The future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark have known each other for nearly their entire lives.
The Duchess of York gave birth to a daughter on April 21, 1926. On that day, the Crown Princess of Sweden, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven and Princess Andrew of Greece visited King George V and Queen Mary at Windsor Castle and they stayed for lunch. I have no doubt that the king and queen and their guests toasted the health of the newborn iprincess. It seemed unlikely that the king and queen or their guests would have considered that Princess Andrew's young son, Philip, would marry the princess who was born on the day that his mother and grandmother had lunch with the baby's paternal grandparents.
Two years later, Princess Andrew's son, Prince Philip, then seven years old, was sent to London to attend Cheam School. He lived with his maternal grandmother, Victoria, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven and with his maternal uncle, George, the 2nd Marquess of Milford of Haven. Uncle George was named as Philip's guardian, but Philip probably spent more time with Sir Harold and Lady Zia at their country home.
Lady Zia's younger sister, Nada, was married to George Milford Haven. They were the daughters of Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich of Russia whose morganatic marriage to Countess Sophie von Merenberg, sent him into exile and saved his life. The Grand Duke and his wife were mainstays of London society and lived for many years at Kenwood House in Regent's Park. The Russian Revolution led to the loss of Michael's massive income from his own estates and he and Sophie were forced to downsize. King George V was one of several family members who helped out financially.
The Grand Duke Adolphe of Luxembourg, who was Sophie's uncle, created her as Countess Torby after her marriage. This title was also used by her three children: Michael, Anastasia (Zia) and Nadejda (Nada).
It was imperative that the young Countesses Zia and Nada marry well. Zia certainly did that when on July 20, 1917, she wed Major General Harold Wernher, son of the German-born financier, Sir Julius Werhner, Bt whose fortune was made in the South African diamond minds. Two months after the wedding, King George V accorded Zia the style and precedence of a daughter of an earl. This was done by Royal Warrant. In 1948, Harold succeeded his brother, Derrick as the third Baronet.
The Milford Havens had two children, Lady Tatiana (1917-1988), who was mentally disabled, and David, then styled Earl of Medina (1919-1970)
The 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven was a career officer in the Royal Navy. UIn 1916, he received the KVCO and in 1932 received the GCVO (Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. He was also an accomplished mathematician. Queen Elizabeth II once said of her cousin that "he was one of the most intelligent and brilliant of people." He died in 1937 in bone cancer.
Lord Milford-Haven's younger brother, Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife the Hon. Edwina Ashley, were the parents of two daughters, Patricia (1924-2017) and Pamela (1929).
The cousins were part of a childhood social circle that also included Prince Philip, who of course, was a first cousin to Lady Tatiana, Lord Medina and Patricia and Pamela Mountbatten.
This social circle also included TRH Princesses Elizabeth (1926) and Margaret Rose (1930-2002) of York.
Alex Wernher was very much a mentor and an older brother to Prince Philip.
The future Queen was very fond of Lady Zia as both shared a great love for racing.
The parents all moved in the same social and court circles. At Ascot, for example, in 1924, the Duke and Duchess of York were in the Royal Box, along with Prince and Princess Arthur of Connaught, Lord Carnegie and Lady Maud Carnegie, Princess Andrew of Greece with her two eldest daughters, Princess Margarita and Theodora, the Marchioness of Cambridge, Lady Helena Gibbs, the Marquess and Marchioness of Worcester, Lady Zia Wernher and her father, Grand Duke Michael of Russia and King Manoel and Queen Augusta Victoria of Portugal.
Gina Wernher was a lifelong friend of the Queen and Prince Philip. She married twice, first to Harold "Bunny" Phillips, Lady Louis Mountbatten's discarded lover, and after his death, she wed Sir George Kennard, Bt. Lady Kennard was one of Prince Andrew's godparents. Two of her daughters, Sasha and Natalia, married the Dukes of Abercorn and Westminster, respectively. Tally Westminster is the godmother of Prince William and her son, Hugh, the current duke, is Prince George's godmother.
Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were among the guests at the wedding in November 1946 when Myra married David Butter at St. Margaret's, Westminster. Their son, Charles, has been a close friend of Prince Andrew's since childhood.
In 1933, Prince Philip's family -- he was raised by committee, it seems -- decided to send him to the Salem School, which was owned by the Margrave of Baden, who was married to Philip's sister, Theodora. The decision to send Philip to Salem was due to economic reasons. No worries about school fees when your uncle owns the school. But after only two terms at Salem, Philip was back in the United Kingdom. He was sent to Gordonstoun in Scotland, which was run by Kurt Hahn, the former headmaster at Salem, who had fled Germany as he was Jewish.
Yes, Philip would continue to visit his family in Germany. In September 1937, joined his grandmother, Victoria, at Schloss Wolfsgarten, near Darmstadt, where he spent time with his sister, Cecilie, her husband, Georg Donatus "Don", the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine, and their three young children, Ludwig, Alexander, and Johanna.
Victoria had spent most of the summer at Wolfsgarten caring for her younger brother, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, who was looking forward to traveling to London in mid-October for the wedding of his younger son, Prince Ludwig, to Margaret Geddes, the daughter of a British diplomat and former Ambassador to the United States. The wedding was slated for mid-October, but following Ernie's death on October 9th, the wedding date was moved to November 20, 1937.
Back at school in Scotland, Philip received a letter from his grandmother, writing from Kensington Palace, telling him that he was expected to attend the wedding that Saturday.
Early afternoon on November 16, 1937, Don, Cecilie, Ludwig and Alexander, Eleonore, the Dowager Grand Duchess, and several other people, boarded a plane bound for Brussels, then London. Due to heavy fog, the pilot was advised to land at Ostend. The experienced pilot, who often flew planes for the King the Belgians, should have gone straight to London. As he approached Ostend, also engulfed in fog, he was only able to see one of the flares, as the other two failed, as he tried to approach the airport. One of wings of the plane clipped a chimney. The plane crashed to the ground and burst into flame. It took hours before it was safe enough to approach the wreckage. Everyone on board had been killed instantly. There would be one more victim: the body of a newborn infant. Cecilie was due to give birth shortly before Christmas.
Gordonstoun's headmaster broke the news to the 16-year-old Prince Philip. The wedding of Prince Ludwig and Margaret Geddes took place privately on November 17th. The newlyweds spent their honeymoon identifying the remains, preparing for a funeral and adopting their niece, Johanna Marina, who died in 1939 from meningitis.
Prince Andrew came to London to accompany his son to the funeral in Darmstadt. It was the first time Alice and Andrew had seen each other in several years.
Thus, Philip and Elizabeth certainly met as children at parties and other events at Lynden Manor or Luton Hoo. It is no coincidence that for many years the Queen and Prince Philip spent their wedding anniversary at Luton Hoo.
They began corresponding in 1939 after Princess Elizabeth, along with Margaret, accompanied their parents on an official visit to Dartmouth, where Prince Philip, a student, was asked to give the young princesses a tour.
In 1941, Sir Henry Channon, known as Chips, was in Athens, where he met a member of the Greek royal family at a cocktail party, where the conversation turned to Prince Philip. "He is extraordinarily handsome, and I recalled my afternoon's conversation with Princess Nicholas. He is to be our Prince Consort, and that is why he is serving in our Navy."
Princess Nicholas -- Grand Duchess Helen of Russia -- was the mother of the Duchess of Kent.
Another connection between Philip and the Queen took place in November 1934 when Philip's first cousin, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, married Elizabeth's uncle, Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Philip attended the wedding and Princess Elizabeth was one of the bridesmaids. (Marina's older sister, Olga, was married to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, one of the regents for the young King Peter II, whose father, King Alexander I, had been assassinated in late October. In England, Paul moved in the same social circles at the Duke of York and Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and he was thought to be one of her suitors.]
So, yes, Philip and Elizabeth knew each other from childhood, but their romantic relationship did not develop until the mid-1940s. Their childhood friends (who were also cousins) -- Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Lady Pamela Hicks, Lady Kennard and Lady Butter remained (and remain for Lady Pamela and Lady Butter) close friends of the Queen and Philip. Alex Wernher was killed in the second world war. David, the 3rd Marquess of Milford Haven served as Philip's best man, soon his blotted his copybook and fell out of favor with his first cousin. He died in 1970, suffering a heart attack at Liverpool Street Station.
The focus tends to be on George VI and Elizabeth and their daughters and their family, but do not realize that there were was as a wider circle of friends and family. Philip's grandmother, Victoria, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, had a grace and favor apartment at Kensington Palace, given to her by George V after the death of her husband in 1921, until her death in 1950.
One of the best sources for the Wernher family is the book, Grand Dukes and Diamonds.
Tim Heald and Philip Eade's biographies of Prince Philip provide more information about his early life. My article on Alex Wernher A Close Friend of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was published in the Winter 2016 issue of Eurohistory, the European Royal History Journal. A forthcoming issue will feature another article - Hessian Endings -November 16 - which includes coverage of the crash.
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