From Princess Diana‘s tragic life to the fairy-tale nuptials of her sons Prince William and Prince Harry, we Americans have long been enthralled with the daily goings-on of the royal blue bloods across the pond. In fact, one of the most fascinating royals is Queen Elizabeth’s longtime husband Prince Philip, who perhaps doesn’t land in the spotlight as much as his more famous family members. However, his tumultuous childhood and eventual marriage to the future queen of England is surprisingly cinematic (as any fan of Netlfix’s The Crown knows).
Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921. His father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and his mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg. Despite being born to royal parents, Prince Philip did not have an easy childhood. War between the Greeks and the Turks forced Philip’s father to flee Greece with his family in late 1922 when the prince was just a baby. Because he was so young when his family fled, Prince Philip says he isn’t fluent in Greek. “If anything, I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian — particularly, Danish. We spoke English at home,” he said in a 1992 interview.
Young Prince Philip in 1935. (Photo Credit Getty Images)
Prince Andrew, his wife, and the couple’s five children — including Prince Philip — settled in Paris at the house of a rich releative. Prince Philip attended school first in France and then in England before joining the British Navy in 1939. For the next couple of years, he earned several awards for war-time bravery. He also became one of the youngest first lieutenants at the time when, at just 21 years old, he was chosen as the first lieutenant of the HMS Wallace.
Prince Philip in uniform in 1945. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Prince Philip’s Siblings
Prince Philip was both his family’s youngest child and the only boy. His older sisters — Margarita (born in 1905), Theodora (born in 1906), Cecilie (born in 1911), and Sophie (born in 1914) — all married German nobility. For much of his childhood, Prince Philip was raised separately from his sisters, which was partly due to the circumstances at the time. Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a sanatorium in Switzerland in 1930, and Prince Philip’s father lived in the South of France after he was exiled from Greece. With no parents to raise him, Philip was sent away to live with relatives — apart from his siblings who by that time were already engaged and raising families. His traumatic childhood is covered in more detail in Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life ($22.99, Amazon), which was written by Philip Eade and published back in 2011 to coincide with his 90th birthday.
One particularly sad tale from his childhood involves his sister Cecilie. A pregnant Cecilie was on the way to her brother-in-law’s wedding with her husband, Grand Duke Georg Donatus, and their children when their plane crashed after striking a chimney. Everyone on board died, including the couple’s two sons and Cecilie’s unborn child. Cecilie’s daughter (who wasn’t on the flight) was sent to live with other family members, but she died of meningitis just two years later.
Later in life, Prince Philip became close with his youngest sister, Sophie. Her nickname was “Tiny,” which is so much funnier when you realize just how tall she is. Prince Philip’s height is listed at 6′, and Sophie is only a few inches shorter. Sadly, Sophie died in 2001 shortly before the queen’s sister, Margaret, and the queen mother.
From left to right: King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Sophie, and Prince Philip in 1988. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
How did Queen Elizabeth II meet Prince Philip?
Queen Elizabeth was touring Darmouth, the royal naval academy, with her father and younger sister when she and her cousin first met. (Yes, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are related — but distantly). At the time, the future queen was only 13 years old, but she was smitten after seeing the tall, dashing Naval officer. Despite her young age, Queen Elizabeth fell in love with Prince Philip and began writing him letters. Eventually, Prince Philip asked King George, the queen’s father, for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the king accepted provided the two not marry until Queen Elizabeth had turned 21. “Philip had a capacity for love which was waiting to be unlocked, and Elizabeth unlocked it,” Philip’s cousin Patricia Mountbatten said.
Because Prince Philip had been baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, wanted to officially recieve Prince Philip into the Church of England — which he did in October of 1947. By this time, Prince Philip had also renounced his Greek and Danish titles, taken on the last name Mounbatten from his mother’s side, and become a naturalized British citizen.
The beautiful couple wed on the morning of November 20, 1947, and like the royal weddings of this century, the BBC Radio broadcast their nuptials to an audience of more than 200 million. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth have since been married for more than seven decades, making them the longest married British royal couple in history.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth with their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1959. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Scroll through to learn more about the life of young Prince Philip.
Prince Philip Young
Prince Philip as a Child
"Whereas the Queen experienced a very close-knit and happy family life — apart from the abdication in 1936 when she was 10 — Philip’s childhood was far more turbulent," author Philip Eade told Town & Country. As the youngest child and the only boy, Prince Philip was separated from his sisters for most of his childhood.
His situation with his parents wasn't much better either. "Though his parents both adored him, Philip saw little of them in his nomadic early years," Eade detailed in his book Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life. "His mother’s nerves had been badly strained by the family’s exile from Greece, and because of this the children were regularly packed off to friends and relations."
Prince Philip Mother
Philip's mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg (pictured above), had a nervous breakdown after the family's exile. She began hearing voices and believed she had a physical relationship with Jesus. The princess was forced to stay at a sanatorium in Switzerland after doctors in Berlin diagnosed her as suffering from schizophrenia.
"It was literally a car and men in white coats, coming to take her away," her biographer Hugo Vickers said.
Princess Alice was a deeply religious woman. In 1949, she founded an order of Greek Orthodox nuns. Though the order failed because there were not enough suitable applicants, Princess Alice maintained her strong religious convictions throughout the rest of her life.
Prince Philip Naval Uniform
Prince Philip entered the Royal Naval Academy in 1939 and graduated at the top of his class. It was at the Naval Academy where Prince Philip, then 18, was asked to escort his third cousin, the then-Princess Elizabeth, during a royal visit. (They both call Queen Victoria their great-great grandmother.)
Prince Philip Queen Elizabeth
The two exchanged letters for a period of years before announcing their engagement on July 10, 1947. In a letter to his future wife, the young prince wrote: "To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one's personal and even the world's troubles seem small and petty."
Queen Elizabeth Wedding
On November 20, 1947, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth tied the knot at Westminster Abbey, but they did not have the easiest courtship. In addition to King George's reservations about his daughter getting married too young, Queen Elizabeth's mother secretly called Prince Philip "the Hun" because of his German heritage.
Prince Philip Queen Elizabeth Wedding
Queen Elizabeth's determination obviously paid off, and Prince Philip eventually proposed to his future wife with a three-carat diamond engagement ring. The band, which features a center stone flanked by 10 smaller diamonds, was made using stones from a tiara belonging to Prince Philip's mother.
Prince Philip's mother, Princess Alice, received the tiara from Tsar Nicholas — the last tsar of Russia — and his wife on Alice's wedding day. Alice gave her son the tiara in preparation for his proposal, and Prince Philip worked with a jeweler in London to craft a custom-made sparkler.
Prince Philip Queen Elizabeth
As much in love today as they were the day they married, the Queen and Prince Philip hold the record for the longest marriage of any British ruler. They have four grown children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward.
Prince Philip Queen Elizabeth Prince Charles
The couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Prince Charles, in 1948. At the time of Prince Charles' birth, Prince Philip remarked "He looks like a plum pudding!"
Prince Philip Title
When Prince Philip married Queen Elizabeth, he received the title of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich of Greenwich in the County of London. Prior to his marriage, he abandoned his Greek and Danish titles and switched to using Mountbatten, his mother's family name, as his last name.
Prince Philip Queen Elizabeth Children
Like smitten couples, Prince Philip has adorable pet names for his wife. He reportedly calls her "cabbage" and "sausage."
Prince Philip Sports
Prince Philip is known as a big sports fan, and before his retirement, he was the patron of hundreds of organizations in the UK.