They’re one of the most famous couples in the world, and this week Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip reached a remarkable milestone in their marriage – their platinum wedding anniversary. With 70 years of wedded bliss behind them, we look back on some of the major milestones of their relationship…
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.” These are the words of Queen Elizabeth II as she described her husband on their golden anniversary in 1997. Twenty years later, her marriage to Prince Philip is – at 70 years long – the longest of any British sovereign, surpassing that of George III and Queen Charlotte by 13 years. But their relationship hasn’t always been straightforward, and when a young Prince Philip of Greece sought the hand of Britain’s most eligible woman, many obstacles lay ahead…
1) Falling in love
The couple first met when Elizabeth was just eight years old, at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark (Philip’s cousin) and Prince George, Duke of Kent (Elizabeth’s uncle). Five years later, when Elizabeth was 13 and Philip was 18, their paths crossed again during a meeting at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, in July 1939. It was here, reportedly, that Elizabeth fell in love with her future husband, and they later began exchanging letters.
Several years later, in 1946, Philip asked King George VI for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The king agreed on one condition – that the formal announcement of the engagement was delayed until Elizabeth turned 21 the following April. According to reports, both the king and his wife Queen Elizabeth were reluctant to approve the marriage out of fear that their daughter was “too young”. In postwar Britain, there were also fears over how Philip – who was born in Greece, considered himself Danish and had German relations – might be accepted as a member of the royal household. Indeed, upon becoming engaged to Elizabeth, Philip dropped his Greek and Danish royal titles, becoming a naturalized British subject and taking the surname Mountbatten from his maternal grandparents. Later, on the eve of their wedding, King George conferred upon him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.
2) Getting married
The royal couple’s wedding day took place at Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947. The event did not go without incident: Elizabeth’s tiara snapped on the morning of the wedding, and Prince Philip was stopped for speeding through central London on the day of the rehearsal dinner (19 November). He reportedly said at the time: “I’m sorry officer, but I’ve got an appointment with the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
At their wedding breakfast, King George VI described the union as a genuine romance: “Our daughter is marrying the man she loves,” he said. Meanwhile, former prime minister Winston Churchill hailed the event as a “flash of color on the hard road we have to travel” – referring, no doubt, to the climate of postwar Britain.
3) Life abroad
Following their marriage, and in the years before Elizabeth became queen, the couple held a royal residence in Malta from 1949-51, where Prince Philip was stationed in the Royal Navy. They spent several years on the Mediterranean island, and it was here that Elizabeth lived the relatively normal life of a naval wife.
As a surprise for their 60th wedding anniversary in 2007, Prince Philip took the Queen back to the island (and also to Broadlands, a country house in Hampshire, where they spent their wedding night).
4) Becoming parents
On 14 November 1948, Elizabeth and Philip became parents for the first time to a son, Charles – now the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. Two years later, on 15 August 1950, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Anne. In the years that followed, two more sons arrived: Andrew, on 19 February 1960, and Edward, on 10 March 1964.
The birth of the four children, and Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1952, brought with it a discussion on the family’s surname. The royal family had held the surname of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha until 1917, when King George V decreed that the family name would be the less Germanic-sounding Windsor. When Elizabeth became queen – just over three years after the birth of Charles – the name of the Royal House remained the same.
Whether this caused any contention with Prince Philip is debatable. According to a biography of Elizabeth by Sally Bedell Smith, he once privately complained: “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.” Surely enough, on 8 February 1960, a declaration made in Privy Council ensured that Mountbatten-Windsor would be the surname of Elizabeth’s and Philip’s male-line descendants.