Prince Philip was born on a kitchen table in Corfu

The extraordinary life of Prince Philip: Born on a kitchen table in Corfu, the prince with Danish, German, Russian and British blood who was carried into exile aged just one and overcame the trauma of an absent father and mother to fight for his country

  • Philip, born in June 1921, was a Prince of Greece but with no Greek blood and in fact had complex background
  • Family fled Corfu in December 1922 after father, in Greek army, was arrested and charged with high treason
  • Evacuated on a British warship, he was carried into exile in a makeshift cot made from an old orange box
  • After fleeing Corfu, Philip’s family finally arrived in Paris, and were dependent on relatives for financial help 
  • In March 1941, Philip was searchlight control officer on HMS Valiant and he was mentioned in dispatches

He escaped Greece as a baby, stowed in a makeshift cot made from an orange box.

But Prince Philip did not let his traumatic childhood hinder him as he rose to great heights after being sent to the UK as a virtually orphaned ten-year-old boy.   

With his mother in a psychiatric clinic and his exiled father mostly absent, Philip spent his early years living with various relatives.

Despite this and a succession of family tragedies, he emerged charming and uncomplaining, though prone to occasional volcanic outbursts.

At 21, he was one of the youngest 1st lieutenants in the Royal Navy and was praised for his role in the Second World War. In July 1943, he devised a clever plan to deflect enemy aircraft, saving the lives of sailors on board the destroyer HMS Wallace. 

And with his good looks, in his personal life, glamorous young women fell at his feet. He won round Hollywood actresses, British socialites and eventually a 17-year-old Elizabeth Windsor.

Following the news of the Prince’s death aged 99, MailOnline follows Philip’s remarkable journey from exile to Buckingham Palace. 

Prince Philip of Greece, later to become the Duke of Edinburgh, being held by Princess Alice of Greece, as a baby in 1921

Born at the family home, Mon Repos – allegedly on the kitchen table – on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10 1921, Philip, along with the rest of his family, had to leave when he was just one year old. Evacuated on a British warship, the blond, blue-eyed Prince was carried into exile in a makeshift cot made from an old orange box. He is seen above, aged one, in 1922

Although he was a Prince of Greece, Philip had no Greek blood. His complex background was in fact Danish, German, Russian and British

His family was forced to flee Corfu in December 1922 after Philip’s father, a Lieutenant-General in the Greek army, was arrested and charged with high treason in the aftermath of the heavy defeat of the Greeks by the Turks, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922. Pictured: his parents, Princess Alice and Prince Andrew of Greece

Prince Philip as a young boy dressed in traditional Greek costume, pictured in September 1930

Philip attends the wedding of his sister Princess Margarita of Greece and Prince Gottfried von Hohenlohe-Langenburg in 1931

Prince Philip was born on June 10, 1921, on the kitchen table at his family home Mon Repos on the Greek island of Corfu.

He was the fifth child, and only boy, of parents Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg.

His ancestry was a mix of Greece, Denmark, Russia and Prussia on his father’s side, and his maternal grandmother, Princess Victoria of Hesse, was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, making him Elizabeth II’s third cousin.  

The family were happily living in the royal household of Philip’s uncle King Constantine I. 

However, Greece was gripped by political instability and just a year and a half later the family were forced to flee after the King was exiled from his own country following a military revolt. 

In the political recriminations that followed, Philip’s father, a Lieutenant-General in the Greek army, was accused of high treason after allegedly disobeying an order and abandoning his post with his cavalry regiment in the face of attack during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922.

The family managed to escape on British naval vessel HMS Calypso, with the newborn prince carried to safety in a cot famously crafted from an unused fruit box.

Prince Philip of Greece (second left), later Duke of Edinburgh, with his schoolmates at the MacJannet American School in St Cloud, France. His family eventually ended up in Paris after leaving Corfu. He was enrolled in the school, just outside Paris, in 1927, at the age of six

Prince Philip’s childhood was incredibly unsettled and he had no permanent home. Pictured: King Michael of Romania (right) riding with his cousin Prince Philip on the sands at Constanza 


When he was 10 Philip joined Gordonstoun, the then-new boys’ school near Elgin, Scotland. Pictured: Left in 1935 where he is dressed in character for a production of Macbeth. Right, he is seen on a boat he built while at school in 1936, and took it on a trip around the Hebrides. The young Duke thrived at the boarding school, captaining the cricket and hockey teams

When Philip was 16, tragedy struck. His sister, Princess Cecile (above in 1922 at the age of 11), her husband, and their two children were killed in a plane crash in 1937

They were taken to France where they settled in a leafy suburb in Paris in a house loaned to them by his wealthy aunt, Princess George of Greece and Denmark.  

