By Herbert Jacobs
(Excerpted from Schoolmaster of Kings, Herbert Jacobs’s unpublished biography of Donald MacJannet.)
The pupil who got the most newspaper attention was Philip—blue-eyed, flaxen-haired, “the boy with no last name.” Subjected to much kidding by his classmates because of that lack, he was sometimes called Philip of Greece. His mother, the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, had married into the Danish royal family, which had no surname. Philip had been raised with four older sisters, so much the center of their attention that his parents felt he needed association with boys of his own age. “Mother, do you think I can get into this?” he asked his mother wistfully when she brought him to the school and he saw a group of boys playing football. “I should think you can,” she replied. By the time she and Donald MacJannet had concluded details of Philip’s admission, the active Philip was already mingling with his future classmates. Princess Alice, Philip’s mother, told MacJannet that while the boy had plenty of originality and spontaneity, “instead of being constantly hushed up he should be working off his boundless energy by practicing games and learning Anglo-Saxon ideas of courage, fair play, and resistance. Philip should develop English characteristics, because his future will be in English-speaking lands, perhaps American, and I want him to learn English well.”
Why the princess didn’t respond
The princess was looking out the window, watching Philip, when MacJannet made some comment, but she did not respond. Later he learned that she had been born deaf, but had learned to read lips in English, German and Greek. Living farther up the St. Cloud slope and walking to school each morning with his governess, Philip usually arrived half an hour early. He cleaned blackboards, straightened furniture, and was always helpful and eager, though he frequently quoted his sisters’ statement that “you shouldn’t slam doors or shout loud,” MacJannet recalled. He always got chairs for visitors, would not let women serve him, carried food from the kitchen but never broke a platter. Besides loving football, he did well enough in his studies to get a silver star and even a gold one, “making great progress in his three years,” MacJannet said. He begged to be allowed to be a boarder and live at the school, but “we can’t afford it,” his mother said. The royal refugee family, in fact, had very little money. Princess Alice had opened a shop in Paris where she sold the artifacts brought with them by other Greek refugees.
At the age of six, when he entered the school in 1927, Philip soon learned more about American sports and presidents than he knew about King George III and cricket. Gregarious and popular, he was a member of the school’s baseball team and lower school football captain.
Since MacJannet believed that physical labor, in moderation, was also good for children, he took part in the gardening, leaf raking and other duties that accompanied the academic life. MacJannet remembers him in charge of the garden hose at watering time, telling each boy firmly just when to take his turn. MacJannet got a turn too, of a different kind, when he approached to take a picture and he and the camera accidentally got a minor soaking. Prince Philip later said of those three years at the MacJannet School that “they were three of the happiest years of my life” (presumably up to the age of nine, when he left). They may, in fact, have been part of the reason why he later sent Prince Charles to school rather than having him tutored, like previous Princes of Wales.
Too much laughter
“Philip was keen, intelligent and responsive,” Mrs. Dorothy Huckle, a teacher at the Elms school, wrote in a letter. “Sometimes he was so boisterous that he had to be “sat on,” she continued. “One day in class something came up to make us all laugh. When I felt that we had laughed enough, I said, ‘Now, that’s enough! Let’s get on with our work.’ Philip continued to laugh, not out of bravado, but for the sheer joy of life. “‘Enough’s enough, Philip,’ I said. ‘Stop it and let’s get on with class.’ My tone of severity astonished another child, who said to me in an awe-struck voice, ‘His uncle and aunt are a king and queen!’” “There was a dead silence, and I was faced by a pack ready to defend their idol. Blue, black, gray, green and brown eyes looked at me with varied expressions— all questioning. Among them was a pair of blue eyes (Philip’s) looking straight into mine with the wisdom of ages behind them, waiting for my answer.
“‘Yes, but you are Americans,’ I said. ‘You don’t believe in kings and queens. You honor a man for what he does. Any of you may be president of the United States. Philip must prove himself worthy of being the nephew of a king and queen. He must prove himself to be a prince before we take notice of that’.” “The little fellow took his reprimand like a man. He knew that he had not been sent to school to be pampered, to be singled out for favors. He was there as Philip, or Philip of Greece, if a last name was demanded— a little boy whose mother had impressed upon him the necessity of working hard, harder even than the other children.”
