The Queen and Prince Philip celebrate 70 years of marriage — but it wasn’t easy
Tuesday - 21/11/2017 07:58
FORGET Harry and Meghan or William and Kate. The real royal love story started long before any of them were even born.
A PRINCESS determined to marry for love, rather than “the cause”.
A handsome Lothario, a war hero, six-foot tall, deep, blue eyes and chiselled features.
A nation still coming to terms with a post-war world looking for a new era of hope.
While Queen Victoria’s relationship with Prince Albert is by far the greatest royal love story of them all, the story of a young Queen-in-waiting and her schoolgirl crush is up there with legend.
While audiences have gotten to know the young Queen Elizabeth II’s troubles with Philip on Netflix’s The Crown, little do they know the struggles the couple faced to even marry before she became the Queen of England in 1952.
The wedding of Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, to the dashing naval officer Philip Mountbatten was seen as raising the nation’s spirits amid an austere background of rationing and shortages that followed the war.
It was November 20, 1947.
Five years later, Elizabeth succeeded her father George VI on the throne and has ruled for the following 65 years, more than any other monarch in British history, with Philip by her side throughout.
But first, Elizabeth had to convince her family, her government, and her country, that Philip was suitable to stand by The Crown. And it wasn’t easy.
Elizabeth fell in love with Philip, a distant second cousin, when she was 13, in 1939.
Her father, King George VI, had succeeded his brother, Edward VIII on the throne, three years earlier, after he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.
The Royal Family were touring the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, and the young Elizabeth was escorted by a dashing young officer, 18-year-old blonde naval cadet Philip, from Greece. They were both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, so they had commonalities. Lilibet, as Elizabeth was known, “couldn’t keep her eyes off him”.
So ensconced by this dashing European, Elizabeth began writing him letters. He wrote back. It wasn’t long before she had a framed photo of him next to her bed.
But, there was a problem.
Philip had come from a controversial background; his family had fled Greece after his uncle, King Constantine I, abdicated the throne after World War One. Philip spent just a year in Greece before his family were expelled. He grew up in boarding schools while his father left to live with a mistress in France. His mother suffered a mental illness and eventually, moved to Athens and established a Greek Orthodox nunnery. His family became too fractured to piece back together. A laughing stock, to some.
He served in World War II and was commended for his work in the Mediterranean and the Pacific
Elizabeth continued to write. Philip continued to respond. Sometimes they were able to meet, when Philip was in London. He courted the Princess, slowly but surely.
According to Princess Elizabeth’s governess, Marion Crawford, the Princess would play the showtune, People Will Say We’re in Love, from the musical, Oklahoma.
At the end of the war, he brought home POWs (prisoners of war) — arriving back in Portsmouth in 1946.
On May 26, 1946, the pair were photographed at the wedding of Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting. Philip was described as “a figure largely unknown to the British public”.
They took deliberate steps to maintain privacy. They didn’t dance publicly. They did not flirt. But Philip was a regular visitor to Buckingham Palace, blazing through the side entrance in a black MG.
Later that year, Elizabeth invited Philip to Balmoral for three weeks — it was here that he would secretly propose. She said “yes”, without informing family.
“To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to readjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty,” he wrote.
The King was insistent the couple wait to announce the engagement until the Princess, who was just 20 at the time, was older.
But perhaps the King was more aware of the opinion held by courtiers of the “blonde Greek Apollo”, who was “rather unpolished”. Arrogant. And poor.
He was also, German. From the House of the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksberg. No getting around it. While he had English relatives, his four sisters had all married German princes. Three of those brothers-in-law were members of the Nazi party.
Philip’s arrogant attitude won him no friends, but it was exactly his overbearing manner that won the Princess’s heart.
“Given the sort of experience he’d had [as a child], you probably would shut yourself away a bit to avoid being hurt. Affection is not his natural currency,” noted one guest at Balmoral.
For the King and Queen, Elizabeth’s parents, they weren’t sure. The sneaky nature of his controversial uncle, Mountbatten, also didn’t help the situation.
“I am not being rude”, Philip wrote to his uncle, “but it is apparent that you like the idea of being General Manager of this little show and I am rather afraid that she [the Princess] might not take to the idea as docilely as I do.”
It seemed the odds were stacked against the young couple.
Their engagement was announced on July 9, 1947, and the couple was introduced at a garden party at Buckingham Palace the next day
Philip took his uncle’s name, Mountbatten, and became a British citizen. He was named Duke of Edinburgh before the wedding.
Yet the public was as wary as the Kingdom. In one newspaper, 40 per cent of readers were against the match.
But Elizabeth persisted. And so too, Philip.
The wedding date was set. November 20, 1947. The venue: Westminster Abbey. The first televised royal wedding. Six kings and seven queens in attendance. Her dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, encrusted with pearl and crystal and ivory silk satin. A diamond tiara which snapped in the carriage.
“I only hope that I can bring up my children in the happy atmosphere of love and fairness which Margaret and I have grown up in,” Elizabeth wrote to her parents.
“Philip is an angel — he is so kind and thoughtful.”
Seventy years on, no public events are planned and Elizabeth, now 91, and her 96-year-old husband will celebrate the milestone with a private party at Windsor Castle, the monarch’s home to the west of London.