Remembering Prince Philip on his centenary birthday and his affection for Devon
- Credit: PA
This week marks the centenary of the birth of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Much was written about his many years of faithful service following his death aged 99 in April.
The county of Devon had a special place in the Duke’s heart. It was in Devon that Philip met Princess Elizabeth, his future wife and the future Queen in Dartmouth in 1939.
However, contrary to popular belief, this was not the first time Philip and Elizabeth had encountered each other. As children, both had attended the Royal Wedding of George, Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece in November 1934. Elizabeth, the eight-year-old daughter of the Duke of York, had been bridesmaid. Philip was then thirteen. They were also both present at the Coronation in 1937. The Abdication Crisis had changed things. Whereas before it had been assumed Edward VIII and any children he was expected to have would continue the royal line, by now, Elizabeth was first in line to the throne. Things would only change if her mother (Queen Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother) gave birth to a boy. As the wife of the King was still in her thirties this was a possibility. Any boy would have then been one place ahead of her in the list of people scheduled to succeed the new King, her father, George VI. But as it was, this never happened.
In July 1939, the King, accompanied by his two daughters, visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth where Philip, by now an eighteen-year-old cadet, gave Elizabeth and Margaret a tour. For the first time, he and the future Queen made a big impression on each other. Elizabeth’s governess, Marion “Crawfie” Crawford noticed “a fair-haired boy, rather like a Viking, with a sharp face and piercing blue eyes.” According to her, he was “off-hand in his manner” and did “show off a great deal.”
The meeting, this time, had not been entirely accidental. The timetable for the visit had been arranged by Philip’s uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Pleased with his success in this regard, Mountbatten later grew overconfident in his matchmaking skills. In the 1970s, his interventions in the love life of Prince Charles would prove far less successful.
This time, however, things went very well. Despite her father’s disapproval, Elizabeth would keep a picture of Philip on her bedside table as Philip served on a battleship during the Second World War. The two also exchanged letters. They would marry in 1947. By then, she was 21, he was 26.
He had been born Philip-Schleswig-Holstein-Sunderburg-Glucksburg on a kitchen table in Corfu in 1921. He was both the third cousin and the second cousin once removed of the future Elizabeth II who would be born in 1926. Both were directly descended from Queen Victoria who had died in 1901. His father had been the seventh son of a Danish prince. His mother had been a Battenberg. The Battenbergs had changed their family name to the less Germanic-sounding Mountbatten at around the time the Royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor at the time of the First World War.
Philip served in the Second World War and was enjoying a successful post-war naval career which was cut short by the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952. George VI had died aged just 56. Had he lived into his seventies, Philip might have expected to have enjoyed perhaps 15 or 20 more years in the Navy.
It was partly this love of the Navy which brought Philip back to Devon so many times during his long tenure as Duke of Edinburgh. It was also his strong affinity with the people and county of Devon, no doubt prompted in part by his memories of that fateful meeting with the young Princess Elizabeth there back in 1939.