His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, formerly Philip Mountbatten and Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark (born June 10, 1921), is the husband and distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. Although he was born a prince of Greece and Denmark, he renounced those titles when he became a British citizen in 1947 and adopted the surname "Mountbatten," (an Anglicized version of "Battenberg") which came from his mother's side of the family and which he saw as more "British" than "Oldenburg" (or "Oldcastle," which was suggested as an Anglicized version), which was the name of the German dukes from whom his father's Danish ancestors were descended.
The Prince's full title is: His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron Greenwich, Admiral of the Fleet, Knight of the Garter, Knight of the Thistle, Member of the Order of Merit, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Member of the Queen's Service Order, Privy Counsellor and Privy Counsellor for Canada.
He was born (on the dining-room table) at Mon Repos, his parents' small house on the island of Corfu, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. He was named Philippos. Following the first abolition of the Greek monarchy, Philip was forced into exile with his poverty-stricken parents; he was famously carried in a makeshift cot made from an orange box. Most of Philip's early life was spent moving from home to home, denying him a stable childhood, a situation that was exacerbated by his mother's decline into mental instability, religious mania, and subsequent institutionalization, which is explored at depth in Alice: Princess Andrew of Greece, an authorized 2000 biography by Hugo Vickers.
In adulthood he became a much-admired officer in the Royal Navy and something of a romantic figure (in 1939, according to author Stephen Birmingham, the prince began a brief relationship with American debutante turned nightclub singer and film starlet Cobina Wright, Jr., b. 1921). He married the heir to the British throne, Princess Elizabeth, on November 20, 1947, and on that occasion he was created HRH The Duke of Edinburgh by his new father-in-law, King George VI. Sensitive to postwar Britain's feelings, the royal family pointedly did not invite any of their myriad German relations to the wedding. That ban included Philip's sisters, since each was married to a German aristocrat: Margarita married Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a great-grandson of Queen Victoria; Theodora was the wife of the margrave of Baden, and Sophie married Prince Christoph of Hesse (also a Victoria descendant, he was a colonel in the SS), and, later, Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hanover. (Philip's 3rd sister, Cecilie, had been killed in an airplane accident with her husband, Georg Donatus, Grand Duke of Hesse, another great-grandson of Victoria, and their children in 1937.)
In 1957 he was given the title Prince Philip. Unlike Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, Philip was not given the title of Prince Consort. His children, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, all share the surname Mountbatten-Windsor, given to the children in honour of their father by Queen Elizabeth by an Order-in-Council in 1960. However the Royal House name will remain Windsor when Queen Elizabeth II is succeeded to the throne.
He is particularly known in Britain for his occasional gaffes when on public visits. For example:
- When visiting China in 1986, he told a group of British students, "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed".
- After accepting a gift from a Kenyan native he replied "You are a woman aren't you?"
- "If it has four legs and is not a chair, has wings and is not an aeroplane, or swims and is not a submarine the Cantonese will eat it." (1986)
- "British women can't cook." (1966)
- Suggested the locals were cannibals on a visit to Papua New Guinea by asking a British student "You managed not to get eaten then?"
- Asked a Scottish driving instructor "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough for them to pass the driving test?"
- Told a group of deaf school children at a fund raising event standing next to a Jamaican steel drum band "Deaf? No wonder you are deaf standing so close to that racket."
- He asked an Australian aborigine, "Still throwing spears?" (2002)
- Said to a Briton in Budapest, Hungary, "You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly." (1993)
- To the President of Nigeria, who was dressed in traditional muslim robes, "You look like you're ready for bed!"
- Dr. Denis Judd, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh: A Biography (©1980, ISBN 0-689-11131-2)