Prince Philip Missed Charles's Birth, and 11 More Things You Didn't Know About Him

Prince Philip officially retired from royal duties this week. The 96-year-old leaves behind quite a legacy of appearances, engagements, and yes, a few controversies; he's become well-known over the years for his off-the-cuff remarks and sometimes insensitive gaffes, but he still remains a charming and gregarious presence. Philip is quite literally the queen's right-hand man, staying by her side at hundreds of events for royal charities while also enjoying personal hobbies like carriage racing and oil painting. Here are 12 things you may not have known about him.

  1. He was a prince before he married Elizabeth II. Philip was born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921. He had to renounce his Greek and Danish titles upon marrying then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, which is also when he became Duke of Edinburgh and was given the style of His Royal Highness. The queen officially made him a British prince in 1957.
  2. Despite his lineage, his early upbringing was pretty rough. Philip was the only son and fifth and last child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg. His family was exiled from Greece during the Greco-Turk war when he was an infant — he was carried to safety in a cot made from a fruit box — and they ended up settling in Paris. He got his education in the UK, during which time all four of his older sisters moved away and married German noblemen, his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an asylum, and his father moved to Monaco.
  3. He was an accomplished naval officer. Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and quickly became the best cadet in his course. He fought in World War II (against two of his German brothers-in-law!) as well as the Battle of Crete and was promoted to lieutenant in 1942.
  4. He chose his own surname. Though he belonged to the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (try saying that three times fast), Philip didn't have an official last name. He needed one in order to join the Royal Navy, so he went with Mountbatten, a variation of his mother's maiden name, Battenburg.
  5. He is related to Queen Elizabeth II. The two actually share the same great-great-grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, making them third cousins. Oddly enough, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were first cousins themselves.
Getty | Anwar Hussein
  1. He wasn't exactly welcomed into the royal family at first. Because of his lack of money and family ties, his foreigner status, and his Greek Orthodox religion, Philip wasn't a choice contender for Elizabeth. For the most part, he was dismissed him as "a German" and the queen mother reportedly referred to him as "the Hun." Many of the king's advisors didn't think he was good enough for the princess.
  2. He delivered the news of King George VI's death to Elizabeth. During a royal tour stop in Kenya, Philip was "roused from a nap" by friend Michael Parker with the news that the king had passed away. Michael recalled that Philip looked "as if half the world had fallen on him." He then delivered the sad news to Elizabeth, who was to officially become queen.
  3. He missed Prince Charles's birth. Philip tried to shake off the nerves of becoming a first-time parent during Elizabeth's 30-hour labor by playing squash with Michael Parker and going for a swim at Buckingham Palace. As he was toweling himself off, a footman came in to tell him that Elizabeth had delivered their son. Don't worry: he brought her a bottle of Champagne and her favorite flowers, carnations.
  4. He has his own award. In 1956, Philip helped found the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which honors young people who complete a series of self-improvement exercises based on philosopher Kurt Hahn's antidote to the six declines of modern youth.
  5. He is the longest-lived male member of the British royal family. At 96, Philip is also the longest-living male descendant of Queen Victoria and the world's longest-serving consort (companion or spouse of a reigning monarch).
  6. He gave up his polo habit for carriage driving. The prince played polo until 1971, when he developed a love for the sport of carriage driving. He even helped draft the early rule book. Philip is also said to enjoy oil painting, a hobby he picked up while on the advice of English artist Edward Seago.
  7. He also gave up his smoking habit. Cold turkey, in fact. After Elizabeth expressed concern because of how her father died (from lung cancer), Philip quit smoking the morning of their wedding.