On Friday 9th April Buckingham Palace confirmed the sad news of Prince Philip's death, having passed away peacefully at Windsor Castle. As the Queen loses the man she described as her "strength and her stay", royal expert Jennie Bond celebrates a true royal love match.
The Queen famously paid tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh in their Golden Wedding anniversary year, saying: "He has been my strength and stay all these years." Their marriage in November 1947 was a Royal love match and flourished over 73 years.
Distant cousins – he had been born Philip, Prince of Greece and Denmark – they met a couple of times as children and the Queen was 13 when she is said to have become smitten by Philip who was then 18 and a dashing naval cadet. The backdrop was Dartmouth Royal Naval College. She was accompanying her parents – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – on an official visit along with her sister, Margaret. Philip was asked to keep the two princesses entertained while the visit took place.
Royal expert Jennie Bond explains: "There are pictures of him from that day showing her how to play croquet and larking about on the tennis courts. It seems that something clicked. It wasn’t a romance then, she was a child, but that is the first time it is taken that there was a spark. I suppose then it was a teenage crush."
Certainly, it is not surprising that the shy young princess might have fallen for Philip. "He was incredibly handsome," says Bond, who was the BBC’s Royal Correspondent for 14 years. "He was very dashing in his younger years and she set her sights on him. She was certainly very smitten by this Adonis."
It wasn’t only his good looks that made him attractive. "I think he was a little bit out of the ordinary compared to other aristocrats she would have met. Someone once said, whatever Prince Philip was, he certainly wasn’t boring. She could have married a member of the British aristocracy, but this was a man with a huge amount of character and just a little bit different."
The couple wed on 20 November 1947 and Jennie Bond believes the early years of married life when his naval career meant they spent time based in Malta, and became parents to Prince Charles and Princess Anne, were particularly happy. "I think it was a true love story. I think Prince Philip brought a rather introverted, shy girl out of herself and ignited her passion and her fire."
Challenges came later when George VI died in 1952 and Elizabeth became Queen. Philip had to make many sacrifices when he became consort – not only did he have to give up his naval career, but also his surname as the family became Windsor instead of Mountbatten.
"It was very difficult for a proud and royal prince to suddenly become second fiddle," explains Jennie Bond. "It was also hard for him to find a role for himself, especially when everything he suggested was slapped down by the stuffy old guard at the palace. But he did forge his own way with the Duke of Edinburgh awards and all his many campaigns and causes."
There have been rumours that the Prince had affairs, but there has never been proof. "It has been an abiding question ‘Was he unfaithful?’ I don’t know the truth. He was an outrageous flirt, he always had an eye for a pretty woman. He always had a twinkle in his eye. But no one has produced any evidence and no woman has come forward to say she had an affair, so we don’t know."
There is no doubt, though, that the marriage between the Queen and Prince Philip has been a hugely successful match. Bond compares them to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. That too was a love match, and Albert also had to carve out his own role as a consort.
The Queen and Prince Philip were photographed on their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020, smiling as they looked together at cards that had been sent to them by their great grandchildren.
"I think they were like a pair of comfy old slippers together," says Bond. "The Queen, I think, played a blinder in that she decided early on that he could not take precedence over her in public, so he had to be these two steps behind her. But he was the man of the house, she said he should manage all the estates, which he did. In family matters he was the head and she gave way to him. He was the only person, I think, who would answer back to her. Everyone needs that from someone in their life so I think he kept her grounded. There was an enormous affection between them, I think. They had a deep and loving relationship."
In recent years since Prince Philip retired from public life, we have become used to seeing the Queen performing at public engagements alone. However, she will undoubtedly miss the Duke of Edinburgh’s company and support. Jennie Bond believes that she will deal with the loss with characteristic stoicism, and is likely to turn to her daughter, Princess Anne, for comfort.
"She will obviously miss him dreadfully. But the Queen is a strong woman and she and Prince Philip have had a very long life together, so she will count her blessings. Not many people have the luxury of so many years together."
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