The Crown: what was Prince Philip really like as a young man?

How close does Matt Smith's swaggering, angry, funny Duke of Edinburgh come to the real thing?

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The Crown’s Matt Smith plays Prince Philip as the truculent, charming husband of Claire Foy’s young Elizabeth II. Complete with off-colour jokes, a slight stoop and a rebellious attitude, Philip cuts a dashing figure at his royal wife’s side.

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The Duke of Edinburgh is now 95 – but what was he really like in his younger years? Will he recognise himself in Matt Smith when he and Lizzy settle down on the sofa with a cuppa and fire up the Windsor family Netflix account?

Let’s take a look…


How did Philip meet Elizabeth?

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Prince Philip as a pupil in Gordonstoun, taken around 1938

Philip was born in Greece in 1921, but his family was exiled from the country when he was just a baby following a war with Turkey and the rise of a new military government. It was a tricky escape: Philip was carried to safety in a cot made from a fruit box.

It was a turbulent existence for the young prince, who was sent from country to country. By the time he was 10, his parents had separated, his mother was in psychiatric care and he was essentially homeless. He joined the Royal Navy in 1939 at the age of 18 and distinguished himself at sea. It was during the war years that he got to know the teenage Elizabeth (five years his junior) while staying at Windsor.

After the war, Philip of Greece became a British subject and adopted the surname Mountbatten from his mother’s parents. The newly-titled Duke of Edinburgh married the future Queen in 1947. It was, by all accounts, a love match – helped along by Philip’s ambitious uncle, Louis Mountbatten.


Did he really try to make the royal surname Mountbatten?

 

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Prince Philip and then-Princess and their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne in 1951

In The Crown, a petulant Philip makes two requests when his wife comes to the throne: he wants to stay at Clarence House instead of Buckingham Palace, and he wants the royal house to be Mountbatten – with the kids keeping his surname.

Elizabeth is initially receptive and tries to negotiate these concessions with Churchill and his Cabinet, but things do not go according to plan. She is persuaded by her grandma and her Prime Minister to issue a royal proclamation declaring that the royal house will remain known as the House of Windsor.

This is true to life. In Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriage, biographer Gyles Brandreth reports the Duke’s private remark: “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.”

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It was an issue that remained a sore point, and after the death of the Queen’s grandmother Queen Mary and Winston Churchill – the two figures most strongly opposed to the idea – the Queen issued an Order in Council in 1960 declaring that her descendants not bearing royal styles and titles (i.e. Prince or Royal Highness) may use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.