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- September 2021 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Prince Philip Revealed by Ingrid Seward. Published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster, available in hard cover, paperback and e-book.
Her Majesty the Queen, whilst speaking at the Banqueting House on their golden wedding anniversary, said of Prince Philip, ‘He has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family and this and many other countries owe him a greater debt than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.’ A royal observer commented ‘…the best investment the Royal Family has ever made in all its history was the Duke of Edinburgh’.
Philip is from Danish, Greek and British royal families. Like Her Majesty the Queen, he is a fourth-generation descendant of Queen Victoria. He is revealed as a clever and refreshing person who has had a significant influence for good in Britain and the Commonwealth when he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947. He remained two steps behind the Queen for the next 68 years. He became the longest serving British royal consort to the longest serving monarch in British history. The book illustrates Prince Philip’s unfailing loyalty to the Queen and his family. Prince Philip’s time in the Royal Navy is discussed as well as his many appointments, interests and sporting activities
After leaving Gordonstoun Philip joined the Royal Navy as a cadet at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth in late 1938. His training at Dartmouth was interrupted in 1939 by time with his mother Princess Alice in Athens. He graduated in 1939 receiving the King’s Dirk for the Best Cadet of his entry year and the Eardley-Howard-Crockett prize as the Best Cadet at the entire college. It was while at Dartmouth in 1939 that he met the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth who was visiting the college with King George VI, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. In 1940 he was appointed as a midshipman and spent four months in the battleship HMS Ramillies escorting convoys of the Australian expeditionary force in the Indian Ocean. After a series of courses at Portsmouth Philip was commissioned as a Sub-Lieutenant. He was top in four out of five sections of the qualifying examinations. Philip was involved in the Battle of Crete and Mentioned in Dispatches for his service during the battle of Cape Matapan where he controlled the searchlights of the battleship HMS Valiant.
In June 1942 he was posted to the destroyer HMS Wallace which was involved in the allied invasion of Sicily. As a 21-year-old he became one of the youngest First Lieutenants in the Royal Navy, described as an officer ‘of unusual promise’ and predicted that he would ‘make his mark in the Service’. On the destroyer HMS Whelp he saw service with the Pacific Fleet. Philip spent several months in Australia while Whelp was refitted and was present in Tokyo Bay when the instrument of Japanese surrender was signed.
On the eve of the wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten in November 1947, King George VI admitted Philip to the Royal Family by making him a Knight Commander of the Order of the Garter and authorising him to use the appellation of Royal Highness. The King also granted him the titles of Baron Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth and the Duke of Edinburgh.
In July 1950 Philip was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and appointed to his first command, that of the frigate HMS Magpie. These were happy days for the young couple. In July 1951, because of the ill-health of King George VI Philip left Malta on indefinite leave. He had made Magpie one of the finest ships in the fleet. Back in London Philip insisted on pursuing his naval career but this ended as a Commander in January 1953 after almost 14 years. He was promoted Honorary Admiral of the Fleet and added the title Captain General of the Royal Marines in June 1953. On his 90th birthday in June 2011 the Queen conferred the title and office of Lord High Admiral upon Prince Philip. The Queen had held the title since 1964.
Prince Philip was involved in many organisations, to their financial gain. He had a profound influence on the Duke ofEdinburgh Award Scheme. He had two terms as President of the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1949 and 1971. He was Chancellor of the Universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Salford and Wales and an Honorary Fellow of St. Edmond’s College Cambridge. When he retired shortly after his 96th Birthday, Buckingham Palace announced he had undertaken 22,219 solo engagements and 637 overseas tours since 1952. During this time, he gave 5496 speeches mostly written by himself and had written 14 books. He was Patron of 745 organisations.
There are chapters in the book relating to Prince Philip’s role in the growth and development of Charles and Anne and subsequently Andrew and Edward. In early 1981 he counselled Prince Charles to either propose to Lady Diana Spencer or break off the courtship.
There is an interesting chapter on humour and wit as it relates to Prince Philip. Philip was a fan of The Goon Show. Spike Milligan would refer to him as ‘Dear Skipper’. Speaking to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh of which Philip was a Patron he said ‘I ought to give an immediate undertaking not to attempt to practice the craft of surgery. I understand that James IV sometimes used ‘to have a go’ at members of his household. Mine are quite safe!’
Ingrid Seward’s book is a fascinating and comprehensive memoir of the life of Prince Philip. The Duke of Edinburgh is presented as a complex figure, a man of great intelligence, energy and accomplishment. Reading the book so soon after his death on April 9, 2021 just short of his 100th birthday and watching his funeral at Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 made for a very sad but especially memorable experience.
Because Prince Philip is a descendant of Queen Victoria and her daughter, Princess Alice, both carriers of the gene for haemophilia, he played a role in a medical scientific investigation about the family trait of haemophilia. This involved identification and DNA analysis of bones found in Yekaterinburg in Russia in 1991 and 2007. Were they the bones of the Romanovs, all murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1917? Prince Philip donated some hair from his head to be used as a DNA reference point for the scientific study. The DNA bone studies demonstrated that they were indeed those of the Romanovs.
The Tsarevich Alexei had haemophilia and the Tsarina, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was a carrier of haemophilia. However, the remarkable and surprise finding was that they, and thus Queen Victoria, had haemophilia B or Christmas Disease and not haemophilia A, as had long been presumed. Haemophilia B or Christmas Disease is clotting factor IX deficiency and haemophilia A is clotting factor VIII deficiency. The prospects for corrective gene therapy and cure are probably better in Christmas Disease than in haemophilia A. So a hundred-year-old medical mystery was solved with the help of Prince Philip!
Reviewed by Kevin Rickard