When Elizabeth of York first encountered Prince Philip, she was not intended to be queen. She was seven years old and serving as a bridesmaid to her aunt, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, at her wedding to the Duke of Kent at Westminster Abbey, while 12-year-old Philip was attending as the bride’s first cousin.
The children barely spoke – but foreign newspapers had already listed Prince Philip as a suitably royal husband for the little Princess, as her third cousin through Queen Victoria.
When they met again five years later, in 1939, everything had changed. Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII, had abdicated three years earlier. Her father was now King and she was the heir to the throne. Philip was an 18-year-old naval cadet. And Europe was on the brink of cataclysmic conflict and change, with World War II about to begin.
“How high he can jump!” Elizabeth said to her governess, Marion Crawford, in July 1939 when she saw Philip leaping over the tennis nets at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
Elizabeth had led a very sheltered life with her family, spending most of her time with her sister and governess. Touring the college with her parents and sister, she was dazzled by the star cadet, who would soon be off on active service.
Elizabeth’s fascination was obvious to all and was most gratifying to Philip’s uncle, Dickie Mountbatten, who was hopeful of encouraging a marriage – with himself as the power behind the throne.
During the war, Philip wrote to Elizabeth and came to stay at Christmas in 1943. Elizabeth was 17 and a young woman. Philip found her very appealing. She was not only attractive and witty, but she was cheerful and practical, very unlike his own fragile mother.
At the end of the war, Philip came to court Elizabeth with serious intent and took her out to concerts and restaurants or dined in the nursery with Princess Margaret.
The Palace was dubious about the match. The King and Queen wished her to “see more of the world” before marrying, and courtiers discussed how Philip was “no gentleman,” “ill tempered” and possibly fickle – he signed visitors’ books as of “no fixed abode.”
But Elizabeth refused to be swayed. She had been determined on Philip since the age of 13 and war had only intensified the romance. The King gave in and the engagement was announced on July 8, 1947, with the wedding date fixed for November 20.
Read the full love story here.