67. Who was Prince Philip? (English Vocabulary Lesson)

Last week, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, passed away. His death has dominated news reporting in the UK and abroad. Prince Philip was an influential and well known international figure for over 70 years, carrying out thousands of meetings and engagements for the British royal family and his own personal passions. In this special episode of Thinking in English, lets answer the question “Who was Prince Philip?”


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Vocabulary List

Outpouring (n) – an expression of strong feeling that is difficult to control 

His death at the age of 35 has caused an outpouring of grief

Condolence (n) – sympathy and sadness for the family or close friends of a person who has recently died, or an expression of this, especially in written form 

World leaders from all over the globe offered their condolences

To banish (v) – to send someone away, especially from their country, and not allow them to come back

He was banished to an uninhabited island for a year

Prestigious (adj) – very much respected and admired, usually because of being important

He studied at a prestigious university  

Gratitude  (n) – a strong feeling of appreciation to someone or something for what the person has done to help you

She sent them a present to show her gratitude

Amoeba (n) – a very small, simple living creature consisting of only one cell

All life started as amoebas

Sensitive (adj) – easily upset by the things people say or do, or causing people to be upset, embarrassed, or angry

He was very sensitive about his appearance and thought everyone was staring at him

phenomenally (adv) – extremely, especially in a way that is surprising

Her first novel was phenomenally successful 

Engagement (n) – an arrangement to do something or meet someone at a particular time and place

We have a dinner engagement Thursday 


Last week His Royal Highness Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, passed away at the age of 99. His death was greeted by an outpouring of condolences and grief from around the world, as well as respect for his role as husband and supporter of Queen Elizabeth II. He was certainly a strong character with a distinctive personality. Although I am by no means an enthusiastic supporter of the British monarchy, Prince Philip was such an important figure in modern British history and lived such an interesting and challenging life that I think it could be useful to look at his life in some detail. And while many of you might have heard of Prince Philip and know a little about him already, I’m sure there are parts of his life you are not aware of! So, who was Prince Philip?

While he was known as a member of the British Royal family, he was himself born into European royalty. He was born Prince Philip of Greece on the Greek island of Corfu, his father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Philip’s grandfather was King Geroge I of the Hellenes (or the King of Greece). His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was the eldest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and sister of Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Both sides of his family were European royalty. In fact, he was related to the Tsar’s of Russia and to Queen Victoria of the UK. Despite being born in Greece, and being a member of Greek royalty, Prince Philip does not actually have Greek blood; instead his family has Danish, German, and British roots!

In 1922 a coup d’etat overthrew the Greek monarchy, and Philip’s family was banished from the country. The British King George V sent a warship to rescue the family and take them to Italy. Famously, the baby Philip slept in a box of oranges during the journey. His childhood was spent moving between different European countries staying with royal and influential relatives around the continent. As a young child he studied in France, the UK, and Germany. At this time his mother became severely mentally ill and spent much time in hospitals and asylums. Philip’s sisters all married German nobility, and his father relocated to Monaco – leaving the young Prince isolated. After a few terms studying at a prestigious school in Germany, Philip transferred to Gordonstoun School in Scotland which was founded by Kurt Hahn, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. 

Gordonstoun school focused on teaching students self-reliance, toughness, and community service, which certainly influenced the rest of Philip’s life. He felt so much gratitude to the school and its educational philosophy that years later he would send his children and some of his grandchildren to the school. I guess it was an ideal situation for a young man who had little contact with his parents. 

After leaving school, he decided to follow a military career, eventually joining a British Royal Navy college in the south of England. It was here that his Uncle, who was a high ranking member of the British military, would ask Philip to escort two young princesses while their father King George VI toured the college. One of these young princesses was a 13 year old Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, who took a liking to the older Prince. Philip eventually finished top of his class at the college and immediately joined the British war effort in World War II. Throughout his studies at the college and his involvement in the war, Philip continued to exchange letters with the young Princess Elizabeth, and in 1946 he asked her to marry him.

Before he could get married, however, Philip had to make some major personal changes. He needed to become a British citizen, he stopped being a Prince of Greece, and he changed his family name. He took the name Mountbatten, which is an English version of his mother’s name Battenburg. As a German name, Battenburg was not an acceptable name in a post-war Britain that had just fought a vicious war against Germany. He married Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and was given the title Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. 

After marriage, he returned to his naval career and lived on the island of Malta with Elizabeth where he eventually commanded his own naval ship. Their royal couple’s first son, Prince Charles, was born at Buckingham Palace in 1948, and a daughter, Princess Anne, arrived in 1950. They were later joined by Prince Andrew (1960) and Prince Edward (1964).

While visiting Kenya with Princess Elizabeth in 1952, King Geroge died of a heart attack and the princess became Queen. Their lives had completely changed over night. Unable to return to the Navy and his previous career, a new role and purpose had to be found for Philip. He struggled with the Queen’s new power and influence, and even though she allowed him to make most of the decisions about their families personal matters, he was angered that his children would not have his name. They would not be Mountbattens, but keep the Queen’s family name Windsor. In fact, he is reported to have said “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his children… I’m nothing but a bloody amoeba.”

One of the most interesting relationships Prince Philip had was with his son, the future King, Prince Charles. They were very different people and personalities. Whereas Philip was strong and self-reliant, Charles was much more sensitive. Philip insisted Charles attend the same school he had in Scotland, despite the fact Charles hated the school.

What did Prince Philip do? Well he had a lot of passions and interests. In 1956 his concerns for the welfare of young people sparked the launch of his phenomenally successful Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. This award has enabled millions of 15-to-25-year-olds around the world to challenge themselves physically, mentally and emotionally in a range of activities designed to promote teamwork, resourcefulness and a respect for nature. In fact, I completed my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award as a teenager, and I know many people who went on to complete silver and gold awards!

He was also a passionate advocate for wildlife and the environment, and was an influential figure in the World Wildlife Fund and the first President of the World Wide fund for Nature. Throughout his life, Prince Philip also kept an enthusiasm for sport. He sailed, played cricket and polo, excelled at carriage driving and was president of the International Equestrian Federation for many years.

He was also a controversial figure at times, making a number of offensive and rude comments. You can search online yourself for some of Philip’s mistakes – he made a lot. He certainly had a reputation for misjudging situations when he was abroad. 

Final Thought

Prince Philip was a man with a strong character, and a belief in independence and self-reliance but found himself inside a complicated royal family and in a position where he was always second to the Queen. In another world, where the Queen’s father lived a much longer life, perhaps he would have gone on to have a career as military leader. Instead, he was forced into a royal life. He retired from public life in 2017, after carrying out 22,219 different engagements for the royal family. 

This episode of Thinking in English has been very different from my usual style. However, I have had many conversations over the last few days about the life of the prince and his family, so I thought it might be useful to explain who Prince Philip was, and what he did with his life. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and if you didn’t, don’t worry, I’ll be back with another normal episode later this week!


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