Prince Philip lived an extraordinary and eventful life. He will be remembered for many things, but mainly for his devotion to his wife, Queen Elizabeth. The two were married for 73 years, and their love story is a true fairytale.
How Philip and Elizabeth Met, and Their Wartime Correspondence
The couple first met at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, Duke of Kent, in 1932. Elizabeth was 7 years old and not set to inherit the throne yet (she became heir when Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, making her father King George VI), and Philip was 12. Though the children were young, newspapers already predicted that the two would be a suitable match.
They met again in 1939 at Dartmouth Naval College when 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth was heir to the British throne, and 18-year-old Philip was a naval cadet.
Royal historian Kate Williams writes, “Elizabeth had led a very sheltered life with her family, spending most of her time with her sister and governess. Touring the college with her parents and sister, she was dazzled by the star cadet, who would soon be off on active service. Elizabeth’s fascination was obvious to all and was most gratifying to Philip’s uncle, Dickie Mountbatten, who was hopeful of encouraging a marriage — with himself as the power behind the throne. When the royal party left Dartmouth on the Royal Yacht, all the cadets followed behind in their little boats — until the King instructed them to return to shore. They all did as they were told, apart from Philip, who carried on rowing with all his might as Elizabeth watched him through binoculars.”
World War II broke out shortly afterward, but the pair communicated through letters while Philip served in the Royal Navy and Elizabeth served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service in the war’s later years.
Philip and Elizabeth’s Wedding and the Early Marriage Years
Their official courtship began after the war ended in 1945. Their romance was kept a secret from the public, but a photo taken at the 1946 wedding of Lady Patricia Mountbatten shows the young couple exchanging flirtatious glances
They became engaged during the summer of 1947. Though Elizabeth’s family initially disapproved of Philip, they approved of the match when they realized that the couple was truly in love. In a letter to the Queen Mother (Elizabeth’s mother) before the wedding, Philip wrote that he had "fallen in love completely and unreservedly."
The wedding was held on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey in London and was broadcasted via radio worldwide. It was the first major public event since the end of the war, making the occasion even more special. Elizabeth was 21, and Philip was 26.
They spent their first few years of marriage as the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and resided in Malta for Philip’s naval career. Biographer Ben Pimlott refers to the Malta years as the "most 'normal' of Elizabeth's life." They had two children in this time period: Prince Charles in 1948 and Anne, Princess Royal, in 1950.
Everything changed during a trip to Kenya in 1952, when the King died. Philip was the one who told the 25-year-old Elizabeth that her father had died and that she was now Queen of England. Her official coronation was held on June 2, 1953. When Elizabeth became Queen, Philip was forced to step down from his naval career to serve as her consort.
The Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh
Though the transition from being a young family in Malta to living in Buckingham Palace wasn’t easy, Elizabeth and Philip prevailed. They had two more children: Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964. They now have eight grandchildren: Willam and Harry from Charles, Peter and Zara from Anne, Beatrice and Eugenie from Andrew, and Louise and James from Edward. They also have ten great-grandchildren, most famously George, Charlotte, and Louis from William, and Archie and a baby girl due this summer from Harry.
Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage was a true partnership. Since Elizabeth’s role was very public as Queen, Philip handled things in the family behind the scenes. Historian Sarah Gristwood writes, “A huge invisible part of Prince Philip’s work and legacy is the support he gave the queen, which has been invaluable to her. The fact her monarchy has been so long and successful is in large part to his work behind the scenes.”
His support and sense of humor helped keep their marriage strong, as Prince William said, "He makes her laugh because some of the things he says and does and the way he looks at life is obviously slightly different than her, so together they're a great couple."
Like any marriage, they had their good and bad days, but managed to work through them by supporting and loving each other. Philip once said, “Tolerance is the one central ingredient of any happy marriage — it may be not so important when things are going well but it is absolutely vital when things get difficult. You can take it from me, the queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance."
Queen Elizabeth echoed a similar sentiment at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. She said, “He is someone who doesn't take easily to compliments. He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
He stuck by her side through the good and bad, remaining loyal to her during the monarchy’s most difficult years in the 1990s and the media scrutiny after Princess Diana’s death in 1997. The royal couple celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020.
Prince Philip’s Legacy: A Devoted Family Man
Prince Philip will mainly be remembered for his devotion to his family. We all know how devoted he was to the Queen, but he was also a devoted father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Prince Charles’ Tribute
In an official statement about his father’s death, Prince Charles said, “I particularly wanted to say that my father, for I suppose the last 70 years, has given the most remarkable, devoted service to The Queen, to my family and to the country, but also to the whole of the Commonwealth.”
“As you can imagine, my family and I miss my father enormously. He was a much loved and appreciated figure and apart from anything else, I can imagine, he would be so deeply touched by the number of other people here and elsewhere around the world and the Commonwealth, who also I think, share our loss and our sorrow.”
“My dear Papa was a very special person who I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him and from that point of view we are, my family, deeply grateful for all that. It will sustain us in this particular loss and at this particularly sad time. Thank you.”
Prince Philip also had a unique relationship with Charles’ first wife, Princess Diana. They bonded over being outsiders (it’s rumored that he took a similar approach with Catherine and Meghan) and was her ally within the family during difficult times. The two communicated through letters after Charles and Diana divorced.
He was a devoted grandfather and great-grandfather. Many remember him for how he supported William and Harry after Diana's death and fiercely protected the two from the paparazzi.
Prince William’s Tribute
Prince William issued a statement via the Kensington Palace Instagram on Monday. Alongside a picture of his oldest son George with his great-grandfather, William wrote, “My grandfather’s century of life was defined by service – to his country and Commonwealth, to his wife and Queen, and to our family.”
“I feel lucky to have not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence well into my own adult life – both through good times and the hardest days. I will always be grateful that my wife had so many years to get to know my grandfather and for the kindness he showed her. I will never take for granted the special memories my children will always have of their great-grandpa coming to collect them in his carriage and seeing for themselves his infectious sense of adventure as well as his mischievous sense of humour!”
“My grandfather was an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation. Catherine and I will continue to do what he would have wanted and will support The Queen in the years ahead. I will miss my Grandpa, but I know he would want us to get on with the job.”
Prince Harry’s Tribute
Despite the drama from Harry and Meghan stepping back from the royal family and the Oprah interview, Harry remained close to his grandfather until the end.
In a statement via Archewell, Harry wrote, "My grandfather was a man of service, honour and great humour. He was authentically himself, with a seriously sharp wit, and could hold the attention of any room due to his charm — and also because you never knew what he might say next.”
“He will be remembered as the longest reigning consort to the Monarch, a decorated serviceman, a Prince and a Duke. But to me, like many of you who have lost a loved one or grandparent over the pain of this past year, he was my grandpa: master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right 'til the end.”
“He has been a rock for Her Majesty The Queen with unparalleled devotion, by her side for 73 years of marriage, and while I could go on, I know that right now he would say to all of us, beer in hand, 'Oh do get on with it!'”
“So, on that note, Grandpa, thank you for your service, your dedication to Granny, and for always being yourself. You will be sorely missed, but always remembered — by the nation and the world. Meghan, Archie, and I (as well as your future great-granddaughter) will always hold a special place for you in our hearts."
Harry ended his statement with the phrase, “Per Mare, Per Terram," the royal marines' motto that translates to “By Sea, By Land.”
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s marriage was a beautiful one, but it took work to maintain it. They’re living proof that true love and hard work conquers all in a marriage. Though Prince Philip will be remembered for many things, we will never forget how much he loved Queen Elizabeth for over seven decades.
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