From then on, the Duke’s childhood was incredibly unsettled as he was without a permanent home.

Years later, when an interviewer for The Independent asked him what language he spoke at home, he answered: ‘What do you mean, ‘at home’?’

Prince Philip was at the boys’ school Gordonstoun in Elgin, Scotland, when he heard the news

He told a separate biographer in 2001: ‘It’s simply what happened. The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’

At the age of eight, Philip was sent to Cheam school in Surrey for three years – but moved to Germany where all four of his sisters had married.

His stint in Germany proved brief when he moved back to Britain and was sent to Gordonstoun, a boarding school in Scotland. 

The school near Elgin, Scotland,  was started by Dr Hahn, who had a profound influence on the Prince.

He very rarely saw his parents and was left isolated, but he was a happy, lively child. He later said of his family’s break-up: ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’

The Duke thrived at Gordonstoun, captaining the hockey and cricket teams and becoming guardian (head boy) in his last term. It was there he learned to ‘mess about in boats’, laying the solid foundation of a future naval career.

His Uncle Dickie, Lord Mountbatten, one of Britain’s greatest seamen, took a keen interest in the Prince’s progress.

While he was there, Philip experienced another series of tragedies. When he was 16, his sister Cecile, her husband, and their two children were killed in a plane crash. 

Just a few months later, his uncle and guardian, George Mountbatten, the second Marquess of Milford Haven, died suddenly of cancer at the age of 46. Gordonstoun’s German headmaster, Kurt Hahn, was the one to break the news. ‘His sorrow was that of a man,’ his headmaster is said to have recalled. 

After leaving school, Philip joined the Royal Navy, beginning at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in May 1939, and was singled out as best cadet. 

Prince Philip takes the part of one of the three wise kings, lays his crown before the cradle in the Oberufer Nativity Play, which was performed by Gordonstoun School boys in the Town Hall at Ferres, Elginshire, in aid of Forres Leanchoil Hospital in 1938

A keen sportsman, the young prince is pictured here at Gordonstoun during an athletics championship. The school was founded in 1934 by Dr Kurt Hahn, who had fled Germany in 1933 and initially started a school with three pupils. The next year pupil numbers increased and he signed a lease with the Gordon-Cumming family for the Gordonstoun estate 


After leaving school, Philip joined the Royal Navy (left), beginning at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in May 1939, and was singled out as best cadet. He moved up through the ranks to become First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMS Wallace, at the age of 21. He is pictured, right, in 1945, where he served aboard HMS Valiant

He stayed in the Royal Navy and served on several ships – firstly on HMS Ramillies – and saw active service against German, Italian and Japanese forces. The next year he became a midshipman. 

In March 1941, he was a searchlight control officer on the battleship HMS Valiant and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the battle of Matapan against the Italian fleet.

His commanding officer said: ‘Thanks to his alertness and appreciation of the situation, we were able to sink in five minutes two eight-inch gun Italian cruisers.’

Shortly afterwards, he was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.

When he moved up through the ranks to become First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMS Wallace (at the age of 21), he was the youngest officer in the service to have an executive job in a ship of its size.

But at Christmas 1943, with ‘nowhere particular to go’, as he nonchalantly put it, Philip went with his cousin, David Milford Haven, to stay at Windsor Castle. Princess Elizabeth, now 17, was animated in a way ‘none of us had ever seen before’, wrote her governess, Marion Crawford.  

That weekend of dinner parties, charades, films and dancing to the gramophone proved to be a turning point.

After a subsequent visit to Windsor in July, Philip wrote to the Queen of ‘the simple enjoyment of family pleasures and amusements and the feeling that I am welcome to share them. I am afraid I am not capable of putting all this into the right words and I am certainly incapable of showing you the gratitude that I feel.’

