Robert Hardman on a Royal Fairytale: Queen Elizabeth II Became a Truly Great Monarch because she had her ‘Liege man of Life and Limb’ Prince Philip at her Side Every Step of the Way

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, wearing the uniform of the Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Canadian Regiment, pose for a portrait at Buckingham Palace in 1959. Library and Archives Canada/National Film Board of Canada

Theirs has been one of the great royal love stories of all time. In a thousand years of monarchy, their marriage outlasted that of every other Sovereign.

And now, more than 150 years after the last great royal consort was taken from a very great queen, history has repeated itself.

Just as ‘Victoria and Albert’ have gone down in history as an inseparable royal duo, so ‘Elizabeth and Philip’ will surely follow suit.

This enduring partnership was based on a paradox from the start. Here was a shy young woman married to a strong, opinionated man of action and ideas.

Yet she would be the one to reign over a large proportion of the earth’s surface, while he would have to spend his life cast in the supportive role.

And that was the way things remained for the best part of three-quarters of a century after Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in a Kenyan treehouse on February 6, 1952. In an instant, Prince Philip’s meteoric career in the Royal Navy was over.

One of the ablest cadets of his generation at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, he had gone on to serve throughout World War II and all over the world.

In the parlance of the age, his had been ‘a good war’ and he was destined for the highest echelons of the Navy.

Yet with the death of George VI, he would have to make a dramatic change of tack. Thereafter, he was relegated to a subordinate position — and the most public one imaginable. But there would be no grumbling, no what-ifs, very little looking back.

A few years ago, I interviewed the Duke’s former private secretary, Brigadier Sir Miles Hunt-Davis, who explained how the Duke organised his life.

It was a routine that had barely changed from the day the Queen came to the throne.

‘In a sense, his life is very simple,’ said Sir Miles. ‘It is 100 per cent support for the Queen. The organisation of his life is based entirely on the Queen’s programme.

‘So he will not look at his programme until the Queen’s programme has been decided.’

From their earliest world tours together until he was in his 90s, the Duke would always be there as the Queen made her way through a crowd.

She would have her personal protection officers, of course, and she would have her hosts — a Lord Mayor, perhaps, or the president of a foreign nation. But the person who gave her the greatest reassurance was always the Duke.

She might have done thousands of walkabouts but it was still always comforting to be able to turn round and see her ‘liege man of life and limb’ covering the other side of the street or another part of the crowd. One can never be in two places at once, after all.

In October 2011, four months after his 90th birthday, the Duke was at the Queen’s side on their last major long-distance overseas trip together — a coast-to-coast tour of Australia.

As usual, he was to be found lifting children over crowd barriers in Melbourne and Perth so they could meet the Queen.