On November 20, 1997, the night of her 50th wedding anniversary, Queen Elizabeth made a speech in front of Tony Blair and dozens of distinguished guests at London’s Banqueting House. It was relatively short and succinct, as her speeches usually are. And much of it was quite, well, run-of-the-mill: she thanked the Prime Minister for hosting that evening’s festivities, as well as the country as a whole for supporting the couple during her reign. But, at the end of her speech, she spoke of her husband, Prince Philip, with profound and uncharacteristic emotion: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years,” she said. “I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.” 24 years later, the royal family announced that Prince Philip had passed away peacefully at the age of 99 on the morning of April 9 at Windsor Castle.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s relationship was one of love, respect, and long-lasting admiration. They first met at Britannia Royal Naval College in 1938, where an 18-year-old Cadet Philip was introduced to a 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth of England while she was touring the grounds. From then, it’s said, the young royal “never from that moment thought of anybody else.” The two began to exchange letters through the war years. Upon his return from the Pacific Theater in 1946, his relationship with Queen Elizabeth blossomed. It’s presumed that he proposed that June, on the grounds of Balmoral. “To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty,” he wrote in a letter dated from that year.
Despite his stately title, there was originally some resistance about the marriage from The Crown. Many thought Philip to be too brusque, too unpolished, too German, too Greek, too. . . un-English to marry then-Princess Elizabeth. But Elizabeth was insistent. A formal announcement was made in July 1947, bearing Philip’s new Anglicized last name: Mountbatten. Months later, he renounced his right to the Greek and Danish thrones.
That November, they wed in front of 2,000 people at Westminster Abbey. “I wonder if Philip knows what he is taking on,” King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, was heard saying to a guest. “One day Lilibet will be queen and he will be consort. That’s much harder than being a king, but I think he’s the man for the job.”
Prince Philip, undoubtedly, thought he had more time before his wife became queen and he, consort. The young couple lived for a few years in Malta, where Philip was stationed. They had two children, Charles and Anne. But then King George fell ill, then grew sicker, and died in 1952. Philip broke the news to his wife that, a mere five years after they were wed, they were now the most famous people in the world. At the Queen’s coronation in 1953, he kneeled before her and swore to be her “liege man of life and limb.”
That, for Philip, was easier said than done. Accounts during the fifties and sixties paint Philip as a man adrift with alleged affairs, and anger. He was unsure of his place, his role, his life. But, eventually he found his way, crafting his own legacy while steadfastly supporting his wife. Turns out King George was right: he was, indeed, the man for his job.
Below, we revisit Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s life in pictures, from their Westminster Abbey wedding, to their idyllic weekends at Balmoral, to the Duke’s final birthday at Windsor.