25 Fascinating Facts About Prince Philip
By Paul Anthony Jones│Mental Floss│11 min
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born 100 years ago this year, on June 10, 1921. Although best known as a member of the British royal family, Philip had considerable royal connections long before his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947. The son of Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and her husband Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, Philip was also a nephew of King Constantine of Greece and sixth in line to the Greek throne at birth. In fact, through his parents’ long lineages, he is also related to Kings of Prussia and the Russian Romanov dynasty. (When the bones of what were suspected to be Czar Nicholas II and his family were discovered, Prince Philip was one of three people who donated blood for DNA identification.) Here are 25 more things you should know about the oldest living member of the British Royal Family.
1. Prince Philip wasn’t born on his birthday.
Philip was born at the summer retreat of the Greek royal family, Mon Repos, on the island of Corfu off the west coast of Greece, in 1921. At the time, Greece was still using the Julian calendar (and wouldn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923). The difference between the two means that in his home country he was actually born on May 28, not June 10.
2. Prince Philip’s family was forced to flee Greece.
The Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22 eventually led to the abdication of Philip’s uncle, Constantine I, and forced his family into exile while Philip was still an infant. Through his family’s connections to the Mountbatten dynasty in England, a British vessel—the HMS Calypso—was sent to Greece to evacuate the family, with Philip reportedly carried from the country in a wooden fruit crate. They eventually settled in France, and the young prince grew up in Saint-Cloud, on the outskirts of Paris, with his aunt, Marie Bonaparte, Princess George of Greece and Denmark.
3. Prince Philip’s original surname was a bit of a mouthful.
In 1947, Philip began using the surname Mountbatten (his mother’s surname), but before then—if he had a surname, which isn’t always guaranteed among royals—he would have gone by his father’s family’s name: Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.
4. Prince Philip didn’t have an easy childhood.
In 1930, Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The diagnosis led to her being removed from the family and institutionalized, first in Berlin and then in a sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, where she underwent years of often grim treatment. Sigmund Freud—a friend of Philip’s aunt, Princess George—believed that Alice’s condition was caused by sexual frustration, and recommended her ovaries be repeatedly X-rayed in what Freud said was an attempt to “cool her down.” (During World War II, Alice sheltered some Greek Jews from the Nazis, saving their lives. Yad Vashem bestowed on her the title of Righteous Among the Nations in 1993.)
Then, in 1937, Philip’s heavily pregnant sister Cecilie was killed in a plane crash along with her husband and most of their children. The following year, his uncle and guardian George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, died of cancer at the age of just 45.
5. Prince Philip was a good student.
Despite all the childhood upheaval, Philip was a keen and intelligent student. He was educated at schools in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (where he eventually settled with the Mountbattens). One of his teachers at the American-run English school in Paris later described Philip as a “know-it-all smarty person.”
6. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II first met when she was just 13 years old.
After his school studies were over, Philip enrolled as a naval cadet at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. During a royal visit to Dartmouth in 1939, Queen Elizabeth (the present queen’s mother, the wife of George VI) asked if Philip would chaperone her two young daughters, princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, for the duration of the visit. Philip and Elizabeth had first met at a wedding in 1934, but after this—their first official meeting—the pair began exchanging letters, and a romance quickly bloomed.
7. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth are actually related.
Both the Queen and Prince Philip are great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria: Elizabeth through Victoria’s eldest son, the British king Edward VII, and Philip through Victoria’s second-eldest daughter, Princess Alice. Philip’s great-grandfather, Christian IX of Denmark, was also the grandfather of the Queen’s grandfather, George V. So depending on how you look at it, they are either third cousins, or second cousins once removed.
8. Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s engagement announcement was delayed by more than a year.
Philip asked George VI’s permission to marry his daughter in the summer of 1946. The king agreed—but requested that the announcement of their engagement be delayed until after Elizabeth’s 21st birthday, in April the following year. As a result, the couple’s engagement wasn’t announced until July 9, 1947.
