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?

Were his family Nazis?



Princess Cecilie of Greece and Denmark and third eldest sister of Prince Philip

John Lithgow makes quite an entrance as Winston Churchill in episode one, loudly protesting at Philip and Elizabeth’s wedding: “You know why his three sisters aren’t here? They’re all married to Nazis. Prominent Nazis.”

While it is doubtful that Churchill really had such a public outburst, what he says has its basis in truth.

In fact, three of Philip’s four sisters really had married Nazis. His sister Cecilie wasn’t at the wedding for the more basic reason that she had died in 1937 (during her funeral a 16-year-old Philip had been photographed in Germany alongside ranks of Nazi soldiers), but his sisters Sophie and Margarita also married German aristocrats who later became leading figures in the Nazi Party.

Some courtiers were concerned about Philip’s “Teutonic strain” – but they could not deny that he was a war hero who had fought the Nazis and declared his allegiance to Britain. Philip himself was unfairly tarnished by his own family.

Did he really feel emasculated by being a consort?


Matt Smith as Prince Philip in The Crown, with Claire Foy as Elizabeth II

Philip was already upset about having to give up his naval career because of his wife’s new job, and his tantrum about losing his surname – only acquired when he was already in his 20s – indicates his concerns about being the Queen’s consort and forever in her shadow.

In The Crown, Philip has a furious outburst at his wife, shouting: “You have taken my career from me, you have taken my home, you have taken my name. What kind of marriage is this? What kind of family?” Unhappy with his place, he keeps going off on jollies with his mates and taking flying lessons, so Elizabeth asks him to chair the Coronation Commission ahead of her crowning in 1953.

One of the most tense moments in the series comes when the royal couple get into a right royal row about whether he should kneel before her during the ceremony, as is traditional. “I will not kneel before my wife,” he declares, while Elizabeth fires back: “A strong man would be able to kneel.”


But while royal biographer Philip Ziegler admits that Philip’s frustration may not be total speculation, he also thinks it highly unlikely that the Duke was so opposed to royal ritual and his place at the Queen’s side. The kneeling argument seems to be a fictionalisation.