When Queen Elizabeth II wed Prince Philip in November 1947, it would mark the start of a union that endures to this day. Yes, the royal couple have now been married for more than seven decades – and counting. It’s worth noting, though, that the British monarch’s love for her husband seemingly began well before the pair tied the knot at London’s Westminster Abbey.
Following a relatively quiet period after Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 marriage, 2018 proved to be an eventful year for the British royals. For starters, the family celebrated two weddings within their ranks during the space of just a few months.
The first of the ceremonies in question took place in May 2018, when William’s brother, Prince Harry, tied the knot with Meghan Markle in Windsor, England. And that event proved to be one of the biggest of the year, with media outlets from across the globe covering the nuptials in great detail.
Meanwhile, in October 2018 Princess Eugenie married her partner Jack Brooksbank. Once again, the wedding took place in Windsor. And although the ceremony was a fairly low-key one when compared to that of her cousin, the big day did nevertheless attract plenty of press attention at the time.
But, of course, Harry and Eugenie’s respective weddings were just the latest in a long line of royal events witnessed by the Queen. She had previously watched all four of her children get married, for instance, with Princess Anne the first to wed in November 1973.
Princes Charles and Andrew then followed suit in the 1980s, while Prince Edward finally tied the knot in June 1999. And, undoubtedly, her children’s wedding days remain among the most memorable events that the Queen has ever experienced – although she has has attended plenty of royal functions both before and since.
The Queen had been born into the most prestigious family in the U.K. as the eldest child of Prince Albert and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon – then the Duke and Duchess of York. Even so, Princess Elizabeth, as she was then known, grew up fully aware that she probably wouldn’t become an immediate heir to the throne. When she entered the world in April 1926, her father was only second in line behind his older brother Edward.
As a consequence, Elizabeth’s early life was relatively free from concerns about her being groomed to be queen someday. And she still enjoyed the perks of royalty, too: in 1934, for instance, the then eight-year-old princess was a guest at the wedding of her uncle, Prince George. One of her earliest royal functions, the event also marked an interesting moment for the future monarch.
You see, although Elizabeth didn’t meet him directly, Prince Philip was also in attendance that day; it was his cousin, Princess Marina, who was tying the knot with George. The pair would continue to cross paths with each other over the coming years, too, at several royal events. Then in 1936 everything changed for Elizabeth.
King George V passed away during that year, with his oldest son, Edward, becoming the British monarch as a result. Not long after his ascension, though, the new king, now known as Edward VIII, made a decision that altered the lives of his entire family – particularly those of Elizabeth and her father.
Edward had previously fallen in love with an American woman named Wallis Simpson, whom he ultimately wished to marry. There was one big problem, though. Due to his position as the Church of England’s figurehead, Edward was told in no uncertain terms that he shouldn’t tie the knot with the divorcée.
Despite being advised against the romance, though, the king pressed ahead. And this choice led in turn to an incredible moment in the royal family’s history. In December 1936 Edward elected to abdicate in order to remain with Simpson ahead of their wedding in June 1937. This meant, ultimately, that Elizabeth’s father, Albert, would take over.
And that year, Albert was duly crowned as King George VI, with Elizabeth becoming the new heir apparent. During that particular ceremony, Prince Philip was in attendance once again – although it would be another two years before he officially met his future wife.
Philip was the youngest of five children to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. And although he isn’t British by birth, the future Duke of Edinburgh was still actually tied to the royal family by blood.
Philip is related to Queen Victoria, you see, making he and Elizabeth distant cousins. However, despite those links, Philip’s early life was often far from easy. In December 1922, for instance, Prince Andrew and his family were forced to leave Greece by the revolutionary government; the clan subsequently relocated to France.
And while Philip and his siblings stayed on the outskirts of Paris, they were soon separated from Andrew, who moved to southern France. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better for the family after that, either, as Princess Alice was then deemed to require care at a psychiatric facility.
Amid all the turmoil, though, Philip became a well-traveled young man who attended a number of different schools across Europe. After spending some time in Paris, he relocated to England before moving to Germany in the 1930s. Then, as the Nazi party grew in strength, the prince was sent off once again to Gordonstoun School in Scotland.
Philip eventually graduated from Gordonstoun in 1939, after which he moved to Devon, England, to become a cadet at the Royal Naval College. There, too, he is said to have enjoyed great success. And it would be at the college where the prince would come face to face with his future bride.
In July 1939 King George VI arrived at the college with his family. This meant Elizabeth was in attendance, too, with the occasion marking the first time that she and Philip properly met. It apparently didn’t take very long, either, for the princess to start feeling pangs of romance.
Indeed, royal biographer Sir John Wheeler-Bennett later made his own assertion about that weekend at the Royal Naval College. “This was the man with whom Princess Elizabeth had been in love from their first meeting,” Wheeler-Bennett said of Philip in his 1958 book King George VI: His Life and Reign.
