A TV series offers clues to Prince Philip’s formative years
For nearly seven decades, the Duke of Edinburgh has been known to the world as the self-effacing and devoted consort of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. Now, just as Prince Philip recently announced his retirement from public life, a new TV audience has been exposed to a much more intimate (albeit fictionalized) view of him: The popular Netflix TV series The Crown, portrays the Duke as the often frustrated but perhaps best adjusted member of Britain’s perpetually uneasy royal family. Yet the MacJannet community perceives Philip through still another lens: As he turns 99 this June, Philip is the oldest living alumnus of a MacJannet institution as well as the last surviving honorary trustee of the MacJannet Foundation.
As a six-year-old in 1927, Philip was enrolled at “The Elms,” Donald MacJannet’s innovative American school on the outskirts of Paris. Philip’s royal family had fled Greece during a revolution in 1922, smuggling the infant Philip out of the country in an orange crate. Philip later described his time at the Elms as “three of the happiest years of my life.” He remained in touch with Donald and Charlotte MacJannet at least through 1970s. The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, which Philip created in 1956, seems patterned after several key MacJannet values: It honors such activities as volunteer service, physical development, social and personal skills, adventurous journeys, and participation in a shared activity while living away from one’s home. (For more about Prince Philip’s MacJannet connection, see “Prince Philip’s school days” in Les Entretiens, Spring 2012.)
The first three seasons of The Crown purport to dramatize the private life of the House of Windsor, beginning with Philip’s marriage to Elizabeth in 1947 and concluding with Elizabeth’s silver jubilee as queen in 1977. Among other things, the series reminds us that nothing in Philip’s life was pre-ordained. When he married Elizabeth in 1947, for example, the newlyweds had no way of knowing that within five years she would be thrust on the throne by the untimely death of her father, leaving Philip at age 31 as his wife’s permanent second fiddle, a role his activist masculine personality instinctively rebelled against.
How Philip adjusted, or failed to adjust, makes a fascinating drama. How well the character in The Crown reflects the real Prince Philip is another story. Although it alludes periodically to his tumultuous childhood, The Crown hasn’t yet mentioned Philip’s years at The Elms. In any case, MacJannet acolytes who read between the lines of The Crown will derive added benefits from this highly intelligent and entertaining series. The following summary is offered as a quick MacJannet-oriented guide to The Crown’s first three seasons. These episodes should be accessible on the Internet as well as on Netflix itself.
Season 1 (Released November 2016)
Episode 1 (“Wolferton Splash”): On November 20, 1947, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark renounces his titles and citizenship and takes the name Philip Mountbatten before marrying Princess Elizabeth, elder daughter and heir presumptive of King George VI. The newlyweds move to Malta, where Philip rejoins the British Royal Navy while Elizabeth gives birth to son Charles and daughter Anne. Four years later, the couple returns to England to be with George as he undergoes a lung operation. George later receives a terminal diagnosis and counsels Philip on how to assist Elizabeth when she becomes the new sovereign.
Episode 3 (“Windsor”): As the Royal Family and the United Kingdom prepares for King George's funeral in 1952, Philip requests that Elizabeth ask Prime Minister Winston Churchill to allow their family to keep the Mountbatten name and live at Clarence House rather than at Buckingham Palace. While Churchill is reluctant to grant either request, she eventually drops them after receiving counsel from her uncle Edward, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated he throne in 1936.
Episode 8 (“Pride & Joy”): Philip grows frustrated over Elizabeth using him as a prop, resulting in a heated confrontation that is recorded by photographers. While Elizabeth convinces the photographers to surrender the recording, she and Philip remain unable to resolve their argument.
Episode 9 (“Assassins”): Philip begins spending more time away from Buckingham Palace while Elizabeth begins spending time with her horse racing manager and longtime friend Lord "Porchey" Porchester. The tension escalates after Elizabeth orders a direct line be put in for Porchey, resulting in another heated argument. Elizabeth later tells Philip he is the only man she has ever loved, prompting him to mouth an apology.
Episode 10: (“Gloriana”): The Queen Mother complains about Philip's domineering attitude toward his eldest son, Prince Charles. Elizabeth asks Philip to open the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne as a way of adjusting to life in her shadow. A five-month royal tour is later added to the itinerary, with Elizabeth suggesting Philip be thankful that everyone is helping him find a public role.
Season 2 (Released December 2017):
Episode 1 (“Misadventure”): In February 1957, Elizabeth and Philip discuss the state of their marriage, with both acknowledging that divorce is not an option. Five months earlier, as Philip prepares to embark on his royal tour, Elizabeth becomes convinced he is having an affair.
Episode 2: (“A company of men”): Philip continues his tour, punctuated by an interview that he terminates when the reporter asks about his family history. At Christmas, Philip delivers a heartfelt radio address, prompting Elizabeth to let him know his family is waiting for him as part of her own Christmas address. Meanwhile, the divorce of Philip's private secretary on infidelity grounds feeds press speculation about Elizabeth and Philip's own marriage.
Episode 3 (“Lisbon”): Elizabeth brings Philip’s royal tour to an end before meeting the royal yacht Britannia in Lisbon and privately talking with Philip about their marriage. Philip makes it clear he resents his son Prince Charles outranking him and wants more respect from both the courtiers and the palace staff. On February 22, 1957, Philip is made a Prince of the United Kingdom, with the style "His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh."
Episode 9 (“Paterfamilias”): Philip arranges for Charles to attend Gordonstoun, Philip’s old school in Moray, Scotland, despite protests from Elizabeth. who prefers Eton College. (Gordonstoun was founded in 1934 by the German educational reformer Kurt Hahn, who was said to be friendly with Donald MacJannet; it reflected many aspects of Donald’s belief in outdoor activities and “learning by doing.”) Philip gets his way after using his deal with Elizabeth to compel her to support him. While taking Charles to the school, Philip recalls his time at Gordonstoun as well as the death of his older sister Cecile and her family, for which his father Prince Andrew blamed him. Charles struggles with Gordonstoun's rigorous curriculum. Philip takes Charles home, admonishing him for being "bloody weak" after an attempt to give him a pep talk fails.
Season 3 (Released November 2019):
Episode 4 (“Bubbikins”): In 1967, Elizabeth learns that Prince Philip’s senile mother, Princess Alice, who has been living in Athens, Greece, is in endangered by the recent imposition of military rule. (It was Alice who enrolled Philip at Donald MacJannet’s school in 1927.) Elizabeth arranges for Alice to come to the United Kingdom and stay at Buckingham Palace despite Philip's protests. While looking after Alice, the royal family participates in a documentary to show they are normal people. Critics ridicule the documentary following its airing, prompting Philip to arrange an interview with The Guardian. The reporter, however, interviews Alice instead; and the subsequent article is published to success, resulting in Philip making amends with his mother.
Episode 7 (“Moondust”): Amid the first moon landing (1969), Prince Philip feels dissatisfied with his lack of achievement and searches for inspiration. When the Apollo 11 astronauts visit Buckingham Palace, Philip arranges a private interview, only to be disappointed by their mundane replies. They in turn ask him what it’s like to live in Buckingham Palace. At Philip’s urging, Elizabeth replaces the Dean of Windsor Castle with Robin Woods, who opens a new “religious academy for personal and spiritual growth”— a euphemism for burned-out clergymen— on the castle grounds. Philip is invited to take part in the group’s therapy sessions, and although he resists at first, he eventually shares his experience with the group. (In real life, Philip and Woods created St. George’s House on the grounds of Windsor Castle three years before the moonwalk— in 1966, just a few years after Charlotte MacJannet launched a similar series of Entretiens gatherings at the Prieuré in Talloires.) With Prince Philip’s continuing support, St. George’s House survives today as a refuge where people of influence and responsibility— like Philip himself— can come together to get in touch with their feelings.
This episode, like the whole series, leaves some questions unanswered. To what extent was Philip influenced by Donald and Charlotte MacJannnet? And if Philip perceived the benefits of therapy as early as 1966, why didn’t he apply this insight for the benefit of his own psychologically damaged children, most notably Prince Charles? Perhaps these will be addressed in The Crown’s fourth season, expected to be released in November 2020.