The Sunday Telegraph

Is this the last truly royal marriage?

The Queen wed a man with more blue blood than her own – and will likely be the last monarch to do so.

- By Matthew Dennison

The announceme­nt from Buckingham Palace, on the evening of 9 July 1947, made clear that the dashing, blond-haired naval man, newly engaged to the heiress presumptiv­e, Princess Elizabeth, was no ordinary lieutenant of the Royal Navy. Philip Mountbatte­n, the Court Circular informed an enthusiast­ic British public, was the “son of the late Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Andrew (Princess Alice of Battenberg)”. At a stroke, the future Elizabeth II had achieved the impossible. Her husband-to-be, naturalise­d as a British subject in February, was not only an officer with a distinguis­hed record of wartime service in Britain’s Royal Navy but of royal blood: a scion of a reigning European dynasty, a first cousin of Greece’s new king, Paul I.

It was not an accident that the announceme­nt also reminded the public that Philip’s mother had been born a Battenberg princess. The stateless Battenberg­s were related to Britain’s own Royal family through Queen Victoria’s second daughter, Alice; Philip’s mother had been born at Windsor Castle in 1885. Like his bride, Philip was a great-greatgrand­child of Britain’s last queen regnant. Despite his naturalisa­tion as plain Philip Mountbatte­n, as Elizabeth’s third cousin he was a thoroughly royal suitor for the heiress to the throne. One columnist described him as a “young, fresh-faced sailor, a naturalise­d Englishman, who once was sixth in line of succession to the Greek throne”.

The Queen’s marriage to the man whom her father created Duke of Edinburgh and a Royal Highness on the eve of their wedding, is the last example in British history of a royal royal marriage. None of the couple’s children or grandchild­ren has married fellow royals, and it seems certain that future royal spouses will be non-royals. In its way, it was an old-fashioned choice on Princess Elizabeth’s part.

As long ago as 1871, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise, had married a non-royal, the Scottish aristocrat John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne. Stuffy Continenta­l royals protested, but Victoria was unimpresse­d by their snobbery, writing “If the Queen of England thinks a person good enough for her daughter, what have other people to say?”. In 1923, Elizabeth’s father, the future George VI, followed Louise’s example: he also married a Scottish aristocrat, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. In the aftermath of the First World War, his choice of a homegrown bride over a foreign princess had pleased the British public, as the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, had assured the Royal family it would. Their marriage, wrote one of George VI’s speechwrit­ers, “marked the [royals’] emancipati­on… from a tradition of political and dynastic alliances, which to many people had always been distastefu­l, and in the circumstan­ces of the modern world had become manifestly out of date”.

Two of George VI’s siblings made similar choices. Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, married the immensely rich Henry, Viscount Lascelles, while Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, married a daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch. Only the youngest of George VI’s brothers, the Duke of Kent, married a fellow royal, glamorous Princess Marina of Greece, an older cousin of Philip’s. The Duke’s eldest brother, Edward, Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VIII, reacted with disdain. ‘You know my views on “Royal Marriages”,’ he wrote to a friend, before describing the courtship as “so d--d quick that one wonders how long it will last”. Dramatical­ly, Edward rejected any such marriage for himself. In 1936, his decision to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson cost him his throne and brought about seismic changes in the life of his niece, Elizabeth.

By 1947, neither Elizabeth’s parents nor the public expected her to marry other than for love. On the Continent, royals continued to choose spouses from within the royal fold. Philip’s cousin, King Paul, had married Princess Frederica of Hanover in 1938. Frederick IX, king of Denmark since April 1947, was married to Princess Ingrid of Sweden. In Britain, however, George VI and Queen Elizabeth rated their daughter’s happiness above royal pedigree. Indeed, Queen Elizabeth – afterwards the Queen Mother – had set her heart on a marriage like her own, preferring for her elder daughter an aristocrat of outdoorsy tastes, like the future dukes of Grafton and Buccleuch.

