When we first meet Philip (Matt Smith) in The Crown, he’s the handsome, roguish man that Elizabeth (Claire Foy) has decided to marry, despite her family’s concerns — Philip is not the “right” kind of royalty. Aside from a few remarks about his family's flight from Greece, Philip doesn’t reveal much of his past during Season 1. All of that changes in Season 2, when an entire episode of The Crown is devoted to Philip’s lonely upbringing marked by tragedy, loss, and relatives with Nazi affiliations.
Philip was born in 1921, youngest child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and Princess Alice of Battenberg, the great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. In 1922, the monarchy was toppled in Greece. Philip, his parents, and his four older sisters — Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie, and Sophie — fled for Paris. Philip was only 18 months old.
When he turned 9, Philip was sent to the Cheam School in England. While he was away, his family unit went through some major changes. In 1930, his mother Alice had a psychotic break and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Soon after, his father moved to Monte Carlo with his mistress. In the same period, Philip’s four sisters married German princes and moved to Germany. Philip was alone in England.
Of that tumultuous period, Philip said, “It’s simply what happened. The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.”
After his family essentially disintegrated, he lived with the British contingent of his family. In 1933, his sister Theodora came back into Philip's life. She moved Philip to Germany just as Hitler was rising to power, so that he could attend the Schloss Salem, an experimental school founded by Kurt Hahn. The move was brief. In 1934, he was back to the U.K. — this time, to Gordonstoun, the school in Scotland that the newly exiled Hahn had founded.
The Crown devotes an entire episode to Philip’s experiences at Gordonstoun, the intense school that he credits for his own personal growth. When Philip was 16, tragedy followed him to Scotland. Philip’s sister, Cecilie, was killed with her husband and two children. She had been pregnant at the time.
When Philip traveled to Germany for the funeral, his deceased sister’s Nazi associations became especially apparent. Cecilie had joined the party with her husband, George Donatous, earlier that year. The 16-year-old Philip was pictured standing amid Nazi soldiers.
Cecile wasn’t the only sister with Nazi links. Sophie, Philip's youngest sister, married Prince Christoph von Hessen, who became a director for Third Reich’s Ministry of Air Forces. Sophie and Christoph were charmed by Hitler when they met him during a private lunch in their apartment. In her memoir, which she wrote in old age, Sophie wrote, “I have to say here, that, although Chri [Prince Christoph] and I changed our political view fundamentally some years later, we were impressed by this charming and seemingly modest man, and by his plans to change and improve the situation in Germany.” Sophie and Christoph named their eldest son, Karl Adolf, after Hitler.
Last of all, Princess Margarita married Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a commander in the German army. Gottfried’s political views changed towards the end of the war. In 1944, he joined a plot organised by fellow aristocrats to assassinate Hitler in 1944, and was consequently dismissed from the army.
Due to their connections with the Third Reich, Philip’s sisters did not attend his wedding to Elizabeth in 1947. Of Philip's immediate family, only his mother, Alice, was present.
Princess Alice took a much different route during the war than her Nazi-affiliated daughters — she sheltered a family of Greek Jews in her Athens residence until the Nazi occupation ended. Her wartime heroism is recognised at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, where she holds the designation “Righteous Among the Nations.”
She and Philip kept up a relationship through correspondence until her death in 1969. Her last letter to him read, "Dearest Philip. Be brave, and remember I will never leave you, and you will always find me when you need me most. All my devoted love, your old Mama.”
Essentially, what you see in The Crown is just the very, very tip of the iceberg that is Prince Philip's family life. Now, his family ties — once buried — are more publicly acknowledged by the Palace. In 2015, he and Elizabeth made an official visit to Frankfurt to see his German relatives, and the descendants of his elder sisters.