The Childhood of Prince Philip

Unlike his future wife Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip did not have a stable childhood. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece, fought in a military campaign against the Turks in the 1920s. Philip was born during the campaign. Unfortunately for Andrew, the Greeks lost and he and other military leaders were blamed. Andrew’s wife Alice had ties to Britain, which she used to beg the British king to spare her husband’s life. Prince Andrew, Alice and the children reunited on the British ship HMS Calypso. While on shipboard, young Philip took his first steps.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Coronation Portrait

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Coronation Portrait

From the time of his father’s exile from Greece, Philip’s family never had their own home. Instead Philip and his sisters stayed at the homes of relatives or other royal families in Europe. Philip’s parents took little interest in the raising of their son, but Nanny Roose remained a constant presence as the prince grew up. Since his nanny was British, English was Philip’s first language. She tried to train him as an English gentleman. She had her work cut out for her, since the prince delighted in teasing and pranks. For example, Philip loved to escape from his nanny at bath time. He ran naked through the halls of whatever castle he happened to be living in until someone finally caught him and brought him to the bathtub.

Philip’s outgoing personality and kindness helped him get along with the various cousins with whom he stayed. One cousin, Helene Foufounis, felt her mother paid Philip too much attention, but she still “thought he was a very nice little boy.” Helene’s sister had a hip injury and was often unable to play. When Philip received a toy from a family member who neglected to get one for his sick cousin “he came back with an armful of his own toys, and the new one, thrust them on her bed and said, ‘These are for you.’” Philip was not a snob, either. He knew he was a prince, but if an adult called him Prince Philip, he protested that he was “just Philip.”

The young prince attended several schools throughout Europe, but especially enjoyed Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Scotland. The school emphasized athletics and physical labor over subjects like math. Philip excelled there, later remarking that he was “one of those ignorant bums who never went to university—and a fat lot of harm it did me!” Despite the school’s strict rules Philip still pulled pranks—once he sewed up a teacher’s pajama bottoms—but nearly everyone, including the schoolmaster, liked him.

When he turned seventeen Philip left Gordonstoun for Dartmouth Royal Naval College to train for a career in the British Royal Navy. While in Dartmouth, one of his uncles arranged for him to meet thirteen-year-old Elizabeth. Though Philip was unimpressed by Elizabeth at first (after all, a lot of girls closer to his age found him attractive), Elizabeth adored him almost immediately. Several years later, they became secretly engaged.

2 thoughts on “The Childhood of Prince Philip

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