The death of Prince Philip at the age of 99 has left a huge void in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and left the United Kingdom deeply saddened by the loss of one of its most committed public servants. As the Queen’s companion for nearly three quarters of a century, Prince Philip’s death has brought an end to the longest Royal marriage in recorded history.
One of the most formative periods of Philip’s life began with his enrolling at the Scottish school of Gordonstoun in 1934; an educational institution that placed great emphasis on hardening its pupils with austere conditions and instilling in them a love of the outdoors and outdoor pursuits, with a particular focus on sailing – an activity that would come to greatly define Philip’s life.
In 1939, Philip arrived as a cadet at the Royal Dartmouth Naval College, which just so happened to be the year that the British Royal Family paid a visit, with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in tow. It fell to the 18-year-old Philip to entertain the distant third cousins with whom he shared Queen Victoria as a grandmother. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed young man took the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth to the college’s tennis courts, where he proceeded to lark about for her amusement by jumping back and forth over the tennis nets.
As the weekend came to an end, all thoughts of the young Princess might have drifted from Philip’s mind – had she not shown a precocious determination to keep in touch with him. Elizabeth corresponded continually with Philip, tenaciously positioning herself as his pen pal – all through the period that spanned Philip’s repatriation to Greece to live with his mother in Athens, and his return to the UK to graduate top of his class from Royal Dartmouth Naval College.
On 1st January 1940, Philip joined the HMS Ramilles on a six-month tour of the Indian Ocean. By January 1941 he was serving on the HMS Valiant in Alexandria, and ended up being mentioned in dispatches in the Battle of Matapan after spotting an unexpected enemy vessel. In 1942 Philip became one of the youngest officers in Royal Naval history to be made First Lieutenant, when he assumed the role of second-in-command of HMS Wallace.
In 1943, his ship was dispatched to the mediterranean to provide cover for the Allied landings in Sicily, where his courageous and quick-thinking command saved countless lives as HMS Wallace came under attack from a Luftwaffe bomber. His wartime achievements earned him the Greek War Cross of Valour, yet by some remarkable combination of ingenuity and luck, the death of Prince Philip did not occur during the Second World War; astonishingly, Prince Philip’s death would not yet occur for another 76 years.
By August 1946, Philip and Princess Elizabeth’s long-distance, clandestine courtship blossomed into a secret engagement, which was then officially announced to the public on 9th July 1947. King George VI, at the couple’s wedding breakfast, declared that “our daughter is marrying the man she loves”, and their ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey on 20th November 1947. King George VI died on 6th February 1952, leading to Princess Elizabeth’s coronation on 2nd June 1953, and Philip, as a result, becoming prince consort to Queen Elizabeth II.
Philip had not counted on playing second string to the Queen of England when he married Princess Elizabeth, but he nevertheless devoted himself to a life of public service and supporting the institution of the British Royal Family. On 31st December 1956, Philip launched the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to encourage self-improvement amongst young people, with a particular focus on outdoor pursuits, skill development, volunteering and expeditions – a programme that would prove to be his lasting legacy.
In 1957, Philip renounced his title as Prince Philip of Greece when the Queen made him Prince Philip of the United Kingdom – no longer just a prince consort. In the remaining six and a half decades leading up to Prince Philip’s death, he would prove himself not only to be a source of huge support and stability for the Queen, but a rock at the heart of the British Royal Family whose leadership, strong sense of rectitude and sharp wit would guide the Windsors through an ever-evolving Royal institution and modern challenges unlike any it had faced before.
Prince Philip’s life had not yet lost the potential to serve up an unexpected twist, however; in 2006, a news report revealed that an isolated tribe of Yaohnanen people on the Vanuatu island of Tanna in the South Pacific had been worshipping Prince Philip as a divine being approximately since the 1950s. Five representatives of the Tanna tribe met Prince Philip in 2007, during which they exchanged gifts and Prince Philip supplied them with a new photograph of himself to add to those already revered in Vanuatu. The Prince Philip Sect, along with the rest of the world, greatly mourned Prince Philip’s death on 9th April 2021.
When Prince Philip died, the British Royal Family lost a patriarch, the United Kingdom lost a tirelessly devoted Prince, and Princes William and Harry lost a grandpa who was a “master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right ‘til the end.”