Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Prince Philip by Philip Eade


I looked forward to reading Philip Eade's Prince Philip (Henry Holt: $28.00) largely because I hoped it would be a good book.   There are so very few good books on the life of Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, the consort of Queen Elizabeth II.   In fact, I can think of only two biographies that are worth having in your royal library: Tim Heald's  Philip: A Portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh (1991) and Philip: An Informal Biography by Basil Boothroyd (1971). 

Heald's biography is largely considered an official biography as Prince Philip made sources available to the author.  Boothroyd's biography is based on conversations with the Prince Philip.

Now add Eade's book to to the must have, must read.   This book fills an important niche as the book deals specifically with Philip's early life, ending with the Coronation.  Although this book was not authorized or official, Prince Philip's office made it possible for Eade to get the help he needed.  This help included access to archives and to conversations with close relatives and friends, including Lady Pamela Mountbatten and Lady Butter, the former Myra Wernher, the sister of Philip's friend, Alex Werhner.

So much has been written about Philip and his relationship with Uncle Dickie, with the idea that Uncle Dickie raised him.  But sometimes the truth is very different, and Eade, a respected broadsheet journalist, gets it right on all accounts.   The early years of Philip's life was peripatetic.  He was born on a dining room table at the family home at Corfu.  Exile soon followed, and the young Philip found himself living in Paris with a mother, descending into mental illness, and a father who was unable to face all the changes in his family's life.   Between 1930-1931, all four of Philip's older sisters were married to German princes.   His mother, Princess Alice, was placed in a mental hospital, and his father, Prince Andrew, preferred the more sunny climes of Monte Carlo.

Prince Andrew agreed that Philip's maternal relatives should care for him.  This included Philip's maternal grandmother, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, and her eldest son, George, Marquess of Milford and his wife, Nada, whose sister, Lady Zia, whose daughters, Georgina and Myra, were childhood friends of Queen Elizabeth.

This connection has been largely ignored by British journalists and biographers as most tend to focus on Uncle Dickie.  But Lord Mountbatten had very influence on the young Philip, who was shuttled among several relatives and schools in Germany and Scotland.

Philip soon was brought into the Wernher circle as Lady Zia's sister, Nada, was married to George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, who was Philip's primary guardian until his premature death from cancer in 1938.   Lady Zia was far more stable than Aunt Nada, and Philip became good friends with Zia's only son, Alex, who was killed in the second world war. 

Philip's friendship with his first cousin, David Milford Haven, lasted until the wedding, where David blotted his copybook with his back stage behavior.

Eade portrays in detail how remarkable Prince Philip really is, and how well he has turned out in spite of his capricious upbringing: a Greek prince raised outside Greece,  baptised in the Greek Orthodox church, but always considered himself to be Anglican because his mother's family was largely Church of England.

Prince Philip's childhood was not easy.  He was, in essence, a latch-key child, with no real roots nor a real home base although he had several places to rest his head.  His education and his family life played roles in his determined, resilient personality.    It is unlikely that King George VI and Queen Elizabeth would have originally considered Philip as their elder daughter's consort.  They assumed that Elizabeth would have chosen one of the eligible heirs to dukedoms who moved in her social circle.   In hindsight, however, Lord Dalkeith and the others were all the wrong choices.  It would have been far more difficult for a duke in his own right, to walk behind the Queen, and to maintain his own castles.  Moreover, there also would have been the issue of the ducal succession, as his peerage would largely disappear into the crown after his death.

As it turned out, Philip was the perfect choice.  Elizabeth fell in love with him because he was not like the other men.  He had an independent life, which largely ended with marriage, and especially after Elizabeth succeeded. He was devoted to the Royal Navy, and he had to give up his career in order to be his queen's helpmate.  This has allowed Philip to define a new career as a successful career as a consort.  He has his job, and the Queen has hers.

Prince Harry recently spoke about his grandparents:  "Regardless of whether my grandfather seems to be doing his own thing: the fact that he's there - personally, I don't think that she could do it without him."


The young Prince Philip's life was certainly turbulent, but that turbulence was largely buffered by support of an extended family, and the love of one very special woman, Queen Elizabeth II.

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