Theirs has been one of the great royal love stories of all time. In a thousand years of monarchy, their marriage outlasted that of every other Sovereign.
And now, more than 150 years after the last great royal consort was taken from a very great queen, history has repeated itself.
Just as ‘Victoria and Albert’ have gone down in history as an inseparable royal duo, so ‘Elizabeth and Philip’ will surely follow suit.
This enduring partnership was based on a paradox from the start. Here was a shy young woman married to a strong, opinionated man of action and ideas.
Yet she would be the one to reign over a large proportion of the earth’s surface, while he would have to spend his life cast in the supportive role.
And that was the way things remained for the best part of three-quarters of a century after Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in a Kenyan treehouse on February 6, 1952. In an instant, Prince Philip’s meteoric career in the Royal Navy was over.
To mark their diamond wedding anniversary in November 2007, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip revisited Broadlands where 60 years ago in November 1947 they spent their wedding night
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip pictured waving to crowds in 1947 following their marriage
Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip enjoying a walk during honeymoon in November 1947
First meeting between Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth, 13, at Dartmouth Royal Naval College, 1939
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth pictured at Broadlands in Hampshire in November 2007
One of the ablest cadets of his generation at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, he had gone on to serve throughout World War II and all over the world.
In the parlance of the age, his had been ‘a good war’ and he was destined for the highest echelons of the Navy.
Yet with the death of George VI, he would have to make a dramatic change of tack. Thereafter, he was relegated to a subordinate position — and the most public one imaginable. But there would be no grumbling, no what-ifs, very little looking back.
A few years ago, I interviewed the Duke’s former private secretary, Brigadier Sir Miles Hunt-Davis, who explained how the Duke organised his life.
It was a routine that had barely changed from the day the Queen came to the throne.
‘In a sense, his life is very simple,’ said Sir Miles. ‘It is 100 per cent support for the Queen. The organisation of his life is based entirely on the Queen’s programme.
‘So he will not look at his programme until the Queen’s programme has been decided.’
From their earliest world tours together until he was in his 90s, the Duke would always be there as the Queen made her way through a crowd.
Pictured: Members of the British Royal family and guests pose around Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) (CL) and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (CR) (future Prince Philip)
In this photo taken on November 25, 1947 Britain’s Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, pose during their honeymoon in November 1947
She would have her personal protection officers, of course, and she would have her hosts — a Lord Mayor, perhaps, or the president of a foreign nation. But the person who gave her the greatest reassurance was always the Duke.
She might have done thousands of walkabouts but it was still always comforting to be able to turn round and see her ‘liege man of life and limb’ covering the other side of the street or another part of the crowd. One can never be in two places at once, after all.
In October 2011, four months after his 90th birthday, the Duke was at the Queen’s side on their last major long-distance overseas trip together — a coast-to-coast tour of Australia.
As usual, he was to be found lifting children over crowd barriers in Melbourne and Perth so they could meet the Queen.
And when the couple travelled by boat into Brisbane, the Duke could not resist helping the crew moor the royal launch.
When the armfuls of flowers became too numerous for the ladies-in-waiting and local Scouts, the Duke organised a relay system to convey them to the royal convoy (and thence to hospitals).
Wherever the Queen was in the world, all would be well if the Duke was close at hand.
Friends remarked that even after more than 60 years of marriage, her eyes would always light up when he walked into a room. That she has been a great Queen is because they have been a great team.
The Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding, attended by an array of foreign kings and queens, captured the public imagination in the austere post-war days of November 1947
Prince Philip is pictured here being greeted by war time Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1955. The Duke retired from public duties in 2017 after seven decades of dedicated service
It was a love story which began on July 22, 1939. George VI, the Queen and their two daughters had come to visit the King’s alma mater, Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in the Royal Yacht, Victoria and Albert.
They were accompanied by Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose nephew, Prince Philip of Greece, was an 18-year-old cadet.
An outbreak of mumps meant Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were spared the service in the college chapel, in case they caught something. Instead, they were to be entertained by Prince Philip.
As the two girls played with a clockwork train in a college house, the Prince walked in and joined them for ginger biscuits and lemonade, before suggesting that a tour of the grounds might be more interesting.
Self-assured, tall, blond and with piercing blue eyes — one cousin likened him to ‘a Viking god’, the Prince made an instant impression on 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth as he vaulted the nets on the tennis court.
This is no sentimental rewriting of history. We know it to be true because the authorised biographer of George VI received Elizabeth’s consent to say so in his life of the King.
The story was corroborated by ‘Crawfie’, the Princess’s governess. ‘How good he is!’ murmured an admiring Elizabeth. ‘How high he can jump!’
