Prince Philip : The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II
"Rich in drama and tragedy" (The Guardian), here is a mesmerizing account of the extraordinary formative years of the man married to the most famous woman in the world
Before he met the young girl who became Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip had a tumultuous upbringing in Greece, France, Nazi Germany, and Britain. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born deaf; she was committed to a psychiatric clinic when Philip was eight. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece, already traumatized by his exile from his home country, promptly shut up the family home and went off to live with his mistress, effectively leaving his young son an orphan.
Remarkably, Philip emerged from his difficult childhood a character of singular vitality and dash--self-confident, opinionated, and devastatingly handsome. Girls fell at his feet, and the princess who would become his wife was smitten from the age of thirteen. Yet alongside his considerable charm and intelligence, the young prince was also prone to volcanic outbursts, which would have profound consequences for his family and the future of the monarchy.
In this authoritative and wonderfully compelling book, acclaimed biographer Philip Eade brings to vivid life the storm-tossed early years of one of the most fascinating and mysterious members of the royal family.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Henry Holt and Co.
November 08, 2011
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Prince Philip by Philip Eade
Kings of Greece
Although he has been married for more than sixty years to the most enduringly famous woman in the world, Prince Philip's own origins have remained strangely shrouded in obscurity. 'I don't think anybody thinks I had a father,' he remarked ruefully in the 1970s. 'Most people think that Dickie [Mountbatten] is my father anyway.'1
The easiest way of understanding Prince Philip's paternal ancestry is to start with his grandfather, King George I of Greece. A dashing figure, seen in photographs sporting a range of spectacular moustaches, King George was born Prince William of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Gl�cksburg in 1845 in Copenhagen, the younger son of an army officer whose meagre pay meant that his children grew up in comparative poverty. Their home, the Yellow Palace, was not especially palatial, with a front door that led straight on to the pavement,2 their lifestyle scarcely regal, with William's mother doing much of the housework and his sisters sharing a room and making their own clothes. As a family, the Gl�cksburgs were loud and frivolous, informal and uncultured, apt to 'make funny noises and yell if they saw anyone trying to write a letter'.3 They were also distinctly unspoilt and unpretentious, yet within a very short space of time they had 'colonised royal Europe', as one chronicler put it.4
In 1852, William's father was unexpectedly named as heir to the Danish throne, by virtue of being a godson and distant kinsman ofthe childless king, although for the time being this made no difference to his income and the family still struggled to make ends meet.5 However, their status changed dramatically in 1863, when, within a year, the father succeeded as King Christian IX of Denmark, William's sister Alexandra married the Prince of Wales, destined to become King Edward VII, and a delegation from Greece came and asked seventeen-year-old William to be their king. Another sister, Dagmar, would shortly marry the future Tsar Alexander III of Russia, while yet another, Thyra, married the heir to the throne of Hanover - although that was soon dissolved by Prussia after the 1866 Anglo-Prussian war. Within the next half-century, the descendants of Christian IX would occupy no fewer than nine European thrones.6 Only the descendants of Queen Victoria were more widely spread.
King George I, as William became on his accession, later maintained that he had accepted the Greek throne with great reluctance, since it meant abandoning his chosen naval career to go and rule a far-off country with a turbulent people and a language he did not speak.7 Greece had only recently broken free from the Ottoman Empire as a result of the long and bloody war of independence that had claimed the life of Lord Byron among countless others. The new country - unstable, poor and less than half the size of what it was to become during George's reign - was formally recognized by the London Protocol of 1830, in which the protecting powers, France, Great Britain and Russia, stipulated that a hereditary sovereign should be chosen from outside the country to lessen the chances of internal disputes. In 1833 a young Bavarian prince called Otto had arrived in a British frigate to fill this vacancy, but his tactless and despotic rule caused countless insurrections. In 1862 he was deposed in a bloodless revolution and left Greece just as he had arrived, in a British warship.
Many Greek people had wanted to have as his successor Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, whose portrait was carriedthrough the streets of Athens by a cheering mob. But Alfred was ineligible as a prince of one of the protecting powers; and besides, his mother did not like the idea. Several alternatives were suggested before eventually they settled on the young Danish prince as the least contentious candidate.
When he first arrived in Greece, he was still not yet eighteen and as he took the oath to the new constitution at the national assembly, the British ambassador was moved by 'the sight of this slight, delicate stripling, standing alone amidst a crowd of callous, unscrupulous politicians, many of whom had been steeped to the lips in treason, and swearing to observe, as he has so faithfully done, the most unworkable of charters, from which nearly every safeguard had been studiously eliminated'.8
Athens then was no more than a collection of villages, with a combined population of about 45,000, and the young king developed an endearing habit of walking alone through the streets, stopping every now and then to talk to passers-by. So determined was he to master the Greek language and customs that over the next four years he never left the country, travelling instead to all corners of his realm by ship, carriage, mule and on foot.
