Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, speaks—guardedly—in this gossipy, sympathetic account of marital shenanigans by a British broadcaster and self-confessed insider.
Having written a short account of Philip’s life with his help and approval on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2002, Brandreth can hardly be considered an unbiased historian of the facts he musters here into a larger, more detailed volume. He admires the stoic, irascible Prince Consort and believes “he deserves to be better understood.” Before they get a chance to do that, however, readers must first wade through a maze of incestuous genealogy. Philip and Elizabeth are cousins, both descendants of Queen Victoria: he via Louis of Battenberg, transliterated to Mountbatten in 1917 in the interests of patriotism; and she through her father, who became George VI upon the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. Brandreth follows their fairy-tale romance in the early ‘40s, when the slim, fair, handsome Royal Navy officer first caught teenaged Elizabeth’s eye. They married in 1947; the births of Charles (1948) and Anne (1950) preceded the death of George VI and their mother’s spectacular coronation in 1952. Victoria’s consort had worked closely with the queen, serving effectively as her confidential assistant, but Philip was told to keep out of the way, as the monarchy had changed from an executive power to an institution with which he “had to fit in.” Another emasculating blow arrived when Elizabeth took her prime minister’s advice and gave their children her family name, Windsor, rather than Mountbatten. Though shy as a child, sheltered and happy in the company of her dogs and horses, Elizabeth confidently assumed the role of queen, while Philip, relegated to the sidelines, became “scratchy.” Brandreth devotes pages to speculations about the Prince Consort’s marital fidelity, aspiring to “nail the issue once and for all”; in the end, he limply concedes that Philip likes the company of larky young “playmates.”
The lengthy wink-and-nudge footnotes are more rewarding than the wishy-washy main narrative.