Prince Philip, the Man Who Walked Two Paces Behind the Queen

In 1953, in the rustling, ermined silence of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey, the 31-year-old Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh, removed his own coronet, knelt at the feet of the young woman he wed six years before, and swore an oath of allegiance. “I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship … so help me God.”

1953年,伊丽莎白二世女王(Queen Elizabeth II)在西敏寺加冕,在华服窸窣的寂静中,31岁的爱丁堡公爵菲利普·蒙巴顿(Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh)摘下自己的冠冕,跪在与他结婚六年的年轻女子脚下,宣誓效忠:“我,菲利普,爱丁堡公爵,将成为全心全意敬仰于你的忠实臣子……愿上帝保佑我。”

That Philip kept that oath for the next 68 years is a miracle not only of the modern monarchy but also of modern matrimony.


It wasn’t easy to assume a role in which he would always walk two paces behind his wife. Philip was the unsettling definition of a full-on alpha male: devastatingly handsome, vigorously self-assured, impatient with fools — and not just fools. When he leaned from his considerable height and bore down on a recalcitrant fact or factotum, it could be a shriveling experience for whoever had got it wrong.


“The queen must have understood from the beginning that this was a very, very strong character with a ramrod straight backbone, and he wasn’t going to be buggered about,” Sir Nicholas Soames, a friend of Prince Charles, told me.

“女王一定从一开始就明白,这是个非常、非常强势的人物,他的脊梁骨永远笔直,他也不会受人摆布,”查尔斯王子(Prince Charles)的友人尼古拉斯·索梅斯(Nicholas Soames)爵士对我说。

This was no contrived union, like the disastrous marriage of Charles and Diana. It was a love match from the start. The queen had been crazy about him since 1939, when she was 13 and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, an 18-year-old Navy officer cadet, squired her around the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth.

与查尔斯和戴安娜(Diana)灾难般的婚姻不同,他们不是精心策划的结合。他们从开始就是一对爱侣。1939年,当18岁的希腊与丹麦王子菲利普作为海军军官学员带着她参观了达特茅斯的皇家海军学院(Royal Naval College),13岁的女王就迷上了他。

In time, he fell in love with her, he told her in a 1946 letter quoted in Philip Eade’s biography, “completely and unreservedly.” When he proposed to her seven years later at Balmoral, neither her father, the king, nor the queen mother thought he was a safe bet. Philip may have been related to half the crowned heads of Europe, but his family had been booted into exile, and he was the penniless prince of nowhere.

没多久,按照菲利普·伊德(Philip Eade)所写的传记中引用1946年一次通信的说法,他告诉她,自己“毫无保留地、彻底地”爱上了她。七年后,当他在巴尔莫勒尔城堡向她求婚,她的父亲(当时的国王)和王太后都不认为他是个稳妥的人选。菲利普大概与欧洲一半的王室首脑有血缘关系,但他的家族遭到流放,他也成了身无分文、无依无靠的王子。

From infancy, the trilingual Philip bounced among his European relatives. While at Gordonstoun, the spartan Scottish boarding school to which he was dispatched, he had no idea where he would be spending his school holidays. He signed the visitor’s book at country houses with the descriptor “of no fixed abode.”


The shy, observant Princess Elizabeth was undaunted. She saw in Philip the unflinching character who would be what she would call on their 50th anniversary “my strength and stay all these years.” The two were bonded by a sense of duty and a desire to serve that was framed by the war.


“His generation equated service to country as service to values he believed in,” Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a former private secretary to Princes William and Harry, said. Philip’s rootless royal past reinforced a conviction that the monarchy’s survival is built on and bounded by a commitment to duty.

“在他那代人眼里,为国家服务就是为他所信奉的价值观服务,”威廉王子和哈里王子的前私人秘书杰米·洛瑟·平克顿(Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton)说。漂泊不定的王室背景强化了菲利普的信念,即君主制的存在建立于对责任的承诺之上,并要受其约束。

Coddled by deference, Elizabeth trusted Philip’s subversive impatience. Surrounded by excruciating formality, she could always depend on him to make her laugh. His gift to her was the shared secret that the formalities were both utterly absurd and absolutely necessary. “She knew she would always get an honest answer from him,” Alastair Bruce, the governor of Edinburgh Castle and a documentarian, told me.

