Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was born into Greek and Danish royalty in 1921. But war broke out, forcing his family to separate and flee. As a baby, Philip was smuggled into France, where he attended boarding school. He appeared to be good at everything, launching his military career while succeeding in athletics. Philip met his future wife when he was only 18 years old and was married to Queen Elizabeth II from 1947 until his death in 2021. Read on to learn about his unique life.
Prince Philip Called The Queen "Cabbage"
It's common for couples to have pet names for each other, especially if they've been married for a long time. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II were married for more than 70 years, so it makes sense that they had less-than-formal names for each other behind closed doors.
In the film The Queen, Prince Philip (played by James Cromwell) tells the Queen (played by Dame Helen Mirren) "move over, cabbage." Filmmaker Peter Morgan said, "I inquired in royal circles and was told on very good authority that that is what the Duke sometimes call[ed] the Queen."
He Served In The Royal Navy
Prince Philip graduated from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and became the first lieutenant of HMS Wallace at just 21 years old, making him one of the youngest to attain the rank. Philip saved his ship from attack during the 1943 invasion of Sicily. In total, he actively served from 1939 until 1952.
He served in World War II with the British forces, while his two brothers-in-law, married to his older sisters, fought on the opposing German side.
Philip And Elizabeth Were Distant Cousins
It's not uncommon for the royal family to turn to cousins as an option for a life partner. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were cousins, as were Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II. The couple were third cousins through Queen Victoria of Great Britain.
Through King Christian IX of Denmark, they were also second cousins, once-removed. Elizabeth fell in love with Philip when she was just 13 years old. Her father, King George VI, told the couple they had to wait until Elizabeth turned 21 years old to wed.
200 Million People Listened To Their Wedding
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip wed on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey. 200 million people listened to their wedding on the radio, and 2,500 gifts were sent to them. The morning of the wedding he became Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich; a naturalized British subject-turned Royal Highness within one year.
Because the war had just ended, and Prince Philip's sisters were German, they weren't invited to the couple's wedding. Their wedding wasn't as extravagant as the most recent royal weddings, since post-war Britain was still recovering. Elizabeth used ration coupons to buy material for her wedding dress.
Their Marriage Stood The Test Of Time
With 70-plus years of marriage, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II were the longest-lasting married couple of any British ruler and their consort. And they were in love longer than that!
On a long, happy marriage, Prince Philip once said, "I think the main lesson we have learnt is that tolerance is the one essential ingredient in any happy marriage... You can take it from me, the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance."
His Family Fled To France
Prince Philip was born into Greek and Danish royal families. But when the Turkish War with Greece broke out in 1919, the family was in trouble. His uncle, King Constantine I, was forced to abdicate his title. Prince Andrew, Philip's father, was arrested. The family decided to flee.
Philip's family became royal exiles when they chose to flee to France. Philip was just a baby, and was put in a fruit box and smuggled into the country.
Prince Philip Officially Retired In 2017
After nearly 70 years of public service, Prince Philip retired from his duties on August 2, 2017. He made his last royal appearance at the Captain general's Parade, where it rained. Aside from his appearances with Queen Elizabeth II, Philip completed an incredible 22,219 solo engagements. He was 96 years old at the time of his retirement, which is pretty astounding.
Once retired, Philip could spend less time traveling, and more time relaxing. The queen also slowed her royal appearances, leaving those duties to other family members.
The Prince Lived To Be 99 Years Old
On April 9, 2021, Buckingham Palace released a somber statement: "It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle."
Prince Philip was 99 years old and had recently been released from the hospital following some health problems. He will have a ceremonial, rather than a state, funeral. Coronavirus restrictions on crowds will make the funeral a much smaller event than it would be otherwise, but it will still "celebrate and reflect" his life of service.
Honoring His Danish Roots
Once the family fled Greece, they moved in with Philip's aunt in Paris. There, Philip had a Danish upbringing, as his aunt was Princess George of Greece and Denmark. He doesn't speak Greek fluently, but grew up speaking English, French, and German.
When Prince Philip officially retired from his royal duties and public service in 2017, a portrait of him was painted and on display in Denmark at Frederiksborg castle. In the portrait, Philip is standing in the grand corridor of Windsor Castle, wearing a blue sash which indicates Denmark's highest-ranking honor, the Order of the Elephant.
He Delivered 5,496 Speeches
Although Prince Philip was a consort, and not king himself, this doesn't mean that he didn't give plenty of speeches. In fact, during his time spent attending royal events and making public appearances, Philip gave no less than 5,496 speeches. He was also the longest-serving royal consort in British history.
One of his greatest passions was the environment, and Philip belonged to 800 organizations involving protecting the environment, sports, and education. He also served as UK President of the World Wildlife Fund from 1961 until 1982.
He Was Still Driving At 97 Years Old
In January 2019, the public questioned whether Prince Philip should still be able to drive after he was involved in a car accident. While on the A149 near the Queen's Sandringham estate, the Duke collided with another vehicle causing his Land Rover to overturn. Thankfully, he was unhurt, although sources said he was "shaken" following the event.
But less than 48 hours after the accident, the Prince was seen driving a new Land Rover -- without a seatbelt. The woman involved in his previous crash called the move "highly insensitive and inconsiderate." Philip apologized and surrendered his driving license.
A Certain Royal Rule Kept Him From Being a King
Although Prince Philip was born into a royal family and officially wed then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, he gave up both of his titles on their wedding day. Instead of being given the prince or king title, he was instead named Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Here's why:
In the UK, a reigning Queen's husband is known as a prince consort, regardless of any titles he may hold. Queen Victoria, for example, wanted her husband to be king consort, but the government wouldn't allow it because he was a foreigner. Ultimately, just because someone marries a monarch, doesn't automatically entitle them to any title — Prince Philip included!
