The many connections between Sir Winston Churchill and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh extend back several years before the future prince consort was born. As First Lord of the Admiralty in 1912, Churchill selected Prince Louis of Battenberg, Prince Philip’s maternal grandfather, to serve as First Sea Lord, a recommendation King George V was very pleased to accept. Two years later, however, after the outbreak of the Great War, Prince Louis was constrained to resign, one of the many victims of anti-German hysteria. He subsequently anglicized his family name to Mountbatten.
Lt. Philip Mountbatten RN became engaged to HRH Princess Elizabeth in July 1947. King George VI was so excited by the news that he sent word about it to his former Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, three days before the public announcement was made. Churchill wrote the King to say that the marriage would “be an occasion of national rejoicing.” After the Royal Family, Churchill was the most prominent person in attendance at the ceremony in November.
Since Churchill was Prime Minister again when the King died in February 1952 and the Princess became Queen Elizabeth II, he became directly involved in settling some matters of precedent in regards to the position of the new prince consort. When an MP questioned the presence of the Duke in the Peers’ Gallery during debates in the House of Commons, Churchill replied, “It seems to me a good thing that His Royal Highness should understand how our Parliamentary affairs work….” Later, in preparation for the new Queen’s first State Opening of Parliament on 4 November, Churchill wrote to suggest to Her Majesty what procedures the Duke should follow during the ceremony. These protocols would be observed for more than sixty years.
In March 1954, Churchill chaired a Cabinet meeting to “consider urgently the problems raised by the epidemic of polio-myelitis” in Western Australia, where the Queen was due to arrive on a visit. The Queen’s chief medical adviser, Sir Horace Evans, informed the Cabinet that the risk would be relatively low provided that “The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh should receive a second inoculation” beforehand.
When Churchill College was founded in 1959, the Duke agreed to become the College Visitor, making him an overseer who could give advice as well as determine disputes arising between the College and its members. At the dedication ceremony, Churchill said, “It was singularly appropriate that His Royal Highness should occupy this position.” Finally, of course, HRH was present for Sir Winston’s state funeral in 1965. May both now rest in peace.
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