During her long reign, which is matched by no other British monarch in history, Queen Elizabeth who died on Thursday at 96, visited a whopping 120 countries—but never Greece, the birthplace of her consort Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The fact that she never made an official visit to Greece has been characterized even outside Greece as a “glaring omission.”
It is an omission that has been the subject of talk, as Prince Philip visited the country several times albeit unofficially.
Her son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, has made official visits to Greece, however, and is a noted hellenophile, speaking Greek fluently on his visits.
“Phil the Greek”
Prince Philip, who passed away in April of 2021 at the age of 99, was given the nickname of “Phil the Greek” by his British subjects.
However, Prince Philip did not care for the moniker even though he indeed had been born in Greece. In fact, he never visited his birthplace after his father was exiled, and he himself had been spirited away as a baby, taken out of the country in an orange crate for fear that he would be kidnapped or worse.
Queen Elizabeth apparently shared his sentiment and never visited Greece as queen although the couple did visit the country for the funeral of one of Philip’s relatives before she took the throne.
According to British historians, Philip never showed any emotional attachment to the country of which he was once a prince.
“I certainly never felt nostalgic about Greece,” he was quoted as saying. “A grandfather assassinated and a father condemned to death does not endear me to the perpetrators.”
The story of Philip’s father
Philip’s father, Prince Andrew of Greece, was the fourth son of King George I of the Hellenes, formerly Prince Wilhelm of Denmark.
Prince Andrew graduated from the Evelpidon Military School and pursued an officer’s career in the Greek Army.
Andrew’s older brother, King Constantine I, was deposed by a military junta following the Greeks’ crushing defeat by the Turks in the war of Asia Minor in 1922.
Following the Greek defeat in the Asia Minor Campaign in 1922 and the subsequent 11 September 1922 Revolution, Andrew was charged with treason, imprisoned, and sentenced to death before fleeing with his family. Following the intervention of the British government, he was not executed on the grounds he had been “inexperienced”; instead, he was simply banished for life from Greece.
Sailing from Faliro near Piraeus, his ship stopped in Corfu to take the family away from the palace “Mon Repos.“ Legend has it that the eighteen-month-old Prince Philip was placed in a wooden box of oranges in his escape from the palace in order to foil anyone who might have done him harm.
The exiled family was forced to live in much-reduced circumstances in Paris. In March 1947, Philip abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles and adopted the surname Mountbatten along with British nationality when he became engaged to the royal princess.
Later that year, in November, he married Princess Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey. The day before the wedding, King George VI granted him the title of Duke of Edinburgh.
Royal historian Hugo Vickers believes it’s all down to the “fraught history” of the Greek monarchy, which affected the Duke of Edinburgh’s immediate family.
“Prince Philip doesn’t like Greece, because they put his father, [Prince Andrew] on trial, and he might have been executed,” Vickers told the BBC.
Philip’s experience influenced Queen Elizabeth
In questions that were fielded to Prince Philip from time to time by journalists regarding his sense of identity, he stated that he thought of himself as Danish.
In one interview, he chose the enigmatic answer “I am Greek, but…,” without clarifying his feelings for the country of his birth.
Philip’s unfortunate experiences apparently influenced Queen Elizabeth, and the monarch avoided making an official visit to Greece ever after.
Philip and Elizabeth did visit Greece in 1950 at the invitation of King Paul and Frederica of Hanover, Queen Consort of Greece, but that was for a private visit before she became Queen.