My fellow reviewers know that I have this abiding and seemingly eternal admiration for the British monarchy. I'll happily read nearly anything about them, and when a news article makes a crawl across the telly, I tend to respond like a Cavalier Spaniel spotting a treat. It's pathetic, really, but then, everyone needs a hobby.
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One of the more enigmatic members of the crurrent Royal Family has to be the consort of the United Kingdom's soveriegn, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Nowadays he's viewed as a bit of an aging misfit by the general public, prone to ramming his foot into his mouth at a high rate of speed. He's been the butt of jokes, mocked by comedians, and constantly misquoted. On the other hand, his marriage to the Queen has been steadfast and enduring, lasting now for sixty-four years, and the Duke having celebrated his nintieth birthday on 10 June 2011. His support of various charitable and educational organizational organizations is ongoing, and he is one of the few living survivors left of World War II. Obviously, there is much more to the man than meets the eye.
Philip Eade's biography of the Duke begins with the story of his parents, which is an interesting tale in its own right. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was Queen Victoria's eldest great-grandchild, and born at Windsor Castle. She was also profoundly deaf, and learned how to lip-read in several languages, something that her mother insisted on and who wanted her daughter to be as self-reliant as possible. One of the beauties of the family, she grew up among her relations in the various courts of Europe and met her husband, Prince Andrew of Greece. Despite her disability, Andrew chose Alice as his bride, and soon they made a home for themselves in Athens, quickly having four daughters together.
But World War I would bring down the glittering courts of Europe, and for a time, Alice and Andrew were able to remain in Greece, and Alice would give birth to a long-awaited son, Philip, in 1921. It was far from a princely birth, with Philip being born on kitchen table, and at the age of just one month, his family fled to France and exile when the Greek monarchy was voted out. While no one knew it at the time, it would be the first of many trials for the prince.
The first of them was the mental breakdown of his mother, who left her young family for seclusion and a growing religious obsession. His much older sisters were busy getting married and starting families of their own, and Philip -- growing quickly into a tall, golden haired, blue eyed boy -- was sent to his grandmother's home to be raised. Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven, was just as determined and steely as her grandmother had been -- she too had lost family and home in World War I, and with her brother, Lord Louis Mountbatten (the English members of the Battenberg family had changed their name to the Anglicised Mountbatten during a phase of anti-German sentiment in the War), guided Philip into young adulthood in a series of private schools, where Philip was a dedicated scholar and athlete. For a time, things were stable, and Philip attended the weddings of his sisters, and managed to meet with his mother occansionally. But in the 1930's, Europe was sliding into another conflagration, and Philip decided to throw his fortunes in with English.
Another terrible family tragedy would occur in 1937 at Steene in Belgium when the Hessian royal family was killed in an airplane crash. One of Philip's sisters, Cecile, was the Grand Duchess of Hesse, and along with her perished her husband, her mother-in-law, and their two very young sons. While no record remains of Philip's reaction to his sister's death, there is a rather poignant picture in the photographic insert where the teenager is walking in the procession at the funeral. By this time, the Nazi's were entrenched in Germany.
Two years later, Philip was at Dartmouth, training for the Royal Navy. In July, King George VI with his queen and two daughters, were attending an event at the naval college, and Philip met Elizabeth for the first time. Princess Elizabeth, only thirteen at the time, was smitten with her cousin, and it seems, never fell for anyone else. Her parents were a touch troubled, but felt that she would eventually find someone else. Philip, now Lieutenant Mountbatten, was busy serving with distinction in the navy during WWII, while Elizabth was busy growing up and learning the duties of a royal and heir to the throne. At the end of the war, Elizabeth was still as much in love with her naval officer, and sometime in 1946, Philip proposed.
Quite a few rumours have persisted about the marriage of Philip and Elizabeth, mostly that it was Philip's uncle, Louis Mountbatten, who arranged it all. From what I read in this book, that rumour can be put to rest. By this time, Philip had matured into someone who was strong willed, and while he was not open about his feelings, it was apparent that he cared deeply and was in -- and from what I have seen of recent pictures and video of the royal couple -- they still are in love with each other.
This is where the biography hit new ground for me, and here is where the contradictions start. Here was a very intelligent, mentally tough, young man who wasn't about to be dictated to -- and yet his future would be perpetually one step behind his wife if he married Elizabeth. As plain Lt. Philip Mountbatten, he married Elizabeth on the 20 November 1947 in Westminster Abbey, and the world fell in love with the couple. Quickly after the marriage, Philip was created HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, but also continued his naval career, and Elizabeth happily accompanied him to a posting in Malta, where it is said, that they had the happiest period of their married lives. They also had two children quickly, Charles -- the current Prince of Wales, and Anne.
But in February 1952, tragedy struck again with the passing of King George VI, and Elizabeth was now Queen. While the death had been expected, with the king suffering from severe health problems, but no one had planned for it to be quite so soon. Eade's biography ends with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953, with a brief epilogue about the next fifty or so years.
I found this to be a very enlightening biography to read, and while it's not nearly in depth as other books about the current royal family, it is a very readable one. Eade doesn't wander off into wild speculation or the too outlandish rumours -- it's been said that Prince Philip is a womanizer in the tabloid press, but so far there hasn't been any solid proof. Either the prince is a very faithful man, or any extramarital partners are very discreet. Too, Eade looks at the rather embarassing times when the prince has shot his mouth off, to the barely concealed delight of the press.
All of that aside, I enjoyed this very much. While there is a certain amount of white wash here, it's more of a lack of any direct information from the prince than of the author glorifying his subject. In addition to the text, there is a collection of black and white photographs, several genealogical tables for the prince's ties to the Windsors and to other European royal houses. The footnotes, bibliography and index are fairly extensive and give several further leads to explore about the royals.
This one gets a hearty four stars from me. While I would have liked to have seen more about Philip as the consort of a reigning monarch, that is really my only complaint. This book has earned a space on my keeper shelves, and will probably reread this in the future.
For other books about the Windsors, you might want to try these titles:
The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI, 1895-1952 by Sarah Bradford
The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross
Charles and Camilla:Portrait of a Love Affair by Gyles Brandreth
Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriage by Gyles Brandreth
Once again, many thanks to the Books CL Pestyside for putting this title in the database for me!
Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man who Married Queen Elizabeth II
2011; Henry Holt and Company