The Scandal That Threatened Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's Marriage
Did Philip really cheat on the Queen?
There's no proof he's ever been unfaithful, but over the past 70 years (the royal couple marked their platinum anniversary on November 20), the Duke of Edinburgh has been labeled a ladies man
There were rumors that the royal had a relationship with Kirkwood, a stage performer in the 1930s and '40s whose legs were once notably called "the eighth wonder of the world" by critic Kenneth Tynan.
Philip and Kirkwood reportedly met on on seven occasions, and while she has always denied they had an intimate relationship, as rumors of "the prince and the showgirl" ran rampant, she had to beg Philip and the palace to do the same. He never obliged.
"Short of starting libel proceedings, there is absolutely nothing to be done," he reportedly said, according to Michael Thornton, a friend of the actress who is now in possession of secret letters between Philip and Kirkwood. "Invasion of privacy, invention and false quotations are the bane of our existence.”
Pat Kirkwood stars in the wartime comedy Band Waggon in 1939.
Thorton