When Buckingham Palace announced on Thursday Prince Philip would be stepping down from public life, I found myself surprised at my own piqued interested into the life and times of the royal family.
Here was a man – a 95-year-old man – retiring from a job he had held for more years than many live. In my short existence, Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth have always been well established in both age and tenure, the faces of the British Royal family for a long while before I found myself wandering into this world.
Which makes it all the more interesting to consider the lives of the royal couple far beyond the confines of, well, royalty. Before we came to know them in the boundaries of money, polish and power, who were the royal couple? What were their hobbies? Their fears? Their loves? What did they do, before public life swallowed much of their time and energy?
And above all else, how did the two come to be?
For those who didn’t watch The Crown on Netflix last year, the courtship of the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t a short one.
In fact, the couple first met at a wedding in 1934 when the then Princess was just eight years old and Philip – who was her distant third cousin born into the Greek and Danish royal families – was about 14 years old.
A 1957 cover story in TIME says that five years later, in 1939, when Prince Philip was reportedly asked to escort Elizabeth and her sister Margaret during a tour of Dartmouth, the future Queen was “besotted” with him and the two began exchange letters. Queen Elizabeth was just 13 at the time.
Some 7 years later, Elizabeth and Philip were engaged in secret after a courtship brimming with uphill battles and remarkable hesitation on behalf of Elizabeth’s father, King George VI.
The Crown details how Queen Elizabeth's family weren't enamoured with the idea of Philip marrying their eldest daughter, and the story isn't so far removed from how the relationship was initially received.
According to author Philip Eade, who wrote Young Prince Philip: His Turbulent Early Life, despite the fact Philip was both a relative and a royal, the family had reservations about him marrying into the British royal family.
According to the book, the family was concerned about how the public would take to a Greek Prince assuming office. They didn't consider him one who came from a lot of money and his three sisters married German princes - some with Nazi ties. On top of this, there was something about his "loud, boisterous laugh and his blunt, seagoing manners". More than anything, Prince Philip was considered a little brash.
In June 1946, Philip Eade writes that Philip wrote to the Queen apologising for the “monumental cheek” of having invited himself to the Palace. “Yet however contrite I feel,” he wrote, “there is always a small voice that keeps saying 'nothing ventured, nothing gained’ – well did I venture and I gained a wonderful time.”
In another letter featured in the book dated back to around the time of their engagement, Philip boasted that at last, life seemed to have a purpose.
“To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty," he wrote.
After Philip returned from fighting - and surviving - the Second World War with British Navy in 1946, he asked the King for his daughter's hand in marriage some months later.
Eventually, the King granted his request, but there was a catch: a formal engagement was to be delayed until Elizabeth's twenty-first birthday the following April to ensure both parties were certain of the marriage. The engagement was announced to the public on July 10, 1947.
Just four months later, the couple were married Westminster Abbey on November 20, in front of 2,000 guests. The ceremony was broadcast on radio to an estimated 200 million listeners worldwide, the BBC reports.
The rest, it seems, is well documented. They went on to have four children, Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward and enjoy the longest royal marriage in history.
In November, it will be 70 years since they tied the knot.