从小在周遭顺从中娇生惯养的伊丽莎白,信任菲利普这种具有颠覆性的不耐烦。被折磨人的繁文缛节包围的她,总能指望他来逗她笑。他带给她的礼物是大家都知道的秘密,即这些礼节荒唐至极,但又绝对必要。“她知道自己总能从他那里得到诚实的答案,”爱丁堡城堡总督、同时也是纪录片制作人的阿拉斯泰尔·布鲁斯(Alastair Bruce)对我说。

In return, she provided Philip with an emotional safe place his childhood lacked. Though his eye was rumored to rove, his devotion to the queen cannot be questioned. He completed more than 22,000 royal engagements on his own and accompanied the queen on all of her overseas tours. (“Don’t jostle the queen!” he would sometimes bark if the press got too close.)


He made comments that ranged from impolitic (“Your country is one of the most notorious centers of trading in endangered species,” he told his affronted hosts when accepting a conservation award in Thailand in 1991) to offensive (“Do you still throw spears at each other?” he asked Aboriginal elders on a trip with the queen to Australia in 2002). But the queen’s poker face in public was no guide to how she might have dryly chided him in private.


The marriage succeeded on strategy as much as love. The queen’s marital challenge was how to harness her husband’s prodigious energies in the service of the crown. The key to that was to avoid making him feel unmanned. There was a difficult passage in the early years, when he learned that his children would take the dynastic Windsor name, not his own. And there were few models then for how to build a marriage in which the balance of power was so entirely weighted toward a wife, unless you count Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

这段婚姻的成功既依赖于爱情,也依赖于策略。女王面临的婚姻挑战,是如何利用丈夫非凡的精力来为王室服务。关键在于避免让他感到男性尊严的丧失。早年间,当他得知他的孩子将会继承温莎(Windsor)王族的姓氏,而不能用他自己的,他花了很大力气才接受这一结果。那时几乎不存在权力天平完全向妻子倾斜的婚姻模式,除非把维多利亚女王(Queen Victoria)和阿尔伯特亲王(Prince Albert)也算在内。

With her customary quiet savviness, the queen found sly ways to manage her husband while she got on with weighty matters of state. She put him in charge of all the royal estates and houses, which he oversaw — as the queen mother put it sourly — like a “German junker,” and she deputed to him the big family decisions.


Elizabeth encouraged activities that made Philip feel autonomous: flying, polo, carriage driving. He drove a four-horse carriage around Windsor Great Park at the age of 97. He had a passion for technology. In more recent years, I am told, he extolled the joys of his Kindle until, disgusted by all the direct marketing of books he didn’t want to read, he threw it in the bath.


Philip was determined not to insert himself into the queen’s constitutional realm. Instead, he threw himself into a blizzard of nearly 800 charity chairmanships. His passion for conservation was ahead of the environmental curve.


In 2017, at the age of 95, Philip announced he was retiring from royal duties. At a cozy farmhouse on the Sandringham estate he read voraciously and painted watercolors. His withdrawal left a void for the palace as well as for the queen. There are many there who believe that the lack of his decisive presence at the center of the action is a key reason the Windsor family began again to go up in flames — first Prince Andrew’s imbroglio with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and then the explosive revelations from Harry and Meghan in exile. But it’s hard to imagine that even Philip, the family enforcer, could have quenched this inferno.

2017年,95岁的菲利普宣布辞去王室职务。在桑德林汉姆庄园的一个舒适农舍里,他如饥似渴地阅读,画水彩画。他的辞职给白金汉宫和女王都留下了一个空缺。许多人认为,决策核心中少了他的决定性存在,是温莎家族再次后院着火的关键原因——先是安德鲁王子(Prince Andrew)与性犯罪者杰弗里·爱泼斯坦(Jeffrey Epstein)的纠葛,后又有流亡异国的哈里(Harry)和梅根(Meghan)披露的爆炸性猛料。但即便家族执法者菲利普还在,也难以想象他要如何扑灭这场大火。

For the queen, England’s traumatic ordeal with Covid brought an unexpected blessing. She was able to spend a year locked down at Windsor and Balmoral with the love of her life. In public, they permitted themselves no displays of affection, but in private, Mr. Bruce told me, they had a wonderful teasing intimacy. “They play off each other the way two people who love each other do, in a way that makes their inner sanctum very trusting,” he said.


In his decades as Elizabeth’s consort, Philip continued to seek ways to redefine the relevance of a modern monarchy and support her while carving out a hyperactive commitment to causes and interests of his own. Yet he never forgot his bond of duty. When he finally realized he was running out of steam, the queen’s frail liege lord of life and limb formally asked the monarch if she would release him from her service.


Gently, and with love, she let him go.


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