25 Things You Didn’t Know About Prince Philip
He was so much more than Queen Elizabeth II's husband.
Editor’s Note: Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II, has died at 99 years old.
In a statement on April 9, 2021, the Palace said: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.”
“His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was best known for his somewhat gruff demeanor, naughty sense of humor, and occasional off-color gaffes. But he also faithfully served the British people and supported his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, since she took the throne 69 years ago—the longest reign in British royal history and the fourth-longest in the world. When she became the monarch back in 1952, Prince Philip admits he was unsure of his role. “There was no precedent. I’ve asked somebody, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ They all looked blank. They had no idea,” he told the BBC in his 90th birthday interview. Having passed away on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99, it seems he figured it out. Let’s take a look at some little-known facts and accomplishments of Prince Philip. Then, take a look through these photos of Prince Philip’s life.
He was the longest-serving consort in British royal history
Prince Philip didn’t retire until he was 96 years old—30 years after the usual age of retirement for most people. As the longest-serving “consort” (spouse of the monarch) ever, Prince Philip undertook 22,191 official solo engagements and gave 5,493 speeches during his career. Joking that he is the “world’s most experienced plaque unveiler,” Prince Philip also championed many important causes including scientific research, industry, and the environment. Even after his retirement, he continued as a member of 780 organizations. When told by a well-wisher, “I’m sorry you’re standing down,” the cheeky prince replied, “Well I can’t stand up much longer!” If you’re wondering, here’s the real reason why Prince Philip wasn’t “King Philip.”
Prince Philip wasn’t born a British subject
Queen Elizabeth II and her late consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had come to represent Britain itself in the 69 years she has been on the throne. But the Queen might not want you to know that her husband isn’t exactly British—at least he wasn’t until he married her. Before he was the Duke of Edinburgh, the young Philip was Prince of Greece and Denmark, nephew of the Greek king, and born on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921. He was not a British citizen, although his ancestry could be traced to multiple countries including Germany and England. “If anything, I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian, particularly Danish,” he said in a 1992 interview. Although we may think of him as the quintessential English gentleman, he only renounced his titles and became a British citizen, choosing the name Philip Mountbatten, in preparation to marry then-Princess Elizabeth.
He wasn’t the oldest British royal family member ever
Although he lived to be near 100, Prince Philip didn’t beat the record for the oldest British royal family member in history. That honor belongs to Princess Alice, the wife of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle (her father’s younger brother, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester). She died in 2004 at the age of 102. Queen Elizabeth’s mother, also called Queen Elizabeth and known as the Queen Mother, was very long-lived as well and was the first royal family member to make it to 100. She died in 2002 at the age of 101. But, Prince Philip was the oldest male British royal family member in history. All three of the longest-lived royals entered the family by marriage; the oldest British royal by descent was another Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter who died in 1981 at the age of 97. And yes, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are secretly related.
He had a turbulent childhood
In chin-up British fashion, the Queen and her husband weren’t very open about Prince Philip’s difficult early years. When the Greek royal family was ousted, his family fled the country with baby Philip lodged in a fruit crate. After settling in exile in France, Philip’s family went through more changes: His older sisters married and moved away, his father left, and his mother, who suffered from mental illness, entered a psychiatric hospital. “My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France—I just had to get on with it,” the BBC reports he said. Young Philip was shuttled off to boarding schools in England, Germany, and Scotland for the rest of his childhood.
This food is off his menu
Prince Philip enjoyed rather simple food, and flat-out disliked a certain delicacy: oysters. According to Dinner at Buckingham Palace, written by royal servant Charles Oliver, “inevitably there are one or two things the Queen and her husband do not like, and the hosts are duly warned in advance. The palace instruction states only: ‘Neither the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh like oysters.'” Prince Philip also prefers a gin and tonic or lager to fancy champagne. But, the Duke was a somewhat adventurous eater compared to his wife. “Prince Philip was the foodie,” former royal chef Darren McGrady told Hello!. “He’d want to try any new dishes all the time and got excited about new ingredients.” Find out other bizarre eating habits of the royal family, according to their personal chef.
