Shortcuts / 11 April 2021
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was described by his wife Queen Elizabeth as “my strength and stay”. He died on Friday at 99yo, just a couple of months short of his 100th birthday. In this episode of Squiz Shortcuts, we take you through his early years, the bumpy transition to become the Queen’s consort, plans for his funeral, and what it means for the Royal family.
Let’s start at the beginning…
Prince Philip was born in 1921 in Corfu, Greece. He was the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. His father’s family were descended from Danish aristocracy and placed on the Greek throne in 1863 – that’s a whole story but we won’t go into that today…
So what’s his link with the UK?
His mother was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria and she was born in Windsor Castle. She spent a good part of her childhood in the UK.
So why didn’t they stay in Greece?
A coup in 1922 forced the family into exile when Philip was 15 months old. They settled in Paris but to cultivate the family’s connections to the aristocracy in Britain, Philip was sent to school in Hampshire between 1928 and 1933. There his mother’s family – the Mountbattens – became something of a stabiliser for him, especially after her hospitalisation for schizophrenia in 1930.
What was his schooling like?
Unorthodox. He went to two elite schools. The first was near the Bavarian Alps, and it taught ‘liberality of mind’ as well as focussing on a rugged outdoors sort of life. The Nazis were growing in influence in Germany during that time and when it forced its Jewish founder to flee, he started a new school in Scotland and Philip followed.
And then came the Royal Naval College…
And he was good at it… He graduated top of his class having received commendations including best cadet. Then came WWII when Philip served around the world, seeing action in the Mediterranean in 1941. He also witnessed history – he was there when the Japanese surrendered at Tokyo Bay.
So when did he meet Elizabeth?
It was during a visit to the Royal Naval College that an 18yo Philip first met a 13yo Elizabeth – and it seems she thought he was husband material right from the start. They became engaged in 1946.
That was something of a secret…
For about a year. Elizabeth’s father King George VI was adamant that Elizabeth’s engagement should not be announced before her 21st birthday. But Philip also had to attend to some personal admin… He acquired British citizenship under a new surname – Mountbatten – and he converted to the Church of England.
Then came the pomp and pageantry…
It sure did. The wedding was on November 20, 1947, and it was the biggest national occasion since the war.
And they settled into Royal life?
Not really. Philip took a desk job at the Admiralty and the couple had their firstborn, Prince Charles, a year after their wedding. He was then posted to Malta, and they lived like many other service families – and they had expected to live that way for at least another decade or two but destiny had other plans…
Plot twist! What happened?
The King fell ill and in February 1952, he died of lung cancer at 56yo. Philip was 30yo and Elizabeth just 25 when she became Queen. He gave up a promising naval career to be the Queen’s consort, a role that carries no constitutional significance. It was quite an adjustment and particularly challenging for Philip because his only job was to be there to support her.
What did he do?
There were a lot of charities and the like who signed him up as patron. And Philip apparently found a place where he could let his hair down at the Thursday Club – an all male-drinking and dining get-together with other high flying war veterans.
That sounds like trouble…
There were rumours about the club being a launchpad for affairs, but nothing was ever substantiated.
And how were things at home?
There were also reports of clashes within the Palace with Philip keen to unpick very old ways of doing things, and he was said to be frustrated by his lack of responsibility – or ability to pursue his own professional life. He was known as strong-minded, sometimes testy and on occasion very direct.
He could be funny at times though, no?
Yes, he was known for his sense of humour – but he also said some offensive things. He once told a group of British students heading off on a trip to China not to stay too long because they’d get “slitty eyes”. But his defenders point to the good work he did in the UK and around the world.
Like The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme?
Yep, he set that up in the 1950s. It recognises young people for taking part in volunteering, expeditions, and developing personal interests and still operates today. Around 8 million young people have taken part, across more than 130 countries.
And he was interested in science and conservation?
Yep, in fact, he became the first President of the World Wildlife Fund in 1961.
That’s a long time ago. When did he retire?
It was August 2017, when he was 96yo, that he finally stepped down from official duties. In the year before then, he undertook 300 official appointments. No wonder the old boy needed a rest…
Did he maintain good health throughout his life?
He did, but he had his fair share of health issues over the past decade or so. The last of which was a heart operation in March after he had been admitted to hospital after feeling unwell in February.
So how did he die?
Nothing official has been said about that. Philip was discharged from hospital on 16 March when he was said to be in “good spirits”. And then on Friday, the Palace announced that he had died peacefully at Windsor Castle. He was 99yo, just 2 months shy of his 100th birthday on 10 June.
Which brings us to Operation Forth Bridge…
Philip’s funeral plan is named after the Forth Bridge in Edinburgh, the city of his dukedom. There’s a protocol to follow when someone in the royal family dies and each senior member is given their own codename, which is always a bridge, to describe the respective procedures.
So what’s next?
There’s 8 days between his death and funeral where various protocols are observed. All union flags for one will be lowered to half-mast on royal buildings where the Queen is not in residence. There were also official gun salutes across the UK, in Gibraltar and from warships at sea. And so much more.
And what does the Royal family do?
The Queen and her family are in an official period of mourning and during this time, most engagements will be either postponed or cancelled, however, this is at the Queen’s discretion.
And the funeral?
It will take place at St George’s Chapel, Windsor at midnight Sunday AEST. At that time there will be a national minute’s silence. Only 30 people will attend thanks to COVID restrictions, including Prince Harry who returns from Los Angeles without Meghan. It won’t be a state funeral, but it will be what’s called a royal ceremonial funeral.
But that has nothing to do with COVID…
Nope. It’s Philip’s wishes. He wanted something low key – and had it not been for COVID it could have seen 800 people attend.
So I hate to be blunt, but what’s happening with his body?
Philip will be interred at St George’s Chapel, and his remains will be kept in the royal vault beneath the chapel until the Queen dies when they will be buried together in the George VI Memorial Chapel within St George’s.
What’s the family said?
Prince Charles said of his father: “His energy was astonishing in supporting my mama – and doing it for such a long time, and, in some extraordinary way, being able to go on doing it for so long.” 73 years long to be exact…
And as for the Queen?
She’ll trundle on. Experts say there is little chance the Queen, the world’s oldest and longest-reigning living monarch, will relinquish the throne in light of Philip’s death. She became monarch after her father died, and it’s believed that’s how she wants to pass on the crown to her eldest son, Prince Charles.
Reading: The island where Prince Philip was worshipped as a god – It’s so random but this article unpacks how that came to be. Charles, you’re up next.
Buying: Where to get Philip’s favourite Boddingtons beer – For those that feel like raising a glass.
Reading: The ins and outs of Philip’s funeral plans – The BBC’s where, what, who and how.
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