9. Prince Philip is a naturalized British subject.
Before his marriage to Princess Elizabeth on November 20, 1947, Philip was compelled to renounce his connections to the Danish and Greek throne and become a naturalized British citizen. (Denmark later passed an official state act removing Philip’s family from the Danish order of succession completely.)
10. Technically, Prince Philip might not have needed to become a British subject.
This is a complicated one, but here goes. When the only surviving child of the future Queen Anne died in 1700, her cousin Sophia, Electress of Hanover, moved up the English line of succession to become Anne’s direct heir. That, however, caused a problem: Although she was a granddaughter of James I, Sophia was German by birth, not English. To get around the prospect of a German citizen sitting on the English throne, parliament hastily passed an act known as Princess Sophia’s Naturalization Act in 1705, which, to all intents and purposes, solely served to make Sophia an English subject.
The wording of the act, however, also made any “issue of [Princess Sophia’s] body” (in other words, any of her direct descendants) an English subject too. In the end, that line proved hugely important—Sophia died before Anne in 1714, so the throne eventually passed to her son, the German-born king George I, who likewise became an English citizen automatically through the Naturalization Act.
As another of Sophia’s direct descendants, Prince Philip could have possibly assumed his status as a British subject through the act, without the need to renounce his claims to the Danish and Greek thrones. But the Royal Marriages Act 1772 proclaimed that any descendants of George II (as Elizabeth and Philip both are) needed royal approval before their marriage, except for the children of Princesses married into foreign families. It’s unclear whether or not all the royals along Philip’s line had (or needed) the proper marriage permissions. To truly determine Philip’s place would have required quite a lot of legal research and wrangling [PDF]—so in the end, it was probably wise to take the easy option. (The Naturalization Act itself was quietly broken apart and all but repealed in 1948.)
11. None of Prince Philip’s sisters attended his wedding.
By 1947, Philip’s three surviving sisters had all married German nobility. Anti-German sentiment was so rife in post-war Britain that none of them were permitted to attend his wedding.
12. Prince Philip is only the fifth male consort in British royal history.
Thanks to years of primogeniture, for centuries it was male heirs who took precedence in line to the British throne, so on only a handful of occasions did the throne pass to a queen rather than a king. As a result, Prince Philip is only the fifth male consort in nearly a millennium of English royal history. The others are Philip II, husband—and technically co-sovereign—of Mary; William III, co-sovereign of Mary II; Prince George, husband of Queen Anne; and Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. (Arguably, you could add Matilda’s husband Geoffrey and Lady Jane Grey’s husband Guilford Dudley, but the reigns of those two queens are disputed.)
13. Prince Philip is only the fourth Duke of Edinburgh in history.
The title Duke of Edinburgh was created in 1726 for the eldest son of George I’s grandson, Prince Frederick. On his unexpected death in 1751, the title passed to Frederick’s son—but when he became George III in 1760, the title was subsumed into the crown. According to a 19th century Baronage guide, there were then a few Dukes of Gloucester and Edinburgh, but the title Duke of Edinburgh was not used again until for more than 100 years, when in 1866 Queen Victoria bestowed it on her son, Prince Alfred. When he died with no surviving male heirs, the title once again disappeared until it was resurrected by King George VI and bestowed on Prince Philip on his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947. (Arrangements have been made for the title to eventually pass to Prince Edward after Philip’s death.)
14. Duke of Edinburgh isn’t Prince Philip’s only title, either.
As well as being Duke of Edinburgh, Philip also holds the titles Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich in the County of London. He is also a Knight of the Garter, a Privy Counsellor, and until 1999 was technically a member of the British House of Lords, the upper chamber of the British parliament. The Prince never took his seat in the Lords, however, as the Queen must be seen to remain politically neutral.
