THE Duke of Edinburgh, quizzical, witty and controversial was the Queen’s greatest source of support, her confidant and the man she relied on above all others. His lifelong role was to ensure he never let her down and their long-lasting marriage was arguably one of the world’s best-known relationships.

Although he was not officially given the title of Prince Consort, Philip, a private, enigmatic man of strong character, was always there, one step behind, ready to lend the Queen a helping hand. 

Through his stewardship, he also had a profound effect on the development of the British monarchy. In public, the Duke never attempted to upstage the woman he loved. In private, it was Philip the Queen would defer to. 

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At home, he assumed the position of head of the family as the royal patriarch. 
Like his great-great-grandfather Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband, the Duke immersed himself in national life, yet managed to retain something of the sceptical spectator. Some thought he was arrogant, rude and insensitive; others found him witty and fun. 

He could be abrupt and outspoken and was not afraid of using colourful language. He was parodied for his bad-tempered outbursts and criticised for his legendary gaffes, including the notorious incident in which he warned a group of Scottish students in China that they would become “slitty-eyed”.

He was well aware of his public perception, once telling former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth: “I have become a caricature. There we are. I’ve just got to accept it.”

The Duke was a forceful man, often portrayed as short-tempered and rather offhand in his manner. Yet he had the ability to charm and could be relied upon to break the ice with his sense of humour and quick repartee.

The curious Duke would ask endless questions while on engagements, grilling and challenging his hosts persistently. He had the no-fuss, no-nonsense manner so often associated with his daughter, the Princess Royal. He was once said to have described himself as a discredited Balkan prince of no particular merit or distinction.


In his personal life, he and the Queen witnessed the failure of the marriages of three of their four children and the fall-out that followed, particularly the scandal surrounding Camilla Parker Bowles, who eventually married into The Firm. The royal family also faced criticism for its response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Duke was depicted as a tough, but caring father, amid speculation that his relationship with the Prince of Wales was not always the easiest. But he guarded his privacy and refused to discuss such matters.

By almost any standard he was a remarkable character. He had all the qualities which, even without his royal status, would have led him to the top. 

He was a successful naval officer: there are those who believe that, had the Duke not married Elizabeth, he would have been First Sea Lord. He was also a pilot of above-average ability. 

In his leisure moments he was a good shot, a first-class polo player, an accomplished sailor, enthusiastic cricketer and international four-in-hand carriage driver. 

His passions were many but he regularly returned to the prickly subject of the British economy and also conservation, one of his great passions. He could speak with authority on industry, science and nature. One of the Duke’s most famous speeches was in 1961 when he told industrialists: “Gentlemen, I think it is time we pulled our fingers out.” 
He often criticised exporters for not fighting hard enough for Britain abroad and hit out at the “I’m all right Jack” society for not pulling its weight at home. 

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Even in later life, the Duke was a modern man. He was always forward-thinking and often ahead of his time, driving around London in an electric car at one point in an attempt to fight pollution. 

Born at the family home Mon Repos – allegedly on the kitchen table – on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921, he was brought to Britain when he was just one year old. 

Evacuated in a British warship, the blond, blue-eyed Prince was carried into exile in a makeshift cot made from an old orange box. 

Although he was a Prince of Greece, he had no Greek blood. His complex background was in fact Danish, German, Russian and British. He was the youngest child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece, an officer in the Greek Army, and Princess Alice of Battenberg. His father was born a Prince of Denmark and was descended from kings of Greece, Denmark and Prussia, as well as emperors of Russia. 

His maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, making him Elizabeth II’s third cousin. Philip and the Queen were both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria. The Duke’s mother was the sister of Louis Mountbatten, later Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

The family was forced to flee Corfu in December 1922 after Philip’s monocle-wearing father, a lieutenant-general in the Greek army, was arrested and charged with high treason in the aftermath of the defeat of the Greeks by the Turks. 


It was said he disobeyed orders and abandoned his post with his cavalry regiment in the face of attack.

King George V sent HMS Calypso and a British secret agent to negotiate his release, collect him and his wife, their four daughters and baby Philip, and take them into exile. They finally arrived in Paris, dependant on relatives for financial help. The Duke’s childhood from then on was unsettled and somewhat bleak. He was without a permanent home. Moving between various relatives, the young Prince was enrolled in a primary school in Paris before moving to Britain at the age of eight when he attended Cheam School in Surrey from 1930 to 1933. 

His parents’ relationship broke down and his father was based in Monte Carlo where he amassed gambling debts. He died there in 1944.

His religious mother Princess Alice who was deaf, formed an order of nuns, but began to suffer from depression and was treated in an asylum. She died at Buckingham Palace in 1969.

In 1933, Philip moved to Salem School in Baden, Germany, but was back within the year and was enrolled at Gordonstoun, the boys’ school near Elgin. He very rarely saw his parents and was left isolated, but he was a happy, lively child. He later said of his family’s break-up: “I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.”

