The Queen's fine romance: finding her Prince and their long and happy marriage

The royal couple enjoyed 73 years of marriage

Arm in arm and smiling into each other's eyes, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh appeared as much in love in a photo taken in 2007 at Broadlands in Hampshire as they did on the first day of their honeymoon at the same stately country house 60 years earlier.

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Enjoying 73 years of marriage until Prince Philip's death on 9 April 2021, the Queen could pride herself on knowing that the good impression made on her by the handsome young man at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth in 1939 was spot on.

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It was said to have been an instant attraction for the teen Princess Elizabeth when she spotted Prince Philip of Greece, 18, a distant cousin she had first met at a wedding five years earlier. "How good he is, Crawfie. Look how high he can jump," she said to her governess Marion Crawford as Philip leapt over the tennis nets to impress Elizabeth and her sister.

"She was only 13 but she clocked Philip immediately and she never thought of anyone else," said Lady Pamela Hicks, a cousin to Prince Philip and one of Princess Elizabeth's bridesmaids eight years later.

The Second World War stood in the way of any ideas of romance, however. Philip saw active service with the Royal Navy while the Princesses were kept as far as possible out of harm's way. But the cousins exchanged occasional letters and Elizabeth even kept a photo of Philip by her bed.

Visible Chemistry

By 1943 a flutter of romance was detected between the two when Philip joined the family at Windsor for the festive season and its succession of soirées.

The King's private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, described how Philip and Elizabeth, dancing together on one occasion, "frisked and capered away till near 1am".

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The following year Queen Mary wrote in a letter to a friend that Elizabeth and Philip had "been in love for the past 18 months". She added: "But the King and Queen feel she is too young to be engaged yet. They want her to see more of the world… and to meet more men."

They may also not have considered the penniless and foreign-born Philip as the ideal match for their daughter and so a succession of aristocrats was invited to family gatherings. But the Princess would not be swayed. "She never looked at anyone else," said Elizabeth's cousin Margaret Rhodes.

On his return from the war in the Far East, Philip began a two-year post as a training officer at a naval base at Corsham in Wiltshire. Elizabeth told a friend a few years later: "He spent six weeks at Balmoral. It was great luck his getting a shore job just then."

A Royal Engagement

It's thought that it was during this holiday in the Highlands in 1946 that Philip proposed to Elizabeth. She accepted immediately, without even consulting her parents.

However, an official announcement was not made for another year. The press, meanwhile, became aware of the romance later that year, at the wedding of Lady Patricia Mountbatten and Lord Brabourne at Romsey Abbey, when their cameras caught the couple gazing lovingly at each other.

The main stumbling block to a swift marriage was the King. According to his official biographer, Elizabeth's father "still found it difficult to believe that his daughter had fallen in love with the first young man she had ever met and perhaps he also dreaded losing her".

Elizabeth reluctantly agreed the official announcement should be postponed until the royal family had returned from a three-month tour of South Africa, a separation the King felt was a good test of the couple's commitment.

The official announcement was issued in July 1947 that the King had "gladly given his consent", although the Princess wrote the same year to author Betty Shew: "I don't think anybody thought much about 'consent' – it was inevitable."

Love Match

Expressing his good fortune to his future mother-in-law, Philip wrote: "I am sure I do not deserve all the good things that have happened to me – to have been spared in the war and seen victory… to have fallen in love, completely and unreservedly."

On the morning of the couple's wedding day – 20 November 1947 – Philip was made Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich. The King had bestowed on him the title of His Royal Highness a day earlier.

Thousands had camped overnight outside Westminster Abbey to catch a glimpse of the bride in her fairytale Norman Hartnell gown. Inside, the groom was thoughtful as he made his vows. "Am I being very brave or very foolish?" he had pondered days before.

"Nothing was going to change for her," his cousin Lady Patricia recalled. "Everything was going to change for him." After a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon first at Broadlands, Earl Mountbatten's country retreat, then in snowbound seclusion at Birkhall on the Balmoral estate.

Again writing to Queen Elizabeth, Philip asked rhetorically: "Cherish Lilibet? I wonder if that word is enough to express what is in me."

As they started their own family – Prince Charles was born in 1948 and Princess Anne in 1950 – the couple enjoyed their most carefree days when Philip was appointed first lieutenant of the destroyer HMS Chequers in Malta in 1949.

"[Elizabeth's] happiest time was as a sailor's wife in Malta," said Margaret Rhodes. "It was as nearly an ordinary a life as she got."

Elizabeth went to a hair salon for the first time, chatted over tea with the other officers' wives and spent precious time with her husband, exploring the island by boat, sunbathing and having picnics.

Malta always held a special place in the couple's hearts – they returned several times, most notably during their diamond wedding year in 2007 and again for one last, poignant visit in November 2015.

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