While he never entirely lost his slight Danish accent, King George's enthusiasm and lack of affectation were greatly appreciated by the Greek people. On Monday mornings, he was available to any of his subjects who wanted to come and air their grievances. He also gave an audience to any foreigner who requested one, provided they put on dress-clothes and white tie. The king tended to stand throughout these interviews and one of those who paid a visit, E. F. Benson, was disconcerted by his habit of continuously rising on his toes and rocking back on his heels. Benson found this 'as infectious as yawning' and it was only with the greatest effort that he could prevent himself from following the royal example. Aspirational American ladies began flocking to Athens because, as one of them remarked, 'The royalfamily of Greece is the easiest royal family to become acquainted with'.9
Affable and approachable the young King George may have been, but he still had to learn to stand up for himself against his wily ministers. Shortly after his arrival, a story was told of one cabinet meeting at which the boy king stood up and went over to a map to illustrate a point he was making. When he returned to his seat he noticed that his watch was missing. He looked around the table: 'Will whoever has my watch please return it?' he demanded. His ministers stared blankly back at him. 'Well, gentlemen,' the king continued, 'I'm not accustomed to this type of joke. I'd like to have my watch back.' Still nobody spoke. Adopting a sterner tone, the king announced that he was going to put out the light and count to sixty. 'If I find the watch again on the table, the incident will be closed,' he said. In the darkness he called the seconds out loud. When he turned the lights back on his silver inkstand had vanished as well.10
Apart from dealing with his ministers and frequent changes of government (forty-two in the first twenty-five years of his reign), he also had to re-establish the rather ramshackle court, train his own aides-de-camp, butlers, footmen and so forth, and set the appropriate tone, although to begin with his youthful demeanour made it 'sometimes difficult for his daily companions to maintain the respectful reserve and gravity due to a royal station'.11 The young king was also regularly reminded by his counsellors of his dynastic responsibilities, to marry and produce a son born on Greek soil, and so in 1867, aged twenty-one, he visited his sister in Russia, where he hoped to find a wife.
Tsar Alexander II had persuaded George that his was the only country where he would find a girl with the requisite combination of royal breeding and Orthodox faith. The two-month trip would also enable him to see how the vast empire was run. He lost no time as regards his primary purpose and on a visit to the tsar's younger brother Constantine at Pavlovsk he promptly proposed to the GrandDuke's fifteen-year-old daughter Olga, a shy and pretty girl with beautiful dark eyes, whom Queen Victoria had thought might do rather well for her son Alfred.12 Engaged within a week of meeting, they were married shortly after her sixteenth birthday in an elaborate five-day ceremony at the Winter Palace.
For her arrival in Athens, Queen Olga thoughtfully wore a dress in the Greek national colours of blue and white which delighted the huge crowd and her 'fresh young beauty' soon won the hearts of her subjects.13 With her came a Russian lady-in-waiting, a governess and a trunk full of dolls and teddy bears to complete the entourage. At times overwhelmed and frightened by the reception she received, the young queen was once found hiding beneath the palace staircase 'hugging her favourite Russian stuffed bear, and weeping bitterly'.14 She never did entirely overcome her homesickness - whenever a Russian ship docked at Piraeus, she could scarcely keep away from it - but the marriage was extremely successful and as queen she won the enduring love of the Greek people.
Olga's first child, a son, was born barely nine months after the wedding and named Constantine after the last emperor of Byzantine Greece, an augury which prompted much rejoicing. She went on to have a further seven children, three girls (one of whom survived only three months) and four more boys. Philip's father, Andrew, known as Andrea, was the last but one, born in 1882 at Tato�, the royal family's country estate, some thirty miles north of Athens. He was premature and so tiny that he spent his first few days in a cigar box being fed with a toothpick,15 however after being wet-nursed by a 'pleasant-looking peasant from the island of Andros, called Athena',16 he eventually grew into a tall and athletic figure, 'like a thoroughbred horse' according to Philip's aunt Marie Bonaparte.17 By common consent he was the most handsome of the king's sons. It was from him that Philip inherited his high-domed forehead, his 'fine nose and lips and the narrow Mountbatten eyes' coming from his mother.18
Andrea grew up with his brothers and sisters at the gaunt royal palace which had been built by King Otto on a hill overlooking old Athens and was extensively ransacked after his departure. Nowadays used as the Greek parliament, during Andrea's childhood it was an 'excessively uncomfortable' family home, so his younger brother Christopher recalled, with only one bathroom where the taps emitted a dismal trickle of water and the odd defunct cockroach.19 As a boy, Andrea suffered at least one bout of typhoid, presumed to have been caught from the palace drains.
Winters were especially spartan, with cold winds whistling through the long, dim galleries and countless unused rooms. King George seems to have grown sterner with fatherhood and whatever the weather bade his sons get up at six each morning for a cold bath and then lessons at 6.30 sharp. His sister Alexandra, who came to visit in 1893, when Andrea was eleven, noted that the king was 'rather tyrannical in the family' and failed to take his children into his confidence even when they grew up, which embittered them towards him.20 However, he would occasionally unbend to lead bicycling or rollerskating processions around the palace with the whole family following in order of age.