16 May 2010

The Moonstruck Princess and Her Greek God: Part 2 of 2

When Princess Elizabeth of England fell in love with Prince Philip of Greece—imagine a royal marriage based on love!—there were many obstacles between her and the altar. (See Part 1). She was merely 13 and he had already launched a military career. She was British and his sisters were married to Nazis. Greece was unpopular in England. And, most forebodingly, her father, King George VI was not in favor of the match.

Born Prince Albert of York, and later named Duke of York, King George VI should never have been king for he had an athletic, charming, gregarious older brother who was destined for the throne. Albert, called Bertie, was shy, troubled by serious health issues and handicapped by a severe stammer. In his boyhood, Bertie endured painful leg braces to straighten his legs and suffered at the hands of an abusive nanny. Through all of this, Bertie developed a very strong will. He overcame it all and grew into adulthood, devoted to duty and to family.

Where his brother was a bon vivant, Bertie preferred to lead a quiet life, but that streak of determination never left him. When he fell in love with the daughter of Scottish peer, he didn’t let anything stand in his way. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was admired by many and most of her suitors were far more handsome, talented and even richer than the king’s second son. The beautiful young woman had her pick of Britain’s titled young gentlemen. When the prince proposed to her, he was not the first she turned down. The prince’s mother felt sorry for her boy, but gruff old King George V knew Bertie was facing a difficult challenge; he told him, “You’ll be a lucky fellow if she accepts you.” Bertie tried and failed again, but finally, the third time, Elizabeth said yes.

Two decades later, after the abdication crisis had made him King George VI, he should not have been surprised to discover that his oldest daughter had inherited his unwavering determination. Her desire to marry Philip may have been the only quarrel that ever existed between the doting father and his dutiful daughter.

At first, the king could stall: Elizabeth was too young and the world was at war. Philip served in several different posts from Scotland to Australia and saw combat on several occasions, while Elizabeth was tucked away at Windsor Castle to finish growing up while planting victory gardens and eating the same rationed food as other English youngsters.

Despite his active naval career, Philip managed several exciting off-duty adventures during the war, including visits to Egypt, Britain and Greece. Handsome and dashing, Philip undoubtedly enjoyed his ports of call, although some of his acquaintances reported that he was aware of his regal destiny. On his first naval posting, Philip allegedly told his captain that his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, wanted him to marry Princess Elizabeth and revealed that he wrote to the 13-year-old girl every week. Not long after that, he attended a cocktail party in Athens, rubbing elbows with Member of Parliament Chips Channon, who later reported that Philip was to marry Elizabeth, an idea he undoubtedly got from Philip himself.

In addition to writing each other regularly, Elizabeth and Philip also saw each other more frequently than many wartime sweethearts. He was often in London and invited to visit the royal family at Windsor. He even spent several Christmases there, watching Elizabeth, her sister and cousins enact pantomimes to entertain the family and guests. Elizabeth kept a photo of a bearded Philip at her bedside and he always had a picture of her in a battered, leather frame wherever he went. The two of them seemed certain of a future together.

Behind the scenes, things were far from settled. While Uncle Louis and Philip’s cousin, King George II of Greece, were pushing for the match, King George VI remained opposed. Any mention of a marriage set his teeth on edge. He found many reasons to object. He didn’t want to support the troubled Greek royals: at the start of the war, he wouldn’t allow them to come to England although he later relented. He continued to insist that Elizabeth was too young, even after she turned 18 and began serving as a Counsellor of State. He also objected to Philip himself; he liked him, but he thought the young prince was simply too boisterous.

The Greek king and Lord Louis were turned down flatly. So, they abandoned their head-on campaign for a more roundabout route, focusing instead on securing British citizenship for Philip. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and her beloved found more ways to see each other, sometimes arranging to meet under the chaperonage of her aunt, the Duchess of Kent, who was a former Greek princess.

With the end of the war, Elizabeth was able to launch her own vigilant campaign to select her bridegroom. It was then that the king’s greatest objection became clear. As happens with so many daddies, he could not bear to lose his daughter and break up his own happy family. Elizabeth remained resolved and Philip was frequently invited to the royal residences and the two met discreetly at the homes of loyal friends and family.

In 1946, during a walk on the grounds of Balmoral in Scotland, after an eight-year courtship, the 25-year-old Prince Philip finally asked the 20-year-old Princess Elizabeth to marry him. She accepted immediately and without her father’s permission. When she told King George, he begged her not to announce anything for a year, until after the royal family returned from a tour of South Africa. Although the king harbored a secret hope that she would change her mind, Elizabeth knew that time and distance could not alter her love for Philip. After all they had been frequently separated throughout the war.

In February 1947, the royal family set sail for South Africa—Philip was not invited to bid his fiancĂ©e goodbye at the docks and any whispers of the secret engagement were ignored or denied by the palace. While Elizabeth was away, Philip became a naturalized British citizen, foregoing his royal title and taking on his uncle’s surname. He was simply Lt. Philip Mountbatten. Elizabeth also celebrated her 21st birthday during the trip and finally melted the last of her father’s defenses.

On July 10, 1947, the palace finally announced the betrothal. “We feel very happy about it, as he is a very nice person,” her mother wrote. Winston Churchill noted that the wedding, which took place that November, “was a splash of colour” in the dark world of post-war Britain. As the nation celebrated, no one was happier than Elizabeth herself. She had never faltered in her love for Philip and she had fought to make him hers.

Despite the inevitable ups and downs of marriage and particular pressure of a life lived in public, more than 60 years later, she loves him still. I imagine that there are still moments when the 84-year-old queen looks at her nearly 90-year-old husband and still sees that dapper, blonde 18-year-old jumping over tennis nets and chasing after her boat.

1 comment:

  1. What a sweet story! I had no idea that there was a disapproving father, boat chases, and secret meetings behind the love of Queen Elizabeth and her consort. Or even that they had married for love. This is precious!