Meanwhile, during their time together, Philip reportedly kept the then 13-year-old Elizabeth entertained by leaping over the nets of the college’s tennis courts. This stunt apparently ended up catching the eye of Marion Crawford, the princess’ governess at the time. “I thought he showed off a good deal,” Crawford is reported to later have said of Philip. She added, “[Elizabeth] never took her eyes off him the whole time.”
However, while Elizabeth may have dreamed of a romance with Philip, the man himself was arguably less keen at first. When later reflecting on that weekend at the college with his biographer, the prince explained that, at that stage, he hadn’t thought about one day going on to marry Elizabeth.
“Well, [Elizabeth and I] met at Dartmouth,” Philip reportedly said to writer Basil Boothroyd in 1970. “And as far as I was concerned, it was a very amusing experience, going on board the yacht and meeting them and that sort of thing. And that was that.” Even so, the prince would continue to maintain a correspondence with Elizabeth while he served in the navy.
Of that time, the princess recalled in a letter penned in 1947, “I was 13 years of age, and [Philip] was 18 and a cadet just due to leave.” She added of her new husband, “He joined the navy at the outbreak of war.”
“I only saw [Philip] very occasionally when he was on leave,” Elizabeth continued. “I suppose about twice in three years. Then when his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, were away, he spent various weekends with us at Windsor. Then he went to the Pacific and Far East for two years.”
As the Second World War came to an end, however, rumors started to circulate in British newspapers about Elizabeth’s relationship with Philip. And there was some substance to the speculation, it turns out, as the pair seriously discussed the possibility of becoming engaged in 1946.
Following those discussions, though, it was decided that the couple would hold off from revealing their relationship until Elizabeth turned 21 in 1947. And Philip would look back at how the romance had progressed when talking to Boothroyd.
“[Elizabeth and I] used to correspond occasionally,” Philip reportedly said. “You see, it’s difficult to visualize. I suppose if I’d just been a casual acquaintance, it would all have been frightfully significant. But if you’re related – I mean, I knew half the people here, they were all relations – it isn’t so extraordinary to be on kind of family-relationship terms with somebody.”
“You don’t necessarily have to think about marriage,” Philip added. “One thing led to another. I suppose I began to think about it seriously – oh, let me think now – when I got back in ’46 and went to Balmoral [with Elizabeth].”
Before the couple tied the knot, though, Philip made some big changes in his life. He severed his royal ties to Greece and Denmark, for one, by becoming a naturalized British subject. The change became official in February 1947.
And as well as acquiring a new nationality, Philip also took on a different surname: Mountbatten. Then, finally, the engagement between him and Elizabeth was confirmed in July 1947 – four months or so before their wedding in November that year.
Ultimately, too, it was revealed that Philip had played a role in designing the engagement ring he gave to Elizabeth. Made of platinum, the piece also included diamonds originally taken from one of his mother Princess Alice’s tiaras.
Then, on November 20, 1947, Elizabeth and Philip tied the knot at Westminster Abbey, upon which the prince became the Duke of Edinburgh. There was a honeymoon after that, of course, with the newlyweds choosing to vacation in Hampshire, England. And while ensconced in a country house, the couple each wrote letters to their respective loved ones about married life.
“I only hope that I can bring up my children in the happy atmosphere of love and fairness which Margaret and I have grown up in,” Elizabeth wrote to her parents at that time. “We behave as though we had belonged to each other for years! Philip is an angel; he is so kind and thoughtful.”
And Philip was similarly effusive about his wife when corresponding with his aunt. “Cherish [Elizabeth]?” he wrote. “I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me. She’s the only ‘thing’ in this world which is absolutely real to me.”
“My ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good,” Philip added. That aim was arguably realized, too, after Elizabeth was crowned queen in 1953.
And throughout all the subsequent trials and tribulations, Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship has endured, with the pair marking 71 years of wedded bliss in November 2018. In the past the Queen has reflected, too, on just how important her husband remains to her.
During a speech made to commemorate her 50th wedding anniversary in 1997, Elizabeth said, “[Philip] is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments. But he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years. And I and his whole family, in this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
When speaking to British columnist Brian Viner in 2010, though, the Duke of Edinburgh was altogether more blunt about the enduring success of his marriage. “[We have] different interests,” Philip reportedly said. “It’s one thing not to argue about.” Regardless, though, the couple appear to remain deeply bonded.
And when the time comes, Elizabeth and Philip have plans to be buried alongside one another at Windsor Castle. If one passes before the other, too, the surviving member would reportedly try to take the loss in their stride. Of the royals, British historian Robert Lacey told People in 2017, “They are not a soppy couple.”