The Queen and Prince Philip yesterday celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, leaving to spend time in Malta where they spent a few early years of their marriage away from the gaze of her future subjects.

The wedding took place on November 20th 1947 in Westminster Abbey after a short four month engagement.  Yesterday they attended a service in Westminster Abbey together with their family, close friends, the Queen’s personal knights, ten couples also married on the same day, and some of those who had contributed to the Royal wedding 60 years ago such as the seamstress who worked on the Queen’s wedding gown.   It was the same setting as their wedding, and the same music was used.  A transcript of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon is available here.

Every marriage is an act of faith. When you think about it, the promise to be in the company of the same person for a lifetime is an extraordinary thing to undertake; it is a statement of trust in one another and in the future which can never be free of risk. Another person, however well I think I know him or her, however confident I am about the mutual attraction between us, is still going to be deeply mysterious, beyond my control. Giving away my life to them is quite a step.”

Prince Philip was born in Corfu, the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark who was the fourth son of the King of Greece.  He was baptised in the Greek Orthodox faith. When barely a year old, his life took a dramatic turn as he made his escape from Greece in an orange box on board a Royal Navy ship, HMS Calypso.  His father had been sentenced by a court to perpetual banishment.  His parents having fled to France, he lived there first, then in Germany after his parent’s marriage broke down.  His mother developed schizophrenia and Prince Philip’s contact with both parents became almost non-existant.  He left Germany in 1936 and came to the United Kingdom.   He joined the Royal Navy in 1939.

He had to give up both his Orthodox faith and his title to the Greek throne in order to marry the Queen; he had already become a naturalised British Citizen in the months before the engagement was announced.  His sisters had all married German princes and so were not welcome at the wedding.  Britain was suffering economically from the enormous cost of the Second World War and there was still rationing.  Clothes could only be bought using coupons.  Many women apparently sent the Queen their coupons to use for her wedding dress, but the coupons were returned as it was illegal to give them away.  Like every other bride, however, she received 200 extra coupons.  Her dress was designed by the Royal couturier, Norman Hartnell, and took three months to finish.  Hartnell recalled how rumours circulated that the silk worms used to produce the Duchesse satin were of Italian or Japanese origin and therefore provided by “enemy” territories.  In fact they came from China, via Scotland.

In an austere Britain, the wedding was a joyful spectacle that caught everyone’s imagination.  It was a symbol of hope and regeneration after the hardships that the people had suffered.

After their marriage the Queen announced that Prince Philip was to sit next to her on all occasions, in other words that he was to take precedence over any of their children who had titular precedence in relation to the throne.  Never mind being cradled in an orange box, Prince Philip seems to have been born with a foot in his mouth – if you scroll down to the end of his Wikipedia entry you will find a list of the numerous gaffes he has made in his supporting role. 

His most prominent contribution to British life is probably the Duke of Edinburgh Award – a personal development award scheme for teenagers requiring them to show service in community, develop new sports and interests, and take part in unaccompanied expeditions in the mountains, leading to Bronze, Silver and Gold medals.  The Gold medals are presented in person by the Duke of Edinburgh.

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