Philip showed the same burst of energy when he went with the MacJannet group at the 1927 Christmas holidays for two weeks of winter sports at Chamonix. Gustav Kalkun, the Estonian native who was a counselor at the MacJannet camp and ski instructor, watched Philip tumbling into the snow repeatedly, but getting up each time to try again. The next day Kalkun and his American-born wife Hally took a stiff but eager Philip between them and, with a hand and ski pole from each, the lad soon learned fast on steep slopes. Once, when Philip accidentally let go and disappeared under the snow, they had to move fast to dig him out. Besides skiing at Chamonix, Philip, in his usual role as leader, persuaded three other boys that it would be fun to appear at a costume party as chimney sweeps, and that burnt cork was the very best material for blackening faces, ears and hands. And it fell to the lot of Donald’s sister Jean MacJannet, after the party, to help in the slower and more laborious task of removing the cork from the royal face and ears.
Philip was widely pictured in the French, British and American press in a Robin Hood production at the school, laughing as he drew an arrow (see photo above). Others in the picture are his classmates Jack and Anne de Bourbon, son and daughter of Prince René de Bourbon. Philip’s best friends at the school were Wellington and Freeman Koo, sons of V. K. Wellington Koo, then Chinese ambassador to France, and later a judge at the International Court at The Hague.
Guests at the palace
Fifty years later, in 1977, Prince Philip invited Donald and Charlotte MacJannet to a party at Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Jubilee. MacJannet, an old hand at arranging to be in the front row, found the route that Philip would take in circulating among the guests, and Philip stopped to talk. “Am I the only one of my classmates of so long ago that you keep in touch with?” Philip asked him. “Or do you just keep in touch with those who get into the newspapers?” “Try me out,” MacJannet replied. “Name someone you remember.” The prince then asked about Wellington Koo, saying, “He was kind of like me. I was known as the boy who had no last name. He had been pointed out to me as ‘Ching Ching Chinaman’.”
When Philip married Princess Elizabeth in 1947, some MacJannet alumni got a shock of recognition when they saw pictures of Prince Philip at the Elms on a Boston TV station. The film, which Donald had lent to the station, showed a cracker race among some ten pupils at the school, and there was Philip, in his usual mischievous manner, his cheeks bulging with crackers, making faces at the camera.
The Duke of Edinburgh was rescued from a traumatic childhood. Donald MacJannet may deserve much of the credit.
From Les Entretiens, Spring 2012
BY DAN ROTTENBERG
Donald and Charlotte MacJannet molded several subsequently famous figures during their formative years, among them the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. But the MacJannets’ best-known alumnus has long mystified devoted MacJannet acolytes, not to mention many of his subjects. The Duke of Edinburgh, now the 90-year-old consort of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, was enrolled at Donald MacJannet’s school outside Paris in 1927, when he was a six-year-old with the less grandiloquent (if equally baffling to his classmates) name of Philip of Greece.
Donald MacJannet’s approach to education, as we know, relied heavily on offering children a warm and welcoming environment as well as exposure to foreign cultures, the better to sensitize them to respect other people’s differences. Yet Philip’s public image, as London’s Telegraph put it recently, is that of a man who “has become notorious for making public gaffes” and “has gained rather a reputation for embarrassing comments and questions while on royal tours of duty.” MacJannet disciples may be tempted to wonder: In Philip’s case, did Donald MacJannet’s formula fail? Or, conversely, is there more to Philip’s story than the figure so often ridiculed in the tabloids? A recent biography of Prince Philip suggests emphatically that the answer is the latter. In Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II (Henry Holt, 2011), author Philip Eade reminds us that Philip overcame an inconceivably traumatic childhood.
Although Philip was born in Greece to the Greek royal family, he was mostly Danish (the Greeks recruited his grandfather, a Danish prince, to be their king in the 19th Century), with German and English thrown in. When he was just a baby, a revolution ran his royal family out of Greece. Philip himself was smuggled out in a fruit crate in 1922, as his father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, evaded execution. Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born deaf; she was committed to a psychiatric clinic when Philip was eight. His father, already traumatized by his exile from his home country, shut up the family home and went off to live with his mistress, effectively leaving his young son an orphan. Thus by the time Philip was a teenager, he had lost his home, his name and identity, his family and many of his close relatives. Shuttled around to various relatives and boarding schools in Germany and Britain, Philip grew into a tough young man. Yet this smart, robust, take-charge aristocrat somehow managed to subordinate his alpha male instincts to play a lifelong supporting role to his wife— fathering her heirs, organizing her palaces, avoiding politics, and always walking a few paces behind his wife for the rest of his life.