The next day, the Prince was invited aboard the Royal Yacht and further impressed his young admirer with his ability to wolf down platefuls of shrimps.
Together for more than 73 years, the Duke of Edinburgh supported the monarch through ups and down of her reign – giving up his Navy career to support the woman he loved dearly
Later, as the Victoria and Albert sailed away, the cadets escorted the royal party out to the open sea in their dinghies until they were ordered to return.
One tiny boat, though, kept on going, only turning back at the command of the King himself. Its occupant was Prince Philip of Greece.
Prince Philip’s family situation was, by any standards, an unhappy one. The Greek monarchy — imported from Denmark in the late 19th century — was not a stable one and his parents were exiled to France when he was a baby.
They would separate before his tenth birthday. His older sisters, who had doted on the young Philip, had all married German aristocrats while he was still a schoolboy.
Though homeless, he had impeccable connections as a member of the European royal cousinhood.
When on leave from the Royal Navy, he would sometimes be invited to stay at Windsor by his distant cousin, the King. And no one was more pleased to see him than the Princess, who grew more dazzling with every visit.
She had met plenty of dashing Guards officers stationed at Windsor Castle during the war.
Court gossips might talk of two young men with consort potential — the future Dukes of Grafton and Rutland. But the Princess cherished a photograph of another.
The Queen and Prince Philip married in the 1940s and saw together the rapid advances in modern life. Pictured: the pair are seen here on a boat as they wear matching shirts
Pictured: Prince Philip with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles and Princess Anne
By the end of the war, that former schoolgirl Princess had become a stunning young woman in an Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform.
And with peace came a discreet courtship, conducted either by post or away from prying eyes in the Highlands of Scotland.
As the Duke put it many years later: ‘When I got back in ’46 and went to Balmoral, it was probably then that it became, you know, that we began to think about it seriously and even talk about it.’
But they would have to wait before there could be any talk of an engagement. The Princess was already committed to accompanying her parents on a four-month tour of southern Africa in 1947.
It was in Cape Town that she celebrated her 21st birthday with her famous speech of dedication to the service of her people, a pledge said to have reduced Winston Churchill to tears as he listened on the wireless back in Britain.
When the Royal Family returned, Prince Philip was waiting with a ring — or, as he recalled: ‘It was sort of fixed up when they came back.’
The engagement was announced in July, with a wedding set for November. Amid the wreckage of war, Churchill called it ‘a flash of colour on the hard road we have to travel’.
Of course, there were public rows, as there are before every royal wedding. With the war so fresh in many minds, there were shrill media demands to know if any German relatives would be coming (none did).
Prince Philip and the Queen travelled the globe together, endured state visit after state visit
In this Sept. 1960 file photo, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and their children, Prince Charles, right, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew, pose for a photo at Balmoral Castle, in Scotland
There were even complaints that the dress was allegedly being made of silk produced by Japanese silkworms.
Eventually, the Palace ascertained that these were, in fact, Chinese worms — and what’s more, they were living in Dorset.
Come the day, it was a triumph. For many people, the sight of Princess Elizabeth in her Hartnell gown — embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls — was the most exciting moment since the end of the war and the most glamorous since the Thirties.
For the first time, a royal wedding was captured in Technicolor and it would be played in cinemas for months.
The couple were deliriously happy. As Philip wrote to his new mother-in-law in 1947: ‘Lilibet is the only “thing” in this world which is absolutely real to me.’
The newly created Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh embarked on the life of a young Royal Navy couple, with the Duke clearly marked out for greater things.
There were royal duties, too, notably a trip to Paris which proved a great diplomatic success. Even France’s communist Press gave the couple rave reviews.
One year after their wedding, Prince Charles was born, to national jubilation. The fountains in Trafalgar Square were dyed blue in his honour.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh during their tour of Australia in April 1970
When the Duke was posted to join the Mediterranean Fleet in Malta in 1949, the young Duchess of Edinburgh accompanied him for extended periods, leaving Prince Charles in the care of his doting grandparents.
It has often been said that their months together in Malta were among the happiest of the Queen’s life.
With almost no royal duties, she could live the life of a naval wife, drive herself around the island and arrange a social life unconstrained by protocol.
Indeed, it was in Malta that the couple chose to mark their diamond wedding anniversary in 2007.
This happy existence continued with the arrival of Princess Anne in 1950. At the same time, the Duke was promoted to command his own ship, HMS Magpie, while Clarence House was refurbished as the new family home.
But in the background was the spectre of the King’s declining health.
In 1951, the Duke was granted temporary leave from the Navy to help the Princess with her duties in support of the King.