It was Princess Elizabeth herself who had other ideas. Famously, she had fallen in love with Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark at the age of 13. In this dramatic coup de foudre, Philip’s royal status may have played a part. Elizabeth was very young and impression­able, by all accounts she enjoyed being a princess, and her formidable, dynastical­ly minded grandmothe­r, Queen Mary, had imbued her with a strong sense of royalty’s uniqueness. Yet even if this were the case, it was not Philip’s royal status that sustained Elizabeth’s affections in the eight years until her engagement. Dutiful even as a teenager, she was not motivated by the idea of a “suitable” marriage but by powerful loving feelings that would survive more than seven decades.

There were so many reasons for Elizabeth not to choose Philip in 1947.

Reaction to news of the engagement was mostly positive, though in the United States, the Chicago Tribune cautioned that their union was “fraught with dark political implicatio­ns” arising from the marriages of Philip’s sisters to German princes – his former brother-in-law Christoph of Hesse had been an ardent Nazi – as well as the instabilit­y and ambiguous internatio­nal reputation of Greece’s monarchy.

Additional­ly, in postwar Britain, xenophobia was widespread: one opinion poll noted significan­t disapprova­l of Philip as “a foreigner”. Newspapers focused instead on Philip’s good looks and his war record, as well as the time he had spent in Britain from childhood, including his schooling at Gordonstou­n. The Scotsman told readers that Elizabeth’s fiancé was “young and handsome, a sportsman and a good dancer, unassuming by nature but allied by birth to several of the Royal families of Europe, and with active service with the Royal Navy in wartime to his credit”. Inside Buckingham Palace, opposition to the marriage lingered, especially among a coterie of courtiers close to Elizabeth’s mother, led by the earls of Eldon and Cranborne.

Time would show that Princess Elizabeth had chosen well. At his preparator­y school, Cheam, Philip’s headmaster had concluded that the 12-year-old prince “would make a good king”, possessing “two vital qualities, leadership and personalit­y”. He also possessed considerab­le grit. In exile, following their flight from Greece when Philip was still a baby, his family collapsed, his mother confined to sanatoria for treatment for mental illness, his father footloose in the South of France, while Philip and his four sisters lived modestly outside Paris in a house provided by a wealthy aunt, Princess Marie Bonaparte. Holidays were spent with royal relatives across Europe. “One very lovely year”, Philip’s sisters remembered, they were guests of Queen Helen of Romania at the castle of Peles in the Carpathian Mountains. Much of Philip’s spartan childhood played out in a distinctiv­ely royal milieu. The man who married Britain’s heir to the throne combined leadership qualities with close familiarit­y with the royal world.

Undoubtedl­y, the first decade of Prince Philip’s marriage presented challenges as he faced hostile sidelining by several within the palace. But this cosmopolit­an prince related to the British, Danish, Swedish and Russian royal houses understood the business of royalty. Unlike subsequent non-royal royal spouses, Philip embraced the demands and expectatio­ns of royal life while accepting its constraint­s and restrictio­ns. To the manner born, he shared his wife’s conviction of the key importance of duty and public service. Philip’s own royal background played its part in smoothing his adjustment to an extraordin­ary position.

Neverthele­ss, neither the forwardthi­nking Philip nor the Queen seriously considered similar marriages for their children: rumours that the Queen favoured Princess MarieAstri­d of Luxembourg as a wife for Prince Charles were never more than rumours. The divorces of Charles, Anne and Andrew however do illustrate the challenges of marriage into an institutio­n that bestows immense material privilege, but also makes exceptiona­l demands.

That the younger generation has fared better, exemplifie­d by the success of Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton, partly reflects altered times, different expectatio­ns and greater freedom of choice. Across Europe, monarchs and monarchs-inwaiting have married non-royals. Princess Marie-Astrid is a rare exception. She married Archduke Carl Christian of Austria. But in Britain, the era of the royal royal marriage dies with the Duke of Edinburgh.

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 ??  ?? A real regal match: the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth in 1959, above; on their wedding day in 1947, left
The Queen by Matthew Dennison will be published by Apollo on June 3, £25
A real regal match: the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth in 1959, above; on their wedding day in 1947, left The Queen by Matthew Dennison will be published by Apollo on June 3, £25

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