The Duke thrived at Gordonstoun. It was there he learned to “mess about in boats”, laying the solid foundation of a future naval career. 

After leaving school Philip joined the Royal Navy, beginning at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in May 1939, and was singled out as best cadet. 

During the Second World War, he served on several ships – first on HMS Ramillies – and saw active service against German, Italian and Japanese forces. 

Early in 1940, the 19-year-old Prince was in action as a midshipman. In March 1941, he was searchlight control officer on the battleship HMS Valiant and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the battle of Matapan against the Italian fleet. His commanding officer said: “Thanks to his alertness and appreciation of the situation we were able to sink in five minutes two 8in gun Italian cruisers.” 

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Shortly afterwards he was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour. 

When he moved up through the ranks to become First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMS Wallace (at the age of 21), he was the youngest officer in the service to have an executive job in a ship of its size. He was present at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945.

Home leaves brought invitations from King George VI to stay at Windsor Castle. It was in this romantic setting that the naval officer resumed his friendship with the young Princess Elizabeth. 

They had been present together on various occasions, including the wedding in 1934 of Philip’s cousin Princess Marina, later Duchess of Kent, to Princess Elizabeth’s uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, and at the coronation of George VI in 1937. 

But it was at Dartmouth, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the naval college with their two daughters, that Prince Philip, then 18, and the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth had their first publicised meeting in July 1939. 

Good-looking and blond-haired, the tall, athletic Prince of Greece impressed Lilibet by jumping over the college tennis nets. From that time they maintained a regular correspondence and met on several occasions. 

Philip was invited to spend Christmas 1943 with the royal family at Windsor and by the end of the war newspapers were speculating about their relationship. 


There was, however, some disapproval and suspicion of this foreign Prince in the post-war years. Old-school courtiers were concerned he was not a traditional English gentleman, even though he had fought for Britain in the Navy. 

But Philip and Elizabeth were already in love. It has been suggested they became unofficially engaged in the summer of 1946 while they were staying at Balmoral, but the official announcement was delayed until after Princess Elizabeth reached the age of 21 and returned from a royal tour of South Africa. 

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Philip applied for British nationality and in February 1947 became a naturalised British subject, renouncing his Greek royal title. He adopted a new surname, but decided against Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg – the family name of the Danish royal house from which his father was descended. Instead he settled on Mountbatten, an Anglicised version of Battenberg, his mother’s family name.

The style of His Royal Highness was authorised shortly before his marriage on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey and he was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, and made a Knight of the Garter. 

He was accorded by the Queen the style and title of a Prince of the United Kingdom in February 1957. 

After honeymooning at Broadlands, Hampshire, home of Lord Mountbatten, and at Birkhall on the Balmoral estate, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh stayed at Buckingham Palace until renovation of their new home, nearby Clarence House, was completed in 1949.

Philip’s devotion to his wife was clear. His first ever private secretary Michael Parker, a friend from the Navy, revealed: “He told me the first day he offered me my job that his job, first, second and last was never to let her down.”

Their first child, Charles, was born at Buckingham Palace in November 1948. Anne was born at Clarence House in August 1950. Ten years later, Andrew was born at Buckingham Palace in February 1960, as was Edward in March 1964. 

Philip resumed his naval career, attending the Royal Naval Staff College at Greenwich and in October 1949 was appointed First Lieutenant and second-in-command of HMS Chequers, operating from Malta. 


Elizabeth and their young family joined him there and had an idyllic life on the Mediterranean island, relishing the relative privacy that living abroad offered them.
Promotion to Lieutenant-Commander followed in July 1950 and, in September, Philip was given command of the frigate HMS Magpie which he said were the happiest days of his sailor life. 

He was eventually promoted to Commander in June 1952 and to Admiral of the Fleet in January 1953. His other service appointments are Field Marshal and Marshal of the Royal Air Force. 

Because of increasing anxiety about the King’s health, the Duke was expected to take a share of royal engagements. Princess Elizabeth and Philip made their first major tour together to Canada and the United States in October and November 1951, after which the Duke was made a Privy Counsellor. 

On February 6, 1952, Elizabeth and Philip were on a tour of Kenya at Sagana Lodge after spending the night at the Treetops Hotel when, a message was given to Philip that the King was dead. 

An aide remarked that he looked as if half the world had fallen in on him. He broke the news to the new Queen while they were alone. Hours later they were on their way back home. 

At the Coronation in Westminster Abbey in June 1953, the Duke duly knelt to pay homage to the Queen before kissing her left cheek. He swore to be her “liege man of life and limb”.

He had no constitutional role other than as a Privy Counsellor. He saw no state papers and, although he was a member of the House of Lords, he never spoke in the chamber. 

On the death of the King, Philip’s naval career came to an end and his life changed irrevocably. He was left disappointed when the Queen declared on her accession 
that the royal family’s surname would be Windsor and not Mountbatten, prompting him to make the well-reported remark: “I’m just a bloody amoeba.”

There are claims that his actual protest in fact contained a number of expletives and the assertion that he was only there to provide sperm.