Prince Philip Wrote 14 Books
Somehow, between his 22,219 solo engagements, Prince Philip found the time to author 14 books. Several of his works are related to the environment, including Survival or Extinction: A Christian Attitude to the Environment, and Birds from Britannia.
Philip enjoyed reading, as well as traveling the world, and being inspired by nature to write and paint. Some of his favorite places to go included Canada and Scotland, where he could fish, boat, and hike.
He Loved Being At Sea
In 1952, the Royal Yacht Britannia was built and ready to launch. While the yacht was dedicated to Her Majesty, no doubt it was Prince Philip who was most excited about the new vessel. Soon after, Philip was making plans on where to take the yacht.
From 1956 to 1957, Philip made a trip around the world on the Britannia. During the trip, he became the first royal on record to cross the Antarctic Circle. When he traveled on royal duties, the vessel was escorted by a Royal Navy ship. The Britannia completed 1,087,623 nautical miles during its career serving the royal family. It's now moored in the historic Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland.
His Jokes Didn't Always Land
Serving as a royal for more than 70 years means meeting people from all walks of life, and trying to find the right words to say. While Prince Philip no doubt had the best of intentions, his words didn't always come out right. Over the years, the Prince made a few questionable statements that weren't overlooked.
In 1994, while visiting the Cayman Islands, he remarked, "Aren't most of you descended from pirates?" In 2002, while visiting Australia, he asked, "Do you still throw spears at each other?" While some of his comments can be offensive, most people have chalked it up to his old age, kind of like when a relative makes some brash comments.
He Was The First British Royal Family Member To Fly A Helicopter
Not only did Prince Philip enjoy spending time on a boat, but he loved flying as well. In 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh earned his pilot's wings after completing three solo circuits and landings. In 1956, he became the first royal to earn his helicopter wings with the Royal Navy, and in 1959 he earned his Private Pilot's License.
Philip spent 5,986 hours flying 59 different aircraft, and from 1952 until 2002 he held the title of Grand Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators. His grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry have also taken interest in flying. Harry became an Apache helicopter pilot, serving in Afghanistan.
Some People Questioned His Involvement Raising His Kids
In 1948, the Queen went through 30 hours of labor to give birth to their first child, King Charles. Meanwhile, Philip was out with his friends, playing squash and swimming. While he was drying himself off, a footman informed him that his first child had been born.
For several months at a time, Prince Philip and the Queen lived in Malta, leaving the children behind in Britain. The media has described Philip and King Charles' relationship to be strained. Press secretary and friend of the family, Mike Parker, reportedly said, "When he needed a father, there just wasn't anybody there."
The Life Of A Consort
Although he was born into not one, but two royal families himself, Prince Philip remained a consort and not a king. Once Elizabeth II became Queen, the royal family needed to decide what the name of the royal house would be. Traditionally a royal home would bear the husband's name, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as Queen Mary, suggested the House of Windsor would be more suitable, taking Elizabeth's name.
She followed their advice, even if it meant slightly emasculating Philip, in a traditional sense. After the royal house was officially named House of Windsor, the Duke said, "I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."
His Relationship With The Queen Was Always Strong
After more than 70 years, the couple was still in love. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had a long marriage, and four children. Not to mention the weight of reigning over the United Kingdom and Commonwealth. But through it all, the couple remained strong.
Royal family insiders have said that Philip was always supportive of his wife and her duties while the Queen acknowledges his contribution to her reign. In 2012, while giving a speech at her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II called Philip her "constant strength and guide."
Philip's Mother Was Diagnosed With Schizophrenia
When Philip was a young boy, his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When he was just nine years old, Philip's mother was committed to a mental health facility in Switzerland, and had little contact with her family.
It was this time, during the Turkish War, that Alice believed she possessed healing powers and was receiving "divine" messages in her head. She lived separately from her family, and later devoted her life to charity work in Greece. She moved to Buckingham Palace in London in 1967, but sadly died just two years later.
Philip Was A Stylish Dresser
While an extensive wardrobe may be more exciting for the women of the royal family, the men need to have a deep closet as well. And with nearly 70 years of service, Philip had quite a few wardrobe changes. When your wife is the Queen, you have to look your best (while also not taking the attention away from her).
Over the years, his wardrobe remained sharp, and even caught the eye of GQ magazine, which rated him the 33rd best-dressed man in the UK. But that doesn't mean his outfits were always new... he reportedly brought a 52-year-old pair of pants to his tailor to adjust.
He Was A Skilled Carriage Racer
Although he didn't start the sport of carriage racing until he was 50 years old, that doesn't mean that Prince Philip took it easy. He told Daily Mail, "'I started driving because I'd been playing polo, and I decided I'd give up polo when I was 50. I was looking round to see what next, I didn't know what there was available.' And I suddenly thought, well, we've got horses and carriages so why don't I have a go."
The Duke of Edinburgh also crashed an antique carriage (seemingly several times) while racing. "We had a thing called the Balmoral dog cart, it's still in the stable, it had to be rebuilt every year because it got smashed up regularly." Philip played a big role in promoting carriage racing as a sport in the UK, as well.
He Had Several Hospital Stays In Recent Years
On December 20, 2019 it was announced that Prince Philip paid a visit to King Edward VII Hospital in London to be treated for a pre-existing condition. Buckingham Palace released a statement which mentioned that he was not taken by ambulance, instead walking in unaided.
The Prince has made several visits to the hospital in recent years, including for hip surgery and bladder infections. In February of 2021, he was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital as a "precautionary measure" after feeling unwell. Although he was discharged after a successful heart procedure, Prince Philip passed away on April 9, 2021.