15. Prince Philip was one of the youngest lieutenants in the history of the Navy.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and served as a midshipman aboard a superdreadnought battleship, HMS Ramillies. He rose through the ranks during the course of the war to become one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy’s history at the age of just 21. He eventually attained the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1953, and to mark his 90th birthday in 2011, was made Lord High Admiral of the Navy by the Queen—becoming the ceremonial head of the entire British Navy.
16. Through the Navy, Prince Philip was nearby when Japan surrendered during World War II.
Philip’s naval service eventually led to him being posted to a British destroyer, HMS Whelp, in 1945; it was positioned in Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, in a battleship that was, he later recalled, “200 yards away. You could see what was going on with a pair of binoculars.”
17. Prince Philip has a pilot’s license.
Philip is just as adept in the air as at sea. He learned to fly planes through the Royal Air Force and received his RAF wings in 1953. He added a helicopter license to that in 1956, and a private pilot’s license in 1959. By the time he piloted his final flight in 1997 (at the age of 76), he had amassed almost 6000 hours of flying experience, in 59 different types of aircraft.
18. Prince Philip was the first member of the British royal family ever interviewed on television.
Philip was interviewed on the BBC’s flagship current affairs program, Panorama, on May 29, 1961.
19. Prince Philip was also the first member of the British royal family to cross the Antarctic Circle.
While on a globe-spanning, 40,000-mile “diplomatic mission” on the royal yacht Britannia in 1957, Philip strayed across the most southerly of the Earth’s five major circles of latitude, and became the first British royal ever to venture into Antarctic waters. (The Queen remained in London, meaning Philip holds this record alone.)
20. Prince Philip is trilingual.
Philip is said to “understand a certain amount” of Greek, but doesn’t speak either it or Danish fluently, despite his family roots. But he does speak fluent German and (like the Queen) is fluent in French.
21. Prince Philip has founded many prizes, awards, and institutions.
As any young Brit will know, the Duke of Edinburgh award, or “DofE,” is a hugely popular youth training scheme founded by Prince Philip in 1956. But that’s not the only scheme that he has been involved in over the years.
The Prince Philip Designer’s Prize has been awarded to “a British designer whose exemplary work has influenced the perception of design by the public and accordingly elevated the status of designers in society” since 1959. In 1962, he instituted the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, which remains a public exhibition space for art from the Royal Collection. And, along with Crown Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan and Sir Evelyn Rothschild, established an interfaith dialogue movement, promoting collaboration between the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths. In all, more than 75 different prizes and schemes now either bear his name or title, or were established by the Prince.
22. Some of the awards Prince Philip has founded are a little more unusual than the others.
In 1961, a few years after students at Cambridge University beat his “royal champions” in a tiddly-wink competition, Prince Philip began awarding the Silver Wink award to the winner of the University Tiddlywinks Championships. He also instituted a bagpiping trophy for the Pakistan Army in 1963.
23. Prince Philip is considered a divine being to some.
The people of Yaohnanen, a village in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, have a story of a divine figure—the son of a mountain spirit who travels to find a woman to marry. At some point, this turned into the Prince Philip Movement, a pseudo-religious sect whose devotees consider Prince Philip a godlike figure. Over the decades since, Philip has returned to Vanuatu, and members of the group have met with him in London and exchanged gifts and photographs.
24. Before his retirement, Prince Philip was one of the busiest royals.
Throughout his lifetime, Philip has been involved in more than 700 different organizations and, as either patron or president, has chaired more than 1000 official meetings. By the time it was announced that he would step back from public life in 2017, he had appeared at more than 22,000 official events and delivered some 5500 speeches over a lifetime of service.
25. Prince Philip is already the third longest-lived royal in history—and the longest-lived of all male royals.
With him now approaching his 100th birthday, as of 2021 only the Queen Mother and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester (one of Elizabeth II’s aunts) have outlived Prince Philip: The Queen Mother was 101 on her death in 2002, while Alice was just two months shy of her 103rd birthday on her death in 2004. Philip is already the longest-lived male royal—and his 73-year marriage to the Queen remains the longest in royal history.