There would be no return to sea, of course. When the King failed to stir on the morning of February 6, 1952, there would be no further talk of ‘the Edinburghs’.
Pictured: Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, while on an official four-day visit to Switzerland between 29 April and 2 May 1980
Henceforth, the Queen would enter a different constitutional space, one from which her husband was debarred.
It was a transformation that would test any relationship and it was not helped by the coolness of the Prime Minister and the Palace old guard towards the Duke.
In their eyes, he was a hot-headed young blade who might plant unwelcome ideas in the mind of the young Sovereign.
Lord Brabourne, an old friend married to the Duke’s cousin, Patricia Mountbatten, summed it up: ‘They were absolutely bloody to him. They patronised him.
‘They treated him as an outsider. It wasn’t much fun. He laughed it off but it must have hurt.’
When Prince Philip suggested that the Queen and their young family might continue to reside at Clarence House instead of moving into Buckingham Palace, Winston Churchill overruled him.
Come the Coronation, there was a symbolic reminder of his curious status. When a King is crowned, he traditionally has his Queen at his side.
When a Queen is crowned, there is no reciprocal role for the consort (although the Duke was the first to pay homage).
Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II, smiles at her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, during an audience with Pope John Paul II in his private study at the Vatican, Italy in 1980
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in New Zealand in 1990 for the signing of the Waitangi treaty
Here was a vivid illustration of a conundrum which persisted through the early years of the reign: just what was the Queen’s husband supposed to do — and be?
Since the Palace old guard were not going to provide the answer, the Duke set about creating his own role.
First and foremost, he would support the Queen whenever she needed him. She, in turn, immediately put him in charge of running the royal estates at Sandringham and Balmoral.
The rest of the time, he would get stuck into what he regarded as the great challenges of the day — helping young people, industry and the environment adapt to the rapid pace of post-war change.
It was often asked why the Queen never made him Prince Consort, the title Victoria had given Albert. Close friends gave two reasons.
First, he didn’t want to overdo the comparisons with Albert, preferring to be judged on his own terms. And second, the Queen had adored her years as Duchess of Edinburgh.
If she had given the Duke another title, then ‘Edinburgh’ would have faded into obscurity.
It was the arrival of Prince Andrew in 1960, and Prince Edward in 1964, that brought an entirely different atmosphere to the Royal Household.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, leave St Paul’s Cathedral in 2015, after attending a memorial service to mark the end of Britain’s combat operations in Afghanistan
By then, Princess Margaret had married society photographer Tony Armstrong-Jones and had two young children of the same age.
The Queen’s cousins, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, were adding to the extended line of succession. Royal Family gatherings were increasingly loud, rumbustious and fun.
The Queen was happy to defer to the Duke in family matters, notably decisions about the children’s education.
Despite the Queen Mother’s energetic lobbying for Eton, the teenage Prince Charles would follow his father to Gordonstoun in Scotland.
He loathed it, even if his younger brothers would go on to flourish there.
While the Sixties saw great cultural and political upheavals — and the advent of the Queen’s first Labour government — there was little change in the familiar patterns of royal engagements and duties.
Despite its youthful demeanour, the Monarchy was starting to look out of touch and the Duke could see the need for judicious change.
Earlier in the reign, he had been instrumental in severing the royal connection with the debutante circuit and the ‘Season’.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth pictured at Broadlands in Hampshire in November 2007
An early fan of television as a tool of communication — he gave the first royal television interview — the Duke persuaded the Queen that the time had come for the first documentary.
Called Royal Family, it featured the extraordinary sight of the Windsors doing ordinary things — the Queen taking Prince Edward to buy an ice-cream; the Duke cooking a barbecue. It smashed all broadcasting records when it aired in 1969.
Four years later, the Queen and the Duke would see their only daughter, Princess Anne, marry cavalry officer Captain Mark Phillips.
Against a backdrop of industrial unrest and economic decline, the Seventies proved a very happy period for the Royal Family, epitomised by the riotously successful Silver Jubilee of 1977.
By the end of the year, the Queen and the Duke were grandparents, with the arrival of Peter Phillips.
As the Eighties brought more weddings and more grandchildren, the public spotlight swung away from the Queen and the Duke.
Yet theirs would be the union that stood granite-firm while others endured the misery of marital breakdown.
The next decade was an especially grim period for the Monarchy, as the Queen’s three elder children went through separation (and, ultimately, the divorce courts) and the royal finances were seldom out of the media spotlight.
Pictured: Prince Philip rides with Queen Elizabeth wearing the traditional ostrich feather hat for the annual Order of the Thistle service in Scotland
To cap it all, the Queen could only stand and watch as her beloved Windsor Castle went up in flames in 1992.
