How Prince Philip's Tragic Childhood Affected His Relationship With His Son, Prince Charles


It’s no secret that Prince Charles’s relationship with his father Prince Philip is flawed. In the past, the heir to the British throne has described his father as “harsh” and “hectoring."

Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, admits that he and his son are as different as can be. In 2016, Philip spoke with royal biographer Gyles Brandreth and recognized that Charles is “a romantic, and I’m a pragmatist. That means we do see things differently. And because I don’t see things as a romantic would, I’m unfeeling.”  

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Prince Philip and Prince Charles during Charles's first day at Gordonstoun.

Prince Philip as a Father

The disparities in their character and upbringing may have taken a toll on their relationship. Philip, who hardly knew his father and was separated from his family at an early age, may have had no sense of belonging early on. He grew up being neither warm nor affectionate and this was maybe partly be because he had a tough childhood.

“When he needed a father, there just wasn’t anybody there,” his press secretary and close friend Mike Parker said.

Prince Philip's Childhood

Philip moved from country to country, with not a soul to confide in. That may have prompted him to put up emotional barriers while growing up. Apart from being separated from his parents, he lost many loved ones at an early age. His sister, Cecile, died in a plane crash along with her Nazi husband and two small children, and later that year, his uncle and his guardian, the Marquess of Milford Haven, passed away too.


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Philip attended the Cheam School in the U.K. before moving to Germany in the 1930s. Months later, he moved to Scotland and studied at the Gordonstoun School. While there, he channeled his energy and emotions into physical activities, such as sports and plays. During his five years there, no one ever came to visit him, according to Independent writer Fiammetta Rocco.

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Philip as a young boy

Eventually, Philip joined the Royal Naval College, where he learned to put duty before everything else. It was during his time there that he met a 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, who was touring the college grounds with her parents. When World War II broke out, Philip fought on the British side. He has always identified as British.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth's Romance

At the age of 26, Philip married the young princess. He knew fully well he was marrying into another institution. It was there that he found a sense of stability and security. Rocco writes in 1992 that Philip had little to no identity to lose when he married into the British royal family. He had no birthright, no home, no nationality, and no religion coming into the marriage, which possibly made it easier for him to renounce his Greek titles. He also utilized his sense of duty by devoting his life to serving the monarchy. Parker tells the Independent journalist, “He told me the first day he offered me my job that his job, first, second, and last, was never to let her down.”

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Indeed, Philip done a fine job as the royal consort. His retirement this year is well-deserved, but historians agree that he wasn’t much of a father figure–at least not to his firstborn. Philip was the reason Charles attended Gordonstoun, his father's alma mater, which the son hated. He later described it as a "prison sentence," where he was a target for bullies. Charles has also blamed his father for his marriage to Diana, which was doomed from the start.

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Both Elizabeth and Philip were away during Charles’s and Anne’s formative years. It was a crucial time for the crown when Elizabeth ascended to the throne, and Philip provided the utmost support to his wife. Charles was about four years old at the time, and many reports have stated that Charles grew up spending most of the time with his nannies and the Queen Mother.

It seems as if history repeated itself. Charles grew up without a loving father figure in his life, just as his father had.

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The Queen touring Gordonstoun with her son, Prince Edward during his time as head boy at the school.

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