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Inside Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s First Meeting

Queen Elizabeth was only 13 when she met her future husband, Prince Philip. Elizabeth, then just a princess, was accompanying her parents—King George VI and Queen Elizabeth—and younger sister, Margaret, on a trip to Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939, when Philip—an 18-year-old blond cadet—was tasked with entertaining Elizabeth and Margaret.

“It was shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War,” royal historian Christopher Warwick told Vanity Fair last week, in anticipation of the forthcoming PBS special The Queen at War, premiering May 5. “There had been an outbreak of measles or chickenpox at the Royal Naval College, so Philip had been delegated to look after them and play games with Elizabeth and Margaret. And when he got tired of playing train sets with them, it’s famously known that he said, ‘Let’s go and jump the nets on the tennis courts.’ And Princess Elizabeth was just overwhelmed [by Philip], really. Her governess, Marion Crawford, recorded [in her diary] that Elizabeth said, ‘See how he jumps.’”

“Like most romances, it was one that grew very gradually,” said Warwick. “Sometimes people forget or don’t know that, way back then in the ’30s, the ’40s, the ’50s, 13-year-olds were essentially children. Princess Elizabeth at 13 was still in low white socks and a matching coat, the same as her sister, Margaret. Philip was 18. He’d got girlfriends of his own.”

In the years that followed, Elizabeth and Philip occasionally corresponded and even bumped into each other in royal quarters.

“They were relatives—third cousins through Queen Victoria,” pointed out Warwick. “And we have to remember that, during the war, Philip was actually away in the Royal Navy. When he was on leave, he would come and stay with the royal family at Windsor Castle—with his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and his cousin, Princess Marina, who was Duchess of Kent. So he would see a lot of Princess Elizabeth when he was on leave. But otherwise, we’re told that they had a cousinly correspondence.”

Yet some of Philip’s family were angling for the prince to marry the heiress.

“There were members of the family who were kind of hoping, if not encouraging, a kind of love match between these two. It was in 1944, when the princess was still a teenager,” said Warwick—explaining that Lord Mountbatten pushed the subject so much with Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, that the monarch said of Elizabeth, “‘She’s much too young. If it’s going to happen, let it happen naturally.’ But it was through their correspondence, through their meetings, that they did fall in love. They both became devoted to one another, we know that.” The two eventually married in 1947.

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