His relatives were Nazis
His older sisters didn’t just get married: They got married to Nazis, a fact Queen Elizabeth isn’t likely eager to have the world know. When Philip’s sister Cecile and her husband, both Nazi party members, died in a plane crash in 1937, young Philip was sent to Germany for the funeral and had to walk in the procession among Nazi soldiers. None of Philip’s sisters were invited to his wedding in 1947, but the royal couple reunited with his German relations in 2015. Prince Philip, of course, can’t help who his relatives are, and he himself went on to fight for the Allies as a Royal Navy officer in World War II. Also, Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, sheltered Jews during World War II when she was living in Athens. She was honored with the title “Righteous Among the Nations on Princess Alice” by Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem for her actions and is buried in Jerusalem.
He helped create a sport
While living at Wood Farm, the retired Duke enjoyed carriage driving—driving old-fashioned carriages pulled by horses—a hobby he was interested in since the 1970s. “I decided I’d give up polo when I was 50,” he said in a 2017 interview. “I was looking round to see what next, I didn’t know what there was available. And I suddenly thought, well, we’ve got horses and carriages, so I thought why don’t I have a go.” The Duke actually helped set up the international rules for the sport, and also penned a book on the topic, Competition Carriage Driving, in 1994. But, he wasn’t always great at it. “The second competition I entered was the European championship. I came in not quite last, but very nearly,” he said. One antique carriage “had to be rebuilt up every year because it got smashed regularly.”
Queen Elizabeth’s father didn’t approve of Philip
This is the true story of how Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip fell in love: The young Princess met the dashing Prince when she was just 13, and the two corresponded as friends for many years before their romantic relationship blossomed. But a Time magazine article from 1957 points out that the Princess’ father, King George VI, “strongly disapproved” of the match. “Despite Philip’s British background and his fine war record, George VI was deeply worried about how British opinion…would take to a Greek Prince as the husband of the heiress presumptive,” Time reported. “There was also something about his daughter’s brash young man with his loud, boisterous laugh and his blunt, seagoing manners that irritated the gentle King.” Plus, Philip was poor (by royal standards, at least), exiled, had German roots and Nazi relatives, and wasn’t considered a proper choice for the princess. The Queen might not want you to know she had to make the case for her Prince, but her wishes eventually won over her father—and the country. The couple wed on November 20, 1947.
He was an artist and designer
In retirement, Prince Philip also had time for one of his other pursuits: painting. An art exhibition for his 90th birthday in 2011 celebrated his works as an artist, displaying his paintings as well as his designs for jewelry, including a bracelet for his wife, and stained-glass windows that were part of the Windsor Castle restoration after it was damaged in a fire. One of the most striking works Prince Philip has ever painted features a subject he knows well: the Queen in a very private moment, simply reading the newspaper, in The Queen at Breakfast, Windsor Castle, in 1965. Prince Philip’s pet name for Queen Elizabeth will melt your heart.
He’s related to the Queen
It’s true: Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip are secretly related. Intermarriage between cousins is something the Queen probably wants to downplay these days, although it historically tended to be commonplace: Even the famously in love Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were first cousins. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s family connection isn’t quite that close, but they are third cousins, as both are great-great-grandchildren of Victoria and Albert themselves. Historically, it was imperative to marry amongst royalty to secure power, and there were only so many options. And so today, it’s unlikely for any modern royal not to be descended from Queen Victoria: As her nine children were married off to royalty all over the continent, she’s known as “the grandmother of Europe.”
He was a war hero
Prince Philip accomplished much in his youth as a member of the Royal Navy starting at age 18 as a midshipman. In World War II, he was mentioned in dispatches (reports to high-ranking officers) for his searchlight control in the March 1941 Battle of Matapan off Greece. He was also awarded the Greek War Cross of Valor. Another story of Prince Philip’s wartime heroics came to light in 2002, when a fellow veteran told the story of how one night under heavy bombardment the Duke had the idea to divert the attention of a German plane by throwing a raft and smoke floats overboard. The ruse worked, and the ship was able to escape. “Prince Philip saved our lives that night,” the veteran said. Philip was named Admiral of the Fleet in 1953.
He was an environmentalist
“If we’ve got this extraordinary diversity on this globe it seems awfully silly for us to destroy it,” he told the BBC. “All these other creatures have an equal right to exist here. We have no prior rights to the earth than anybody else and if they’re here let’s give them a chance to survive.” According to the royal website, Prince Philip began traveling by electric car in the 1960s because he was concerned about pollution from exhaust fumes. The environmentally-minded Duke has also used an LPG (gas) powered vehicle to get around London as well. Check out these rarely seen photos of Prince Philip.
