LONDON – To the British people, he is the longest-serving royal consort in the nation’s history and has served alongside the Queen for 65 years.
The country – and the world – paid tribute to Prince Philip after his death on Friday at the age of 99.
But for his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, Philip’s death ended a 73-year marriage – one that began as a fairytale love story between a young princess and her older cousin.
Philip and Elizabeth first crossed paths in 1934 at a royal family wedding and then properly met again five years later in 1939 when she was 13 and he was 18 – the first time she said she remembered meeting him . The princess had accompanied her parents on a visit to the British Royal Naval College, where he was a cadet.
The two were raised very differently.
Download the NBC News App for breaking news and politics
Philip was handsome and athletic. He was secular and lived in Paris, Germany and the UK after his own royal family was forced to flee his native Greece. He spent much of his childhood away from his parents and served in the Mediterranean and Pacific during World War II.
Elizabeth, meanwhile, was raised at home and never left the UK. She was fluent in French and her education included constitutional history and law to prepare for her accession to the throne.
According to a letter she wrote in 1947, she and Philip were able to hang out after the war when he was stationed at a naval officers school, spending weekends and long hiatus with their family.
Their diverse backgrounds were of concern to other members of the royal family, according to Clive Irving, author of The Last Queen: How Queen Elizabeth II Saved the Monarchy.
“Before they got married, there was a lot of hesitation in the court and palace as to whether he was the right match,” he said.
Her publicity also took place in the shadow of King Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936 after falling in love with an American woman, Wallis Simpson, who was twice divorced. Edward decided to withdraw from the monarchy instead of giving up on it.
“There was concern about the institution of monarchy, as well as marriage,” said Irving.
Elizabeth and Philip announced their engagement in July 1947 and married a little over four months later, with the future queen smiling widely in photos with her new husband. Like other brides in the years after World War II, Elizabeth had to use grocery vouchers to purchase the materials for her wedding dress.
The wedding itself was a grand affair with 2,000 guests at Westminster Abbey, a reception at Buckingham Palace, and a 9-foot wedding cake.
“We act as if we belonged together for years,” wrote Elizabeth in a letter to her parents shortly after their marriage. “Philip is an angel – he’s so kind and thoughtful.”
Philip, who received the title of Duke of Edinburgh and revoked his Greek royal title, was in love with his young wife.
“My goal is to weld the two of us together into a new combined existence that not only withstands the shocks directed against us, but also has a positive existence for the good,” he wrote to his new mother-in-law shortly after the wedding.
That adoration was also evident to Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, who extolled his love in a letter to his daughter after their wedding and expressed how much he would miss her.
“I can see that you are extremely happy with Philip, which is right, but don’t forget about us,” he wrote.
The couple soon had children, with Prince Charles arriving just a year after the wedding and Princess Anne two years later.
During these early years, Philip focused on his military career and served as the commander of a Royal Navy ship. The couple lived in Malta from 1949 to 1951, where Elizabeth was less a princess than an officer’s wife.
That carefree existence ended with the unexpected death of Elizabeth’s father in 1952, just five years after Elizabeth and Philip married.
Elizabeth assumed the throne and Philip’s military career ended when he took on the role of royal consort, which Irving said Philip initially found difficult to adapt to.
“Because they were married for so long, the marriage developed and it turned out to be a lot better than it began,” he said.
According to Sarah Gristwood, historian and author of Elizabeth: The Queen and the Crown, Philip made a significant contribution to the monarchy.
“A huge invisible part of Prince Philip’s work and legacy is the support he has given to the queen, which has been invaluable to her,” she said. “The fact that their monarchy has been so long and successful is due in large part to his work behind the scenes.”
And although he was often depicted standing or walking behind his wife, Philip was her partner in both her domestic life and in the monarchy.
“In the early years of her reign, she made the decision that if she were the head of state, he would be the head of the family,” Gristwood said.
In formal speeches, the Queen has recognized his central role in providing support during her reign.
“Prince Philip is known, I believe, for rejecting compliments of all kinds. But he has consistently been a constant strength and a leader, ”said the monarch in March 2012 as she addressed Parliament as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
Although the couple have been separated many times since Philip’s retirement, they spent much of the pandemic together at Windsor Castle. On their final anniversary, the palace posted a photo of the couple reading a card of Prince William’s children, their great-grandchildren.
Philip himself offered his secret for their happy marriage in a speech given on their 50th wedding anniversary.
“The most important lesson we learned is that tolerance is the essential part of any happy marriage,” he said.
“It may not matter that much when things are going well, but it is absolutely important when things get difficult – I can be told that the Queen abounds in the quality of tolerance.”