Wednesday, June 9, 2010
89th Birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will celebrate his 89th birthday tomorrow, June 10. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (Philippos in Greek) was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921 (Old Style: May 28, 1921- Greece continued using the Julian calendar until 1923; on his birth certificate, Philip's birthdate is listed as May 28). He was the fifth child and only son of Prince and Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark. Through his father, Philip is a grandson of King George I of Greece and a great-grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark. Through his mother, who was born Princess Alice of Battenberg, he is a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria.
Prince Philip with his mother, Princess Andrew of Greece (nee Princess Alice of Battenberg).
At the time of Philip's birth, his father Andrew served as a commanding officer during the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922. Following Greece's defeat and the abdication of Philip's uncle, King Constantine I, a number of senior military officers were arrested and tried by a military tribunal, including Prince Andrew. Fearing (rightfully so) for her husband's life, Princess Andrew appealed to government officials and foreign leaders to intervene. Prince Andrew was found guilty but, through diplomatic appeals, was sentenced to banishment from Greece. Thanks to his cousin King George V of Britain, Andrew's family were rescued from Corfu by a British warship; an infant Philip was reputedly carried aboard in a makeshift crib fashioned out of an orange crate.
Prince and Princess Andrew settled in Paris' Saint-Cloud district. There, along with a number of other exiled Greek royals, they relied on the financial generosity of Andrew's wealthy sister-in-law Princess Marie Bonaparte, who was married to Andrew's brother Prince George of Greece.
Philip experienced a rather unstable childhood. In the early 1930s, Princess Andrew was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and committed to an asylum in Switzerland. This permanently ruptured his parents' marriage, and his father moved to the south of France where he lived with his mistress. Philip also found himself an only child as his four sisters all went off to marry German aristocrats. From then on, Philip's primary guardians were his maternal grandmother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford-Haven, and his mother's brothers, George, Marquess of Milford-Haven and Louis Mountbatten, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Philip attended school at Cheam, and then at Schlue Schloss Salem in Germany, which was owned by his sister Theodora and her husband. However, the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s prompted Philip's English relatives to transfer him out of Salem, and he went to Gordonstoun in Scotland, founded by Salem's Jewish headmaster Kurt Hahn, who fled Germany due to Nazi persecution. Philip thrived at Gordonstoun and has often recalled his memories at the school with pride.
Philip saw little of his parents during this time. His mother was eventually released from the asylum but embarked upon a nomadic existence across Europe. In 1937, Philip's sister Princess Cecilie was killed in a tragic plane crash in Belgium; her husband, their two sons and her unborn child also perished in the accident. Cecilie's funeral marked the first time Philip had seen either of his parents in years.
During World War II, Philip served in the Royal Navy and became one of its youngest first lieutenants. In 1947, Philip proposed to Princess Elizabeth, elder daughter and heiress to King George VI of Britain. He and Elizabeth were both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria, making them third cousins (Philip's great-grandmother, Princess Alice, was the sister of Elizabeth's great-grandfather, King Edward VII) while they were second cousins once-removed through King Christian IX of Denmark (Philip's grandfather, King George I of Greece, was the brother of Elizabeth's great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra). Before their marriage, Philip was obliged to renounce his titles as Prince of Greece and Denmark. He also adopted a new surname- Mountbatten, the English translation of his mother's family name, Battenberg. (his father's family name, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, was deemed inappropriate; particularly for its German roots in a post-World War II society).
Philip and Princess Elizabeth were married in 1947, and he was created Duke of Edinburgh by King George VI. George VI died in 1952, and Elizabeth succeeded to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II. Though Philip holds no constitutional role, he consistently accompanies the Queen on various official engagements and visits, as well as accompanying her to the official state openings of Parliament.
Philip has championed environmental causes- he was the international president of the World Wildlife Fund from 1986-1991, and he has also taken an acute interest in the preservation of Antarctica. He has set up the Duke of Edinburgh's Award to honor exceptional young people.
In spite of his numerous charities, foundations and environmental causes, Philip is often viewed as a controversial figure due to his outspoken nature that has landed him in a number of high-profile "gaffes". In 1986, he infamously joked with a group of British students studying in China not to stay too long otherwise they'd all "become slitty-eyed". He also told a group of deaf youngsters at a rock concert "No wonder you're deaf listening to this music" (the Duke later said it was taken out of context, and pointed out the fact that his mother, Princess Andrew, was actually born deaf). When it was suggested that he and the Queen pay a state visit to the Soviet Union, he replied "those bastards murdered half my family" (this was in reference to the 1918 murders of the Russian imperial family- Empress Alexandra of Russia was the sister of Philip's maternal grandmother).
At the present time, Philip is the longest-lived consort of a British monarch and is also the longest-serving royal consort in British history. He is also the second-busiest member of the royal family; only his daughter, Princess Anne, carries out more royal engagements and duties.