Ninety years ago today, at 10 a.m. on 10 June 1921, Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark was born on a dining room table at Corfu. In February 1947 he became a British citizen with the name Philip Mountbatten and in November the same year he was created Duke of Edinburgh when he married the future Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. In 1957 he was granted the title of Prince of the United Kingdom.
Two years ago he overtook Queen Charlotte as the longest-serving consort in British history, but he still has nearly twelve years to go to beat his mother-in-law to the title of the longest-living consort. However, given that his health seems to be remarkably good for a nonagenarian, it does not seem altogether impossible that he might still be around for several more years to come.
While some of the British newspapers today publish tributes to the Duke, who was also praised in Parliament two days ago, public opinion about whether he has been an asset or a liability to the royal family seems to remain divided. It will be interesting to see what will be history’s judgement on the man whom Queen Elizabeth II has described as “quite simply my strength and stay all these years”. While appearing to be conservative in many ways, the Duke of Edinburgh has in other ways also made his mark as a reformer, which in itself speaks about his complex character.
The outspokenness of Prince Philip, whose sense of humour has much too often been misinterpreted as rudeness, is legendary and while his wife has never given an interview the Duke of Edinburgh has sat down for two in connection with his birthday. In the interview with the BBC, which was broadcast in Britain last night, the Prince said that he would now reduce his workload in order to “enjoy myself for a bit now, with less responsibility, less rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say”. He also admitted that his memory is no longer as good as it used to be and that he has trouble remembering names.
He gave up some of his patronages last autumn, but remains involved with some 800 organisations and charities. On this his ninetieth birthday his schedule contains two official engagements and tomorrow he will take attend Trooping the Colour. However, since a few years back he does no longer ride behind Queen Elizabeth’s carriage, but drives with her to Horse Guards Parade. This year his grandson Prince William will on the other hand ride behind the carriage for the first time, reflecting his recent appointment as Colonel of the Irish Guards. The Duchess of Cambridge is also expected to attend the parade for the first time.
While tomorrow is the monarch’s official birthday (the actual one is of course 21 April), the celebrations of the consort entering his tenth decade have been postponed until Sunday, when the royal family will attend a service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, followed by a reception and family lunch. A large number of the descendants of his four sisters are also expected to attend.
Today the actual birthday was marked by the usual gun salutes in London and “Happy Birthday” was played at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The Prince, who served in the British navy with distinction during World War II, was also honoured by his wife, who made him Lord High Admiral, i.e. the titular head of the Royal Navy.