Being laid up in a hospital bed for one’s birthday is bound to be a pretty miserable state of affairs for anyone, but for Prince Philip, a man who counts carriage-racing as a hobby and has always prized vigour and getting on with it as much as he detests “a fuss,” confinement to a hospital bed is likely to be a particularly unwelcome birthday gift. The Queen visited her husband this evening - carrying a birthday card - and the palace issued a short statement saying that while he was 'comfortable' and 'in good spirits' he will take 'a period of convalescence of approximately two months" when he is discharged from hospital.
As a rule, the royals don’t visit each other in the hospital as it causes too much—that word again—fuss. But, like everything about the royals, this is changing too.
June, it seems, is a bad time to be Prince Philip. This time last year, during the Jubilee celebrations, he also spent much of his time in the hospital with a bladder infection after spending several hours on a barge in the Thames on a cold day as part of the ill-fated riverboat pageant. He had to make do with watching the bulk of the celebrations of his wife’s 60th year on the throne on television.
Today, it was his own birthday he was watching on TV, watching as two seperate gun salutes were fired in honor of his birthday. The first volley was at Green Park at noon, fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, followed by another at the Tower of London an hour later carried out by the Honourable Artillery Company.
Philip underwent what the Palace termed “exploratory abdominal surgery” (believed to be a laparatomy) on Friday and is said to be “progressing well” following the operation, but has apparently been too tired to receive any visitors since then.
The palace has been predictably tight-lipped on what prompted the surgery, which was performed under general anaesthetic on Friday, but such procedures are often carried out to investigate suspected cancers or ulcers. Results are expected this week, but it is unlikely the palace will formally share them with the world.
Whatever the results, the fourth hospitalization of Prince Philip in 18 months does point up the fact that the Royal couple cannot continue defying biology indefinitely. From now on the Queen will be carrying out more and more of her functions without Philip by her side.
This new reality was awkwardly illustrated when she paid a visit to the BBC newsrooms on Friday and somehow managed to find herself in the background of the newsreaders’ shot. As she unknowingly peered into the TV screens of the nation from behind a glass wall, framed by the turned backs of the newsreaders, the journalists gathered for the event roared with laughter at the sight of the Queen caught unawares on national TV.
The queen looked far from amused. She looked confused, as if she did not understand the gales of laughter, and very alone. Philip was supposed to have been with her, and she mentioned him later when she spoke on the radio about her first ever visit to the BBC. It was hard to think her unplanned photobomb would have been as uncomfortable for her if Philip had been by her side. He would have laughed it off, told her “Chin up, Sausage,” or made some politically incorrect comment about the BBC.
Despite Philip's well-known dislike of compliments, the Queen has always freely paid tribute to her husband, the longest-serving royal consort in history. “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years,” the Queen once said of him. “And 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.”
Philip has had an extraordinary life.
He was born Prince Philippos Prince of Greece and Denmark on the Greek Island of Corfu in 1921, sixth in line to the Greek throne. He was mocked at prep school for having no surname, and only ever being known as “Philip of Greece.” (He took the last name Mountbatten when he became a naturalized British citizen before marrying Elizabeth).
Philip’s father, Andrew, was the brother of the King of Greece, and his mother, Alice Battenberg (the original Germanic formulation of the name Mountbatten), was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Alice was very beautiful but almost completely deaf. She camouflaged her disability by learning to lip-read in multiple languages.
In December 1922, Philip’s parents were compelled to leave Greece in a hurry after his uncle was deposed as king, and Philip, then only 1-year-old, was smuggled out of the country in a crib made out of a fruit crate.
Philip’s father subsequently spent most of the rest of his life living a playboy lifestyle in the south of France, but his mother was committed to a mental institution in Germany in 1930. Alice was “diagnosed” with a “neurotic-pre-psychotic libidinous condition” and on the recommendation of Sigmund Freud, was subjected to an exposure of the gonads to X-rays, in order to accelerate menopause.
Philip’s parents rarely saw him, and he spent most of his childhood at boarding schools or with his maternal uncle, Dickie Mountbatten. Philip went to school in England, Germany, and then Gordonstoun in Scotland, where he was head of the school cricket and hockey teams and became head boy.
After his peripatetic childhood, he said it was one place he really felt at home, and he looked back fondly on his time there, despite the harsh schooling, which included cold showers every morning.
Princess Elizabeth and Philip first met when they attended the wedding of Philip’s cousin, Princess Marina of Greece to the Duke of Kent, who was an uncle of Princess Elizabeth, in 1934. Things stepped up a gear when he made a visit to Buckingham Palace in 1939. He was 18 and Elizabeth was 13. The future Queen’s governess described how, while they were playing with a clockwork railway, Philip came into the room—and everything changed.
“For a while they knelt side by side playing with the trains. He soon got bored with that,” Princess Elizabeth’s governess said. “We had ginger crackers and lemonade in which he joined and then he said, ‘Let’s go to the tennis courts and have some real fun jumping over the nets!’ At the tennis courts I thought he showed off a little too much. Lilibet (Elizabeth) said, ‘How good he is! How high he can jump!’ He spent a lot of time teasing plump little Margaret.”
Later that evening, when Philip went for dinner with the King, Elizabeth had already been sent to bed, in accordance with the nursery schedule.
Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and attended Dartmouth College as a cadet.
Philip was not protected by any royal patronage and was active in the Second World War. As a member of the Royal Navy, he was in charge of operating the searchlights on a battleship called the Valiant. In the battle of Cape Matapan, where the British wiped out a large part of the Italian fleet in a nocturnal attack, Philip was awarded a medal and mentioned in dispatches for his skill with the searchlights, which contributed to the devastating results.
When asked about the action later by his cousin Alexandra, Philip told her, “It was as near murder as anything could be in wartime. The cruisers just burst into tremendous sheets of flame.” Immediately after the attack, Philip used his searchlights to scour the ocean for survivors to rescue.
In 1947, to pave the way for marriage to Elizabeth, he became a naturalized British subject, and adopted the surname Mountbatten. He converted from Greek Orthodox to the Anglican religion, and renounced his allegiance to the Greek crown.
The engagement between Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN was announced on the July 9, 1947, and they were married in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. The day before his wedding, King George VI titled his future son-in-law Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich, of Greenwich in the County of London.
In February 1952 Philip and Elizabeth were in Kenya staying at Tree Tops hotel during a tour of the Commonwealth when news came of the death of the Princess’s father King George VI. They returned to Britain for the Princess to take up her new role as Queen Elizabeth II, and Prince Philip as Royal Consort.
He resigned from the Royal Navy, and has devoted his life since then to supporting the Queen.
Now it may be his turn to be supported by her.