Escape into a fruit box, maternal illness and paternal separation, proximity to the Nazis and plane crashes marked the childhood and youth of Prince Philip – who died this Friday (9) -, a direct descendant of Queen Victoria who, however, was a Greek prince and had Danish ancestry.
Born on the Greek island of Corfu – in the north-west of the country, on the border with Albania – Philip was one of the first men and the only man among four sisters. His father, Prince Andrew, was the brother of King Constantine of Greece.
The boy was 18 months old when Greece lost the war against Turkey, and André ended up in jail, charged with treason and sentenced to death. Philippe’s father then fled to Paris with his family: his wife, the Princess of Anglo-Germanic origin Alice de Battenberg, the four eldest daughters – Margaret, Theodora, Cecilie and Sophie – and Philip. According to a biographer, the baby was taken in a box of oranges.
Despite his reign over Greece, André’s family was of Russian and Danish descent, from the Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg dynasty. Alice, whose German family adopted the British surname Mountbatten, was Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughter and English was Philip’s first language.
At the age of nine, the boy was sent to a boarding school in England, at the same time as his family was hit by a second storm. Alice was diagnosed with schizophrenia after a psychotic break and was admitted to a sanatorium in Switzerland. André moved in with a sweetheart in Monaco, where he died 14 years later.
Philip was sent to the home of his maternal grandmother, a widowed Marchioness who lived in the UK. In interviews he said he had never received a visit from his family in his five years at English school. His uncle, Lord Mountbatten, became his main family reference and was often cited as a father figure.
Meanwhile, Philip has lost one of his sisters, Cecilia, to a plane crash, pregnant. Her husband and two children were also with her. At the funeral, Philip was pictured among Nazi soldiers, marking the family’s closeness to the Hitler government.
Cecilie and her husband were members of the Nazi Party and Sophie, her younger sister, married the director of the Air Force Ministry of the Third Reich. A third sister, Margarita, was married to a German army commander – who in 1944, however, changed positions, even participating in a failed plot against Hitler.
Shortly before becoming engaged to Elizabeth, Philip renounced the title of Prince of Greece and Denmark and applied for British naturalization. In 1972, some 25 years later, it was discovered that an 18th century law already guaranteed him UK citizenship, due to his ties to Queen Victoria.
Due to ties to the Hitler regime, Philip’s sisters did not attend Elizabeth’s wedding in 1947. Only her mother was present. At that time, already recovering from mental crises, she had started living in a Greek Orthodox convent in Athens, where she founded an order of nurses formed by nuns. During World War II, he protected several Jewish families – at the same time, his daughters married Nazi officers.
With the end of the monarchy in Greece in 1967, she was invited by her son to live at Buckingham Palace, where she died two years later.