After the coronation, Philip was required to play a major role both nationally and internationally. He accompanied the Queen on Commonwealth tours and State visits overseas, as well as on public engagements in all parts of the UK. 

He also undertook many royal engagements on his own, at home and abroad.
Over the years he was involved with hundreds of organisations and was often a hands-on president.

From the outset, he took a keen interest in young people through such organisations as the National Playing Fields Association and the Outward Bound Trust. 
In this regard, however, he was best known for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which he launched in 1956, inspired by his time at Gordonstoun.

He took a prominent international role in the conservation of nature. He was the first president of the World Wildlife Fund-UK from 1961 to 1982, and in 1981 became the fund’s international president. 

The Duke took a great interest in scientific and technological research and development. He was patron of the Industrial Society and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1951-53.  He also focused on housing matters and served as president of the National Federation of Housing Associations from 1975 to 1980. 

He chaired the Inquiry into British Housing which, in 1991, called for the fundamental reform of housing finance, including the phasing out of mortgage interest tax relief, in a bid to tackle homelessness and bad living conditions. 

The Duke was an accomplished sportsman. He played polo regularly until 1971 and then took up four-in-hand carriage driving, representing Britain at several European and world championships. He also loved to shoot game. 

He was president of the Federation Equestre Internationale, the Central Council of Physical Recreation, the British Amateur Athletics Board, the Commonwealth Games Federation, and of the MCC twice, in 1949 and 1975. 


A qualified pilot, he gained his RAF wings in 1953, helicopter wings in 1956 and private pilot’s licence in 1959. 

His love of the sea never waned, competing regularly at Cowes Regatta. He was Admiral of the Royal Yacht Squadron, patron of a number of clubs and president of the Royal Yachting Association. 

The Duke was awarded a number of honorary degrees and fellowships. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951, was Chancellor of Cambridge and Edinburgh universities, and a Life Governor of King’s College, London. 

He was given the task by his wife of reorganising her Balmoral and Sandringham estates, which he did with ruthless efficiency. He set about modernising Buckingham Palace after being told to keep out of the Queen’s official duties when she acceded to the throne. “I tried to find useful things to do,” he said about starting a footman training programme at the Palace.

He was also fundamental in the upkeep of Windsor Castle, from designing gardens to introducing deer.

Much was written about Philip’s relationships with his former daughter-in-laws, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson.

It was the Duke who wrote to Charles telling him to make up his mind when the Prince, amid a great deal of public of interest, was dragging his heels on whether to ask Lady Diana Spencer to marry him.

When the marriage was falling apart, the Duke wrote to the Princess several times. It was claimed that he had called her a “trollop” and a “harlot” in correspondence, but Buckingham Palace took the rare step of denouncing the allegations as false. It was revealed that the letters were signed ‘With love from Pa’. 

When Diana died suddenly in a tragic car crash in 1997, Philip joined Charles, William, Harry and the Princess’s brother Earl Spencer in the solemn procession behind her funeral cortege.


There were said to have been tensions with the Duke of York’s former wife Sarah Ferguson.

The Duke had a loyal staff, despite his legendary displays of temper. Many stayed with him for years, showing great devotion and describing him as the least boring man they had ever met. 

American biographer Kitty Kelley admitted having difficulty “digging dirt” on him, such was the support of his friends. Throughout his life, there were unsubstantiated stories about Philip’s friendships with glamorous women.

His carriage-driving partner Lady Penny Romsey, actress Pat Kirkwood, performer Helene Cordet, film star Merle Oberon, Sacha Abercorn, actress Anna Massey and Princess Alexandra were just some of the ladies there was speculation about. But the claims were never proven and those close to the Duke insisted they were untrue.

The Duke’s former private secretary Mike Parker said Philip had been 100 per cent faithful to the Queen, while Lord Charteris, formerly the Queen’s private secretary, said there was no evidence of any kind that he had strayed.

Gyles Brandreth who examined the Duke and the Queen’s relationship in his book concluded the female friends were merely playmates not mistresses.

The Duke globetrotted and fulfilled countless engagements well into his 80s and 90s. 
A busy and demanding schedule did take its toll sometimes. While accompanying the Queen on a state visit to South Korea, in April 1999, he fell asleep at a banquet. 


In 2005, the year he turned 84, he undertook more than 400 engagements with the Queen and on his own at home and abroad. It was only in May 2017 it was announced that, aged 96, he would retire from public duties. 

When the mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah spoke to him about the news and said: “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down,” Philip replied: “Well I can’t stand up much longer.”

Philip was always happy to joke about his mortality and could occasionally be heard when reference was made to a future project at official engagements to snort with laughter and make a quip about his limited lifespan.

Opinionated, contentious, frank and fun, the Duke was even said to have coined the word “dontopedalogy” – the art of putting one’s foot in it.

The Queen, in a speech to celebrate their Golden wedding anniversary in 1997, paid tribute.

“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments,” she said. “But 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.”