While Queen Elizabeth II may be something of an enigma, a very private person who does not reveal her personal feelings, her husband Prince Philip is often perceived as easier to understand, given that he often appears to speak his mind. However, many biographies of him, or indeed the Queen, are in agreement that he is not as straightforward as he seems, that there is more to him than the occasional blunt remark might indicate. Philip Eade’s Young Prince Philip aims to shed some light on the foundations of his character, in a biography of his early years, covering birth up to the 1950s-60s. While very grateful to sources at the Palace, Eade is at pains to point out in his introduction that this biography is not authorised or approved.
Born in 1921, Prince Philip was the only son of Prince Andrea of Greece, and his wife, Princess Alice, granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The family, including Philip’s four older sisters, fled Greece when Philip was only eighteen months old, following one of Greece’s many revolutions overthrowing the monarchy. Philip’s childhood continued to be eventful, with his family breaking up and he spending school holidays with various relatives, notably his grandmother Princess Victoria in Kensington Palace, and his uncle David, Marquess of Milford Haven. It was later in his teens that the infamous Dickie Mountbatten took Philip under his wing.
Philip’s first meeting with the then Princess Elizabeth was when he was an eighteen year old naval cadet, and she was only thirteen. Elizabeth was in love almost from that day, but it was obviously some years before a romance developed. The couple were married in 1947, and enjoyed only a few years of quiet married life before George VI died, meaning Elizabeth acceded to the throne.
It certainly can’t be said that Philip’s story is a dull one. From fleeing Greece as a baby to his years in the Navy, there is plenty to tell about Philip’s early years. Eade does an excellent job not only of telling this story, but also of ensuring that Philip’s character comes across. As a schoolboy he was fun and lively, and most of his classmates had something good to say about him. Eade has consulted memoirs of Philip’s friends, family and teachers in order to understand him, and to paint an accurate and full picture for is readers.
Despite the fact that Philip clearly accepted his somewhat nomadic life as a child and teen, it is hard not to feel a little pity for him – his mother suffered from mental illness, later believed to be bipolar disorder, and his father was a slightly remote figure, although loved. His sister Cecile died in a plane crash with her family, including her stillborn baby. Yet in addition to feeling sympathy for the young Philip, I also felt a great deal of admiration. The man he has become is by no means perfect (but then who is?), but he dealt with all this upheaval in his formative years with cheerfulness and a get-on-with-things attitude, leading to a highly successful naval career, which could have been stellar if not cut short when he left to support his wife full time.
One section of Young Prince Philip which I particularly enjoyed was the period between Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage and her accession to the throne. Sometimes I find it disrespectful when a writer refers to the Queen as Elizabeth, but Eade does this when talking about their married life, even after her accession, and it doesn’t read as disrespectful – it serves to emphasise the fact that they were, for a brief time, just another young married couple. We learn about their first home in Clarence House, and how they liked to leave a door open so they could chat while at their respective dressing tables. I found it charming, not in the least disrespectful, and also a little sad: I so wanted them to be able to have more of this simple domesticity, without the pressure which comes with being monarch. Of course, in Philip and Elizabeth’s case, there was also the struggle to define Philip’s role at her side, and the struggle for him to be accepted by the older courtiers.
I have admired Prince Philip for some time, knowing that it has not been easy for a man like him to always come second to his wife, and Young Prince Philip only increases that admiration. Eade writes with a clear respect for his subject, but is not fawning or blind to his faults. It is a well-written and enjoyable biography, showing Prince Philip to be an interesting and admirable person in his own right, separate from his wife and with more depth than we realise from the comments of his which tend to be remembered.
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