Philip waterskis off Marmaris, Turkey, in August 1951, during the Mediterranean Fleet’s summer cruise – his last one on HMS Magpie before he returned to the UK

Late that summer, the Queen asked him to Balmoral for three weeks to shoot grouse and stalk. It was probably during this holiday that he proposed.

At last, he wrote to the Queen, life seemed to have a purpose. ‘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’.

The King agreed in principle to let the couple marry but wanted them to wait until Elizabeth was 21.

To begin with, the King and Queen had misgivings about the match. According to Harold Nicolson, they felt he was ‘rough, ill-mannered, uneducated and would probably not be faithful’. 

But the more they got to know him, the more they liked him, especially George VI, who appreciated his forthright manner, joshing humour and love of the outdoors. 

By the time Prince Philip married, at the age of 26, he had lost virtually all the landmarks that tie the rest of us to childhood and give us identity. 

His father died in Monte Carlo in 1944 after amassing gambling debts and he’d lost his birthright, his home, name, nationality and church. Even his birthday – fixed first in the Julian calendar and then the Gregorian – was no longer the same.

Following the end of the Second World War, Philip ended his active naval career in July 1951 and then started to focus on his work in supporting the Queen following her accession to the throne in 1952.

He also became possibly best known for founding the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme four years later in 1956, a youth achievement award which now operates in more than 140 countries.

The award, which was founded alongside German educationalist Kurt Hahn and Mount Everest climber Lord Hunt, is aimed at helping young people aged between 14 and 24 experience adventure and learn outside the classroom.

The Duke also spent much of his life involved in charities and organisations working within environmental conservation, sport, the military and engineering – with a particular interest in scientific and technological research.

In 1959 he first chaired the judging panel for The Prince Philip Designers Prize, with winners including Sir James Dyson, Lord Foster and Brompton folding bicycle inventor Andrew Ritchie.

He also retained strong connections to the Armed Forces, and in 1952 was appointed Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the Army Cadet Force and Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps.

The next year he was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet and appointed Field Marshal and Marshal of the Royal Air Force. The Duke was also Colonel-in-Chief, or Colonel, of various British and overseas regiments.

Philip played a prominent part in various aspects of British life through his role as consort or companion to the Sovereign, accompanying the Queen on most of her Commonwealth tours and State Visits overseas as well as trips around the UK.

He has also travelled abroad a great deal on his own account and has taken great pride in the four children he has had with the Queen. 

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales was born in 1948 and Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, was born two years later. 

After Philip’s wife became Queen Elizabeth II, the couple had two further children: Prince Andrew, Duke of York, born in 1960 and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, born in 1964.

Among the royal tours which had the biggest impact on him was a trip to Antarctica and the South Atlantic in 1956-57, since which he tried to raise public awareness of the environmental impacts of humanity. 

In May 2017 it was announced that the Duke of Edinburgh had decided to no longer carry out public engagements, but he remained patron, president of a member of more than 750 associations up to his death.

The Duke enjoyed good health well into his later years, although as his age advanced beyond 90, concerns for his well-being have increased after he faced a number of scares.

Abdominal surgery, bladder infections, a blocked coronary artery and a hip replacement saw him admitted to hospital on a number of occasions.

Despite having to spend two months convalescing following an operation on his abdomen, the duke appeared sprightly and walked unaided on an official visit to a care home in October 2013 when, at 92, he was older than many of the residents.

A car crash while driving at the age of 97 left him shocked and shaken but miraculously uninjured. He surrendered his driving licence three weeks later.

In January this year, the Duke and the Queen were given a coronavirus vaccine at Windsor Castle by a household doctor.

They spent lockdown sheltering at Windsor and had a quiet Christmas at the Berkshire residence after deciding to forgo the traditional royal family gathering at Sandringham.  

In March this year, he was reunited with the Queen after leaving hospital following a period of 28 days receiving treatment at both King Edward VII’s Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London 

He was initially receiving care for an infection then underwent heart surgery for a pre-existing condition. Philip was taken to King Edward VII’s by car on February 16 after feeling unwell at Windsor Castle.

Two weeks later was moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London by ambulance where he had a successful procedure on a pre-existing heart condition on March 3. 

A few days later he was transferred back to King Edward’s to recuperate and to continue his treatment – before being taken back to Windsor Castle on March 16 after a month away from his wife.

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