Whether you’re really familiar with the British monarchy or not, it’s impossible to not know Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II, who recently announced his resignation from public duties.
The prince has been a fixture of public life and politics for more than six decades, has ties to 785 charities and organizations, and is the longest-serving consort in British history. At nearly 96 years old, he’s also the oldest partner of a still-reigning monarch. Far more than just a quiet man behind the throne, Prince Philip is a fascinating, complex, and impressive man worth learning more about.
The Life and Times of Prince Philip
In many ways, the world Philip was born into no longer exists. He began life when Britain still controlled an empire, in a world struggling through World War I, before the prevalence of technology we now take for granted. According to popular lore, Prince Philip was born on his parent’s kitchen table in Corfu, Greece, on June 10, 1921.
Philip’s father was the son of the queen of Greece, and his mother was the great granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Governmental shifts removed his relatives from power in Greece and banished his family from the country, with the infant Philip safely tucked in a fruit box as his family fled. After leaving Greece, Philip grew up and was educated in Paris, Germany, and then Scotland.
Philip has spent his whole adult life in public service. When he was 18 years old he joined the Royal Navy, and when he graduated from the Royal Naval College he was the top cadet, and was awarded the King’s Dirk. Philip rose through the ranks in the navy, and served actively during World War II. He was promoted to the rank of commander before stepping down when his father-in-law, King George VI, died. Philip was, by all accounts, a good officer, and enjoyed his military service until it ended in 1951.
Philip and the future queen were third cousins through Queen Victoria and second cousins once removed through King Christian IX of Denmark. They met when Elizabeth was 13 years old, and wrote letters back and forth, eventually falling in love. They were engaged after her twenty-first birthday, after he renounced his Greek and Danish titles and became a naturalized British citizen. He also formally joined the Anglican Church in 1947, an important move since he had been baptized into the Greek Orthodox church and the monarch of England is also the head of the Anglican church.
Philip’s German family weren’t allowed to come to the wedding, because his sisters married princes, some of whom had ties to the Nazis. For a post-war Britain, this would have been an insult and a painful reminder of the destruction and violence World War II brought to England. Philip has, from the beginning, kept his queen as his priority. His former secretary remembers him saying: “He told me the first day he offered me my job that his job, first, second and last was never to let her down.”
Prince Philip Is Known for Comedy as Well as Drama
This isn’t just a dry list of Philip’s life. A rundown of dates, times, places, and deeds would fail to convey the true character and spirit of Prince Philip. He’s long been known for his unpredictable statements, offbeat and sometimes inappropriate humor, and deep devotion to his people and his queen. Now that the prince is stepping back from public life, we will lose the unexpected and funny moments he’s so loved for. Looking at his best quotes, and their context, paints the most accurate and endearing picture of Prince Philip’s nature.
He wasn’t thrilled to learn that his children with the queen would be named after her, not him, and especially was frustrated that the government made this decision. He and Winston Churchill didn’t get along, and his reaction to the news about his children was to compare himself to an amoeba, unable to even pass his name down to his children.
Prince Philip was hard on his son Charles and Charles’ wife at the time, Princess Diana, when their unhappy marriage ended after they both had affairs. Despite his disappointment over the divorce, he supported his grandchildren and son at her funeral. It was his encouragement that led to her young sons and ex-husband walking after her casket: “If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?”
Prince Philip knows his comments are sometimes not well received, and has coined a term for it: “Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.” A perfect example of this science comes from his answer when he was asked about marriage. He quipped: “’When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife.”
Despite having taken part in more than 22,000 engagements in life, he’s kept his sense of humor about ceremonial openings, even when he can’t keep them straight: “I declare this thing open, whatever it is.” Creating a new, irreverent title, he has described himself as “the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler.”
It’s only fitting that news of his intent to step out of public life came with laughter. In response to condolences that he was stepping down, he bantered: “Well, I can’t stand up much longer.”
Prince Philip may be retiring from the level of service and activity he’s maintained for more than half a century, but he’s still a vivid and important figure. Enjoy your retirement, Prince Philip, and thank you for all you’ve done for the world.