Why Queen Elizabeth II Had to Keep Her Engagement a Secret

These days, when you think of scandals in the royal family, you probably think about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry abruptly announcing their decision to step away from their duties or Prince Andrew’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and connected abuse allegations. These may be the most recent scandals to take over headlines, but the Queen has some history with shocking secrets of her own. 

These days, the Queen is generally seen as the one trying to keep her family out of the headlines and maintain the utmost image of decorum and respect for their royal standing. Years ago, though, the Queen was at the heart of a relationship scandal that kept her engagement as far from the public eye as possible.

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II | Victoria Jones – WPA Pool/Getty Images

Princess Elizabeth had a crush on an older boy

When little Princess Elizabeth met her third cousin, Prince Philip of Greece, she developed a crush. Nevermind that she was only 13 years old and he was 18. In 1939, the royal family was visiting the Royal Naval College, and there was an outbreak of mumps and chickenpox. Prince Philip was a cadet at the time, and he was luckily healthy. 

He was tasked with keeping young Princess Elizabeth and her little sister Princess Margaret entertained during the visit. The next day, he joined the royal family on their yacht and continued to impress Elizabeth as he dined on shrimp and a banana split (hopefully not at the same time!) She developed an unrequited crush on the young man. 

They developed a relationship 6 years later

In 1943, Prince Philip was serving in World War II as a part of the British Royal Navy. He carried a picture of Princess Elizabeth with him during the war. Meanwhile, she had a picture of him on her mantel. 

After the war, the pair had a chance to explore their relationship in earnest. They had outings to the theater and fell for one another. When Princess Elizabeth was just 20 years old, Prince Philip asked her to marry him. Rashly, the future Queen accepted his proposal without even asking for her parents’ permission. 

Prince Philip was seen as an unacceptable match

While Princess Elizabeth’s father ultimately gave his blessing to the engagement, he asked that they keep the news secret for a year. He wanted his daughter to be at least 21 before the public caught wind of this relationship. 

Meanwhile, other members of the royal family were aghast. Though also of royal lineage, Prince Philip’s upbringing had been filled with hardship. At the time of his birth, Prince Philip was sixth in line to the Greek throne. When Prince Philip was still a baby, his uncle was forced to abdicate the throne following the Greco-Turkish War.

Prince Philip’s father was accused of treason for his work with the army, and the family fled in exile to Paris. 

His family was soon scattered across the lands. His mother was absent for much of his childhood after suffering a nervous breakdown, and his sisters were married to German aristocrats.

Even after the young Prince found some stability with his mother’s family members, his life was marked by tragedy. One of his sisters perished alongside her husband and children in a plane crash when Prince Philip was only 16. A few months later, his guardian uncle died of cancer at only 46. 

All of this history meant that many saw Prince Philip as an outsider, poor, and unaccustomed to a life of royal expectations. Many saw him as an unsuitable match for Princess Elizabeth. 

Princess Elizabeth was determined to marry

Despite the misgivings, Princess Elizabeth was determined to marry as she wished. Prince Philip gave up his titles and claim to the throne and became naturalized as a British citizen. He also agreed to not invite any of his sisters to the wedding. Their German husbands were a sore point for Brits so close to the war. 

When Princess Elizabeth’s father fell ill and ultimately died at the untimely age of 56, the young couple’s life changed dramatically. At this point, Queen Elizabeth rose to the throne, and Prince Philip became royal consort. These days, the couple has been such a long-standing part of the royal family that it’s hard to believe their relationship started in secrecy and scandal!