Bolsheviks for murdering his relatives, the Romanovs of Russia. In 1993, his DNA was used to identify their remains from a pit in Yekaterinburg. He was born Philippos Schleswig-Holstein SonderburgGlucksburg at the royal Old Fortress in Mon Repos, in the Greek island of Corfu on 10 June, 1921. His parents were Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
He was a member of both the Greek and Danish royal families by virtue of his patrilineal descent from George I of Greece and Christian IX of Denmark. After the war against the Turks (1919—1922) in which the Greeks lost, his uncle King Constantine I was forced to abdicate in September 1922. The royal family were banished from Greece forever.
His parents moved to France where they lived in penurious circumstances in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Cloud, with handouts from a wealthy aunt, Marie Bonaparte, Princess George of Greece and Denmark. His mother suffered a mental breakdown and was confined to an asylum in Switzerland. His father abandoned him and went off to Monte Carlo with a mistress.
His three elder sisters moved to Germany where they married into prominent families that were associated with the Nazis. At the age of eight, he was sent to England, a poor, lonely boy who was often shuffled from one relative to another during school vacations. He attended the local school while living at Kensington Palace with his maternal grandmother, Victoria Mountbatten, Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven and his uncle George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven.
[ALSO READ] The audacity of anarchy
In 1933, he was sent off to a boarding school in Germany owned by the family of his brother-in-law, Berthold, Margrave of Baden. With the rise of the Nazis, the school’s Jewish founder, Kurt Hahn, fled to Scotland, where he founded the famous Gordonstoun School. Philip was sent there after just two terms in Germany. Kurt Hahn had a rather quirky philosophy of education. He believed that adolescence is a form of mental illness that was best cured with cold baths in winter.
Philip seemed to have taken to the school’s rather Spartan regimen. But his son Charles, who was later sent there, hated it. With no money and hardly any prospects, his uncle Louis Mountbatten encouraged him to go into the navy. After leaving Gordonstoun in 1939, he enrolled in the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. That same year, King George VI was visiting the naval academy.
As fate would have it, Cadet officer Philip was instructed to show the king’s daughters Elizabeth and Margaret around the college. For the young Princess Elizabeth, it was love at first sight. She was smitten by the tall and dashingly handsome naval cadet officer. She wrote to a friend that she had met a “Viking god”. According to Philip’s uncle Louis Mountbatten: “The colour drained from her face and then she blushed.
She stared at him and for the rest of the day followed him everywhere. She was in love from the beginning.” She was 13 and he 18. They began a long-term correspondence and friendship that blossomed into holy wedlock. Philip graduated in 1940 as best cadet year of the year. He was soon called up to active service as World War II broke out.
He served on warships in the Indian, Mediterranean and Pacific Oceans. He was promoted to lieutenant in July 1942. He was present at Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered to General Macarthur in July 1945. In the summer of 1946, he formally asked the King for the hand of his daughter in marriage. The engagement was announced in July 1947. Not everybody was enthusiastic. One of them was Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who, until her death in March 2002, always referred to him as “the Hun”. Some of the courtiers sniped at his pennilessness.
Many distrusted his German roots, including his larger than life and overly ambitious uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Other courtiers worried that he was “rough, illmannered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful”. As preparation for the wedding progressed, he took steps to become a naturalised British subject. He dropped his Greek royal titles. He also dropped his Germanic surname and went for the more anglicized maternal surname of Mountbatten.
He was also received into the Church of England, even though he had been baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. A day before the wedding, he was bestowed with the title of Royal Highness. And on the morning of the wedding, he became Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London. He was also ennobled as a Knight of the Garter.
The wedding of the century took place at Westminster Abbey in the glorious autumn morning of November 20, 1947; witnessed by more than 200 million across the world on TV and radio. Philip was a breath of fresh air to an otherwise staid and increasingly colourless monarchy. According to an eye-witness: “The Queen was young and beautiful.
Philip was Prince Charming incarnate: handsome, brave and armed with a very unBritish set of sparkling white teeth.” During the ceremonies at Westminster Abbey, her father the king was heard to mutter: “I wonder if Philip knows what he is taking….One day Lilibet will be queen and he will be consort. That’s much harder than being a king, but I think he’s the man for the job.” It became a prophecy come true! After a brief honeymoon at the Mountbatten family home, Broadlands, Philip returned to his naval duties.
He served at the Admiralty before being sent on a course at the Naval Staff College, Greenwich. He was later posted to the naval base in Malta. The couple always recalled those years with very fond memories. In November 1951, Philip and Elizabeth were on a grand tour of the Commonwealth. In January 1952, while they were staying at Sagana Lodge in Kenya, Philip broke the news to her that the King had died and that she was now Queen.
The couple left immediately. Philip ended his naval career in July 1952 when Elizabeth became Queen. He had risen to the rank of Commander. Incidentally, his son Charles and grandchildren William and Harry were to follow the same path into the navy. The coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Princess Elizabeth Windsor became Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. The bells tolled in all the churches and cathedrals of England as they had done with every coronation since time immemorial.