Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, had a mother who was born profoundly deaf and a father who was bisexual. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece (1882-1944), was a disgraced military commander, charged with treason for failure to carry out orders in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1921) and subsequently stripped of his royal titles. Blamed for the loss of Greek territory in that disastrous war, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death. His wife, Princess Alice of Battenberg*, arranged for intervention by British King George V, who negotiated for Andrew’s release. The British Royal Navy rescued the family, with infant Philip nestled in a converted orange crate. The family was then able to relocate to a suburb of Paris, where they lived in exile. The photo at right shows Prince Andrew and Princess Alice in 1905, two years into their ill-fated marriage.
Andrew had always lived a lascivious lifestyle, carrying on one affair after another with both men and women, so it is not surprising that he largely ignored his wife and children. Princess Alice suffered a mental breakdown when young Philip was nine years old, and she was placed in an asylum in Switzerland for three years. Prince Andrew then relocated to Monaco to live with his mistress, abandoning Philip, who was sent to England to be cared for by his relatives, the Mountbattens. Philip's four sisters moved to Germany, where they married local aristocrats and nobles. Prince Andrew lived the rest of his life in exile in Monaco, all the while continuing a string of affairs. Prince Andrew, who had been near-sighted from his early days, was always seen wearing glasses, but in later years he sported a monocle as a dashing accessory.
But before things fell apart, Andrew, tall and good looking, cut a fine figure with Alice of Battenberg, one of Europe’s loveliest princesses, as the photo attests. They were living in a modest villa in Corfu when their only son (their fifth and youngest child), Prince Philip, today's consort of Queen Elizabeth II, was born in 1921.
Andrew (shown in painting at left) had grown up the son of King George I (a German speaking Danish Prince and King of Greece) and the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Konstantinova. After his father was assassinated, Andrew’s brother Constantine became King of Greece. Unfortunately, Constantine was forced to abdicate because of his neutral stance during WW I, but was reinstated in 1920.
Unfortunately, Andrew died before his son married the British Princess Elizabeth in 1947. Andrew succumbed to a heart ailment and died at the Hotel Metropole in Monaco in 1944, and was subsequently buried in the gardens of Tatoi, the Greek royal residence to the north of Athens. Just before his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Philip became a British subject, taking his mother's surname, Mountbatten, thus renouncing his right to the Greek and Danish thrones. When Elizabeth's father, King George VI, died in 1952, she became queen of England, and upon her coronation in 1953, Philip served as Prince Consort.
A more detailed chronology of Prince Andrew’s life can be discerned from the video at the end of this post.
*Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born profoundly deaf at Windsor Castle in the presence of her great grandmother Queen Victoria. She grew to become one of Europe’s most beautiful princesses, adept at lip reading and speaking German and English. At the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, Alice met Prince Andrew, ultimately marrying him in Darmstadt, Germany, the very next year. She spent her early married life in the turbulent political arena of Greece. After being ignored by her husband and shamed by his blatant affairs and political disgrace, she suffered a severe nervous breakdown and eventually entered the Greek Orthodox Church to became a nun, founding a female religious order. She creating quite a stir as a nun who chained smoked and played canasta. Princess Alice lived out her final years in Britain and died at Buckingham Palace, where she had been invited to live after the fall of King Constantine II of Greece (her brother-in-law) and the imposition of military rule there in 1967. Upon her death in 1969 she was interred in the royal crypt at Windsor Castle, but her wish to be buried in Jerusalem was finally realized in 1988, when her remains were transferred to a crypt below a convent in Gethsemane.
Princess Alice had attended the royal wedding of Queen Elizabeth II to her son Prince Philip in 1947, but her three daughters (Prince Philip’s sisters) were conspicuously excluded, because all of them had married German nobles who were high ranking Nazi officers. Oddly, Prince Philip never told Princess Diana that his mother had been born severely deaf, all the more astonishing in light of the tireless work Princess Diana did on behalf of the deaf community in Britain.
In this photo a young Prince Philip is shown holding his mother's hand. Philip learned sign language to be able to communicate with his mother. Prince Andrew is shown seated and surrounded by his four daughters. Philip was the only male child in the immediate family.
Prince Philip’s German ancestry was always problematic. When his sister Cécile died in a plane crash in 1937, her funeral was attended by Hermann Göring. There are photographs of the then 16-year-old Prince Philip at the funeral, surrounded by relatives in SS and brownshirt uniforms. Philip’s sister Sophia was photographed sitting opposite Hitler at the wedding of Hermann and Emmy Göring. Sophia herself was married to Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel, an SS Colonel attached to Himmler's personal staff. Their eldest son, Karl Adolf (Prince Philip’s nephew), was named in Hitler's honor. During WW I the Battenbergs “translated” their name from German to the English word Mountbatten (remember that Prince Philip’s mother was a Battenberg; "berg" in German means "mountain"). Accordingly, Prince Philip anglicized his name to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (the German House of Battenberg was a branch of the House of Hesse), to distance himself from his actual German/Danish family name of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (on his father’s side). Similarly, the House of Hanover (German) changed its name to the House of Windsor. The late Queen Mother was strongly opposed to the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to Philip, but eventually gave in to her daughter’s entreaties.
Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and his young bride, Queen Elizabeth 11, on their honeymoon in 1947.
The British royal family has spent more than sixty years trying to downplay or disguise Prince Philip’s heritage and the monarchy's German roots. Queen Elizabeth II’s own grandmother, Queen Mary, had been born a German princess, and the British Royal family’s strong German heritage caused uneasiness during the two world wars. Hoping to sweep all this German business under the carpet for good, in 1960 Queen Elizabeth II decreed by special order that all of her children and grandchildren were to use the name Mountbatten-Windsor (which sounds a lot less German than Battenberg-Hanover). Thus the recently married Prince William has the official name: William Arthur Philip Louis Mountbatten-Windsor.
Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg
Prince Philip’s cousin, Prince Charles Edward, had a career that further embarrassed England. Charles Edward was born into the British royal family at Claremont House (Surrey, England) in 1884. He accepted a German dukedom and found himself fighting for the Kaiser in World War I. Later he was deprived of all his British titles and branded a traitor. But the worst was his assistance in Hitler's rise to power, so Prince Charles Edward ended his days as a convicted Nazi. Charles Edward had been Queen Victoria's favorite grandson, and he was first cousin to three European monarchs: English King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar.
Unfortunately, Queen Victoria made a decision that ruined his life by decreeing that Prince Charles Edward would become the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the German principality from which Victoria’s husband Albert originated. At 16 years of age and speaking no German, Charles Edward left England to become Carl Eduard, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, with 13 castles in Germany and Austria, hunting lodges, hotels, a power station, tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Bavaria and a duchy with an income worth £17 million pounds at today's value. In no time flat the German Kaiser married him off to his own niece, Victoria. In retrospect, I’m sure Charles Edward realized that sometimes it’s better to stand up to one’s grandmother, even if she is the queen.
While things are much more progressive these days, royals are perpetual sources of scandal and gossip. Prince Harry, who for years supplied the tabloid press with ample fodder, recently married Meghan Markle (a bi-racial commoner), and just a year ago Lord Ivar Mountbatten married his male partner, James Coyle. This was the British royal family's first ever same sex wedding (held in the Mountbatten family's private chapel). Fifty-something Lord Ivar Mountbatten is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth, and like the Queen, he is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria. He is also a great-nephew of Earl Louis Mountbatten, who was Prince Philip's uncle.