Mourners continued to lay flowers against the iron gates of Buckingham Palace in London this week in tribute to the loss of a prince, a father and UK Monarch Queen Elizabeth II’s great love, Prince Philip, who died last Friday at the age of 99.
The Duke of Edinburgh had been hospitalised for surgery on a pre-existent heart condition at the beginning of the year, but was later released in March.
According to Buckingham Palace, Prince Philip’s funeral is to take place on 17 April. Only 30 people are expected to attend as a result of Covid-19 restrictions, and Prince Harry, the Duke’s grandson, is expected to fly in from the US to join his family in mourning.
The longest-serving consort to a reigning British Monarch in history has been in the public eye for over six decades, side by side with his wife “Lilibet”, as Prince Philip used to call Queen Elizabeth.
He was born no stranger to royalty, as he was the only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg. However, he was also born at a time of upheaval in 1921 on the Greek island of Corfu. Eighteen months later, the former Greek royal family were expelled from Greece in a military coup.
After his father was almost killed during the coup, his family escaped to Paris, where they lived off the magnanimity of their relatives. Quite early on in life, Philip became self-reliant as his immediate family members went their separate ways. His mother, Princess Alice, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was sent to an asylum. His sisters married German royalty and showed sympathies with Nazi Germany.
Philip was sent to boarding school in Britain, where the Battenberg family name was changed to Mountbatten. His uncle, Louis Mountbatten, first Earl Mountbatten of Burma, had an important influence on Philip’s early years of adulthood. After boarding school, he joined the Royal Navy and distinguished himself in World War II. At the age of 21, he became one of the Navy’s youngest first lieutenants.
It was in the summer of 1939 that the then princess Elizabeth accompanied her parents on a visit to the Royal Naval Academy in Dartmouth. 18-year-old Philip was a cadet at the academy, and it was there that he first properly met 13-year-old Elizabeth.
“They played games, and they had lunch, and she fell in love with him immediately… She fell in love with him at that moment and she never looked at another man,” said UK royal biographer Sally Beddell Smith in an interview. “It was the only thing in her life that she decided on her own,” she added.
In 1947, the young couple tied the knot at Westminster Abbey in London. His family were not there to witness the royal couple’s marriage. From that moment on, he became the Queen’s companion and the Duke of Edinburgh.
It seems that Philip’s childhood traumas never really left him, but instead shaped his intelligent and independent demeanor. He played a huge role in somehow reinventing the thousand-year-old institution of the British Monarchy, shaping it to fit the modern world.
According to Beddell, he introduced computers to Buckingham Palace, as well as television, and he was the first member of the Royal Family to do a TV documentary. It had been at the peak of his naval career when his ordinary life with his wife Elizabeth had changed forever and sooner than anticipated. When King George VI fell ill, he had had to cut his career short and support his wife, the heir to the British throne.
It was also Philip who had had to break the news to Elizabeth of the king’s death and the fact that she was now Queen.
Philip’s loneliness growing up may have been reflected in his concerns as an adult, when he focused on the well-being of children and young adults. This led to the launch of the famous Duke of Edinburgh Award in the UK, a scheme that includes outdoor activities and skills and allows young people to feel more comfortable with nature and encourages resourcefulness.
Today, over six million young people across the UK have completed the award.
During his lifetime, Philip completed over 20,000 royal engagements and was associated with over 900 charities. His interests spanned education, sports, the environment and scientific research. He was a patron of the UK Royal Agricultural Society, the Cartoon Museum in London, the Charity Plan International and the British Heart Foundation, among other organisations.
After decades of supporting the Queen in the public eye, Prince Philip retired from public life in 2017. His memory will live on in the Queen, his four children, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.