In Part Four of a five-part excerpt from "Behind Palace Doors: Marriage and Divorce in the House of Windsor" by Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans, Prince Philip ruined his marriage to Queen Elizabeth by indiscreet discussions of her sexual appetite and by carrying on with a bevy of debutantes, actresses and a famous author.
Even people who in the past had never found Philip a particularly sympathetic figure felt a certain sympathy for him as the nasty scenes continued. "What he could not admit to his son was his own sense of failure as a husband and a father," says a former equerry. "Charles was the product of a home every bit as broken as his own and Diana's had been -- only nobody could admit it. And now it was happening all over again, two more people's lives were being ruined, and a lot of other people were being hurt, all because the monarchy could not admit to human frailty."
Philip, said the equerry, knew that he was the one man who could have stopped his son from doing what he had done 40 years before -- the older, experienced man marrying an inexperienced virgin largely for dynastic reasons, for reasons of state. In 1981 he had had a marvelous opportunity to make his voice heard, to make amends; instead he told Charles to go ahead, he urged him to go ahead.
"Philip made the biggest mistake of his life when he told Charles that he must marry Diana, and that there was no alternative. There was a lot of steam building up for a wedding, of course. And Charles was running out of options. But looking back, I think Philip let his loyalty to the crown transcend his duties as a father," says one of his most dearer friends.
"Is the sex good?" Philip is said to have asked his wavering son some weeks before the engagement. Charles' response remains private matter. "If the sex is good, you've got a chance," the Duke then added, father to son, man to man. Hidden behind the Duke's question was a memory of his surprise, many years ago, when he had married a very regal, very aloof young woman who certainly gave off no aura of sexuality. Princess Elizabeth's virginity was never questioned, and Philip had been very much in the position his own son now faced. How would sex be? Would it be tolerable? How quickly would he need to move on?
But much to Philip's surprise -- no, astonishment -- Elizabeth discovered sex on her honeymoon and maintained a decidedly keen interest in it from that point on. This unexpected side of the future queen was the subject of conversation in 1948 in Monaco. Philip and his first cousin, the marquess of Milford Haven, his best man and fellow Navy officer, were staying at the Monte Carlo apartment of an old English friend, a woman named Doris, who had been the mistress of the famed Italian poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. Doris told her friends the duke and duchess of Leeds, who were also visiting Monte Carlo at the time, that Prince Philip openly discussed his bride's profound interest in sex.
"Prince Philip complained that he could not keep Princess Elizabeth out of his bed, that she was at him sexually all the time," says the duchess.
"It was not what he had bargained for at all."
Philip's astonishment at his young bride's sexual eagerness shocked the loyal sensibilities of the young Duchess, the daughter of Brig. Desmond Young, the soldier-author of the '50s' bestseller "Desert Fox," the story of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
"We all thought that Philip was singularly unpleasant to discuss his wife in such an open manner . . . he was a disgusting man," remembered the Duke of Leeds.
Sex, especially royal sex, was a subject that was not discussed with the same frankness that it is today. And concerned that these were not the kind of stories hat should be circulating about the future queen, the duke of Leeds reported Philip's caddish behavior to his brother-in-law Oliver Lyttleton (later Viscount Chandos), a leading Tory member of Parliament, with a strong recommendation that a gag order should be put on Philip forthwith. Whether any government action was taken has never been revealed. Yet, shortly after this incident the young Prince became altogether more discreet about matters so close to home.
After the early years of togetherness and after Elizabeth's ascension to the throne, her sense of duty and his wanderlust caused great chasms in the marriage. There were whispers and innuendoes, but this was a more gentlemanly era in which the press respected a certain code.
If Philip's name was linked with a succession of beautiful women, including a debutante, a countess, several actresses, and the famous writer Daphne du Maurier, well, so be it. The press had no desire to upset the queen with such indiscretions, which were be expected of a man of Philip's background. It would not be until the airing of his own son's public infidelity many years later that the duke would be interrogated by a journalist. Interviewed about the rumors of his infidelities by Italian writer Fiametta Rocco, he laughed and replied: "Have you ever stopped to think that for the last 40 years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me. So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?"
Whether or not the presence of a policeman could deter a determined philanderer is a valid question. But that aside, the marriage of the queen and the man who was forced by protocol to always walk a few steps behind her was not a blissful state.
He was 71 years old, nudging old age. His fingers were swollen with painful arthritis; liver spots mottled his high forehead. "I think he was beginning to recognize that his had been a disappointing life in many ways," says one of his former senior aides. "His family was a mess. He was not blameless by a long chalk. He had come to terms with his own powerlessness."
In 1952 his Mountbatten surname was officially erased from the royal family tree when the queen proclaimed by an order in council that it was her "Will and Pleasure that She and Her Children shall be styled and known as the House of Windsor . . ." With little to do except act as a handsome clotheshorse for the uniforms he wore so well on ceremonial occasions, he said that he had been reduced to "an amoeba, a bloody amoeba."
Excluded from his wife's affairs of state, he felt marginalized, and became obsessed with a mordant sense of personal failure. His consciousness of being simply the queen's husband grew more compelling as he grew older. Furthermore, the queen refused to make him her official consort -- the title Queen Victoria had given to her beloved Albert. Perhaps Elizabeth wanted to punish Philip for the stories that went around about his women. Perhaps she had other reasons, but it continued to rankle, and he now accepted that whatever success he had achieved, and he had achieved some, would never be properly recognized.
Next: A royal divorce?
From the book "Behind Palace Doors: Marriage and Divorce in the House of Windsor" by Nigel Dempster and Peter Evans. Copyright 1993, by Welcome Productions Inc. and Peter Evans. Reprinted by arrangement with the publisher, G. P. Putnam's Sons. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.