He wasn’t happy his children couldn’t have his last name
Prince Philip resented that his kids couldn’t even take his last name—or rather, that Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t allow it, as she wanted to keep to her name of the House of Windsor after their marriage. “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children,” he reportedly said. In 1960, the couple reached a compromise: Although the royal house itself would remain as Windsor, their descendants, should they need a last name, would be called Mountbatten-Windsor. The real reason Prince Philip wasn’t considered king is a whole other story.
He was a pilot
Like his grandsons Princes William and Harry, Prince Philip was also a flyboy. Named Marshal of the Royal Air Force (RAF) among his other service appointments, Prince Philip became an RAF pilot in 1953, as well as a helicopter pilot in 1956. He also earned his private pilot’s license in 1959. According to the royal website, the airman has logged 5,986 hours in 59 types of aircraft. His last flight was on August 11, 1997, to the Scottish Isle of Islay. Prince Philip was also the first member of the royal family ever to fly out of Buckingham Palace Garden in a helicopter.
He was a secret romantic
Even with their early squabbles, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth were very much in love—even if they didn’t talk about it often publicly. “To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty,” Philip wrote in a personal letter to Elizabeth’s mother. Over the years, he gave her gorgeous presents like a ruby and diamond brooch she favors for holiday occasions. In return, she recently gave him a knighthood for their 70th anniversary.
He created a youth achievement award
Inspired by his teacher Kurt Hahn at the Gordonstoun School he attended as a boy, Prince Philip established the Duke of Edinburgh Award way back in 1956. It’s not a competition, but a program based on personal achievement in four areas: volunteer service, physical fitness, skills, and “adventurous journey,” an expedition on foot, bicycle, boat, kayak, or horseback. “It’s what I like to describe as a ‘do-it-yourself’ growing-up kit,” Prince Philip said on the royal website. The program is available in over 140 countries around the world and has helped millions of teens develop confidence and know-how to face challenges and succeed in adulthood. But in his typically modest fashion, he took no credit when the BBC asked about the program. “I don’t run it—I’ve said it’s all fairly secondhand, the whole business,” he said. “I mean, I eventually got landed with the responsibility or the credit for it. I’ve got no reason to be proud of it. It’s satisfying that we’ve set up a formula that works, that’s it.”
He had a naughty sense of humor
Prince Philip was well-known for his straightforward (some might say rude) manner, wicked quips, and occasional habit of putting his foot in his mouth. A few of the gaffes the Queen wouldn’t want getting around? Speaking about a Scottish tartan, he said, “That’s a nice tie…Do you have any knickers [underpants] in that material?” To bombing victims, the Duke said, “After a fire it is water damage that is the worst. We are still drying out Windsor Castle,” referring to the 1992 fire. During a recession, he said, “Everybody was saying we must have more leisure…now that everybody’s got more leisure time they are complaining they are unemployed.” Then there’s this gem from 1961: “British women can’t cook.”
But he was very modest
Although Prince Philip was known for candidly speaking his mind, he was surprisingly mum when it came to the topic of himself. But as would be necessary to stay married to one of the most powerful women in the world, the down-to-earth Duke doesn’t need the spotlight to be focused on him. “My father plain and simply is very modest about himself and doesn’t believe in talking about himself,” his youngest son, Prince Edward, told the BBC. “One of his best pieces of advice he gives to everybody is talk about everything else, don’t talk about yourself—nobody’s interested in you.” Case in point: When asked by the BBC if he thought he had been successful in his role, he replied, “Who cares what I think, I mean it’s ridiculous.” It was one of the times the royal family was brutally honest with the media.
He thanked essential workers in a heartfelt letter
But Prince Philip was not shy about cheering for the successes of others. In his first public message since retirement, the Duke penned a letter profusely thanking healthcare and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. He even made sure to mention the garbage collectors. “As we approach World Immunization Week, I wanted to recognize the vital and urgent work being done by so many to tackle the pandemic; by those in the medical and scientific professions, at universities and research institutions, all united in working to protect us from COVID-19,” he wrote on the official royal website. “On behalf of those of us who remain safe and at home, I also wanted to thank all key workers who ensure the infrastructure of our life continues; the staff and volunteers working on food production and distribution, those keeping postal and delivery services going, and those ensuring the rubbish continues to be collected.”
He was the most popular royal among the palace staff
According to Matt Smith, who played Prince Philip in the Netflix series The Crown, the Duke was the favorite royal among the staff. “In the royal house he’s the most popular of all of them—if you’ve talked to any of the staff, Philip’s the one they all love really,” Smith said in a Variety interview. “I think more than a lot of them, he’s a bit more of a man of the people. The royal protocol hasn’t dogged him in quite the same way his whole life, and there’s a sort of rebellion in him and a naughtiness and a cheekiness. I think he’s quite affable and open by all accounts with the staff. They all love him.” Here’s what The Crown gets wrong about the royal family.
His mother was a nun
Fans of Netflix’s The Crown may have been surprised to learn in season three that Prince Philip’s mother became a nun, but it’s totally true. Otherwise known as Princess Alice of Battenberg, she was born in England but married a Greek prince, and lived in Greece until the family was forced into exile. She endured mental health issues and was consulted by renowned psychologist Sigmund Freud. After helping Jews escape the Nazis in World War II, she established an order of nuns in Greece until she was once again forced to leave the country during a military coup in 1967. As in The Crown, she was able to reconnect with her son before her death at Buckingham Palace in 1969. And like her son, she was modest. “I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action [of sheltering Jews] was in any way special,” Prince Philip said of his mother. “She was a person with deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress.”
He met one of his newest great-grandchildren before the Queen
Another way Prince Philip has broken royal protocol? He met his great-grandchild Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, Harry and Meghan’s son, before the Queen—although by accident. Queen Elizabeth and her husband weren’t supposed to be introduced to the new royal until later in the day, but Prince Philip ran into Prince Harry and wife Meghan on their way to talk to the press. “We just bumped into the Duke as we were walking by, which was so nice,” Meghan told photographers. Whoops! By the way, if you’re wondering how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren Prince Philip had, here’s the entire royal family, explained in one easy chart.
He normally didn’t live with the Queen
Although he reunited with his wife at Windsor Castle during the quarantine, after his retirement Prince Philip actually moved out of the Queen’s working residence of Buckingham Palace. But this reportedly wasn’t due to any marital rift; rather, the Duke preferred the quiet life of Wood Farm on the royal Sandringham estate, away from the bustle of the palace. Royal biographer Penny Junor says it’s just part of the Duke (and the Queen’s) longing for a simpler life. “They are very modest. They like being in a smaller cozier house, and not having to have all the staff,” she told the Daily Beast. “We may dream of living in a palace surrounded by flunkies, but they dream of being like us.”
He helped Prince William on the day of his mother’s funeral
The royal family was famously quiet in the days after Princess Diana’s tragic death in 1997—and have been criticized for it. But although the Queen might not speak about it, she and Prince Philip spent the time helping young Princes Harry and William through the grief over their mother’s passing. The Duke reportedly did not always get along with Diana—the shocking rumor that’s plagued Prince Philip for decades was that he even had a hand in her death. But in reality, Philip helped William find the courage to walk in the funeral procession. At first, the Duke was protective of the boys and their participation in the walk, reportedly saying with uncharacteristic emotion, “We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother.” But as Prince William wrestled with the decision, he gave the young man strength and support. “If I walk, will you walk with me?” he asked the 15-year-old prince. Both William and his grandfather, along with Prince Harry, Prince Charles, and Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, walked behind her coffin. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, that walk,” Prince William said in the BBC documentary Diana, 7 Days.
The Queen couldn’t have done it without him
The Duke may have been a secret feminist: He wasn’t intimidated by his powerful wife, always stood by her side, and in fact, was the only one allowed to take her on. “Prince Philip is the only man in the world who treats the Queen simply as another human being—I think she values that,” her former private secretary Lord Charteris reportedly said. “And, of course, it is not unknown for the Queen to tell the Duke to shut up.” The Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, even told ABC News, “Without him, she would be slightly lost, I think.” Although she doesn’t often reveal her feelings for her husband, the Queen herself has acknowledged, in a rare show of vulnerability, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years. I…owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.” Now that you know more about Prince Philip, browse these candid photos of the royal family you’ve never seen.