When Philip is viewed in this light—as a stable rudder for the British monarchy—the relevant question becomes: Does Donald MacJannet deserve some of the credit?
Baseball before Cricket
Eade’s book doesn’t address the question directly but does provide grounds for speculation. Philip spent three years at the MacJannet School—from age six to nine. Although most educators today stress the critical importance of early childhood education in shaping personality, Eade devotes just three pages to Philip’s time at the MacJannet School, which Eade describes as “a progressive American kindergarten housed in Jules Verne’s former home— a rambling old St. Cloud mansion (also since demolished) at 7 Avenue Eugenie just above the Seine, opposite the western end of the Bois de Boulogne, and shaded by the large trees that gave the school its name: The Elms.”
In some respects, Philip’s exposure to foreign classmates worked just as Donald MacJannet intended. “The majority of his classmates were American,” Eade reports, “and Philip picked up something of their drawl and learned to play baseball before he played cricket. He coveted anything that came from the New York department store Macy’s and was only too pleased to swap a gold bibelot given to him by George V for a state-of-the-art three-color pencil belonging to another boy.”
Eade quotes one of Philip’s teachers as being struck by the young prince’s precocious sense of responsibility. Having walked to school with his nanny, she recalled, he usually arrived there half an hour early, and he would fill in the time cleaning blackboards, filling inkwells, straightening the classroom furniture, picking up waste paper and watering the plants. On his first day at The Elms, Eade reports, “some of the other boys had demanded that Philip ‘fight it out’ with another new boy. After a brief scuffle, he whispered to his opponent, ‘Are you having fun?’ When the other boy admitted he wasn’t, Philip said, ‘Let’s quit,’ which they did.” “He wanted to learn to do everything,” Eade notes, “including waiting at table, his mother having taught him that ‘a gentleman does not allow a woman to wait on him.’ He also appeared to take for granted his mother’s insistence on hard work: Alice [his mother] made him do extra Greek prep three evenings a week, and asked the school to set him a daily exercise for the holidays.” When Philip first arrived at the Elms, Eade writes, “Alice had told the headmaster that her son had ‘plenty of originality and spontaneity’ and suggested that he be encouraged to work off his energy playing games and learning ‘Anglo-Saxon ideas of courage, fair play and resistance.’ She said she envisaged him ending up in an English-speaking country, perhaps America, so she wanted him to learn good English….. Alice also wanted Philip to ‘develop English characteristics’.”
Eade readily acknowledges that “The accounts we have of Philip’s time at the school all emerged after his engagement to Princess Elizabeth and thus they may have been embroidered with the benefit of hindsight.” Whatever the explanation, Eade falls into the common biographer’s trap of focusing on the manner in which characteristics are transmitted from parents (in this case Philip’s mother, Alice) to children. But the blessing of an outside patron or mentor— uncluttered by familial or Freudian issues— is equally essential. The teacher Anne Sullivan— not Helen Keller’s parents— was Keller’s “miracle worker.” Was Donald MacJannet Prince Philip’s “miracle worker”? Eade doesn’t speculate. But anyone who was exposed to the MacJannets as a child must wonder how receptive another headmaster would have been to the suggestions of a mother— especially a mother like Philip’s, who was not only deaf but also, in 1927, teetering on the brink of insanity.
Link to Gordonstoun
According to Schoolmaster of Kings, Herbert Jacobs’s unpublished biography of Donald MacJannet, Prince Philip later described his time at the MacJannet school as “three of the happiest years of my life.” Jacobs further suggests that Philip’s experience at the MacJannet School may have been part of the reason why he later sent his son Prince Charles to school at Gordonstoun in Scotland rather than having him tutored, as previous Princes of Wales had been. Philip himself attended Gordonstoun after it opened in 1934. Donald MacJannet was said to have been friendly with Gordonstoun’s founder, the German educational reformer Kurt Hahn, and perhaps could have influenced Philip’s decision to enroll there. In 1956 Philip created the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a prize for young people (age 14 to 24) whose criteria seem to have been taken directly from Donald MacJannet’s syllabus: 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. “Taking part builds confidence and develops self esteem,” the program’s website explains. “It requires persistence, commitment and has a lasting impact on the attitudes and outlook of all young people who do their D of E.” That comment is unsigned, but it could have been written by Philip himself, referring to his experience at The Elms.