The Duke’s absence on World Wide Fund for Nature business in South America compounded her anguish.
Yet he would be the one who would take charge of the rebuilding programme which would see the ancient family seat not merely restored but brilliantly enhanced.
And he would be the rock to whom the Queen would always turn during that decade of unhappiness, culminating in the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a Paris car crash in 1997.
Less than three months after the Princess’s death, the Queen and the Duke marked their golden wedding anniversary with a service at Westminster Abbey and two celebration lunches.
At the first, the Duke spoke of the couple’s pride in the achievements of their children and paid a touching tribute to the Queen.
‘The main lesson that we have learnt is that tolerance is the one essential ingredient of any happy marriage,’ he said.
‘It may not be quite so important when things are going well, but it is absolutely vital when the going gets difficult. You can take it from me that the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.’
A day later, the Queen also made a rare public foray into very private territory. ‘All too often, I fear, Prince Philip has had to listen to me speaking,’ she said.
‘Frequently we have discussed my intended speech beforehand and, as you will imagine, his views have been expressed in a forthright manner.
‘He 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, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.’
That strength and support would be sorely needed five years later when, at the outset of her Golden Jubilee, the Queen lost first her sister and then her mother in a matter of weeks.
Yet, with the Duke at her side, she embarked on a gruelling round-the-world Jubilee odyssey, at the end of which the Monarchy — like Windsor Castle — was not merely restored but revivified.
The subsequent years saw the royal fortunes on an upward trajectory once more. The Queen and the Duke took enormous pleasure in watching their older grandchildren grow up and embark on their careers.
The regular round of royal duties barely eased off, although the Duke would gradually set aside his more onerous patronages as his 90th birthday approached.
But he had lost none of the romantic streak he had shown half a century earlier when he was even designing jewellery for his young wife.
The Queen sat with The Duke of Edinburgh at the Golden Jubilee parade in Windsor, Berkshire
For example, in 2010, when he learnt that Christie’s was about to auction off a delightful little portrait of the Queen, the Duke hatched a secret plan to buy it anonymously, then proudly placed it alongside a matching portrait in his study.
Just before Christmas 2011, and with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee on the horizon, there was pandemonium in royal circles as the Duke was rushed to hospital with heart trouble. Here was a timely reminder that he really would have to slow down a bit.
Six months later, it seemed he was back at full throttle as the central Jubilee weekend began with the colossal Thames Pageant.
For hour after hour, in ever-worsening weather, the Duke was at the Queen’s side as she sailed the length of the capital on the top deck of a barge, before reviewing a parade of a thousand boats.
By the end, the rain was almost horizontal and several people were admitted to hospital with hypothermia.
But the Queen remained on deck throughout, with the Duke at her side. Dressed in his Lord High Admiral’s uniform, he appeared to enjoy every minute.
The following day, the Jubilee was due to continue with a pop concert outside Buckingham Palace.
The crowds and celebrities had already started to assemble when the Duke was suddenly admitted to hospital once more, with a bladder infection.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip chat while seated during a musical performance in the Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds, during her Golden Jubilee visit to Suffolk in July 2002
Palace officials emphasised that it was entirely unrelated to the events of the previous day. Once again, the Queen issued an edict that the show should go on and the family rallied round.
By now, though, the public was coming to appreciate just how important the Duke had been to one of the great reigns in British history.
One of the most poignant moments of the Jubilee was the sound of hundreds of thousands of people, crammed into the Mall, chanting ‘Philip! Philip!’ as the Queen took to the stage without her Prince. The shy smile on her anxious face spoke volumes.
There was a similar pattern of events a year later. Once more, the Duke had a busy round of spring and summer engagements, including a trip to Toronto to visit one of his Canadian regiments.
But a routine check-up would reveal a need for some exploratory surgery in June 2013. Almost exactly a year on from that river pageant, the Duke accompanied the Queen to a garden party for 8,000 Palace guests, then took himself off to hospital.
He was soon back in action, however, at the Queen’s side both at home and abroad.
The Duke was much in evidence on all her subsequent overseas tours, including state visits to France, Italy and Germany, culminating in her last foreign visit to date — to the 2015 Commonwealth summit in Malta, the island where they had been so happy as newlyweds.
His absences from the big stage became the norm, however, after his announcement, in May 2017, that he would be retiring from public life altogether. Aside from a handful of occasions, such as family weddings and christenings, he was seldom seen in public again. In private, however, his role as revered paterfamilias remained undiminished.
Now, the show must go on without him. History, however, will be hard pushed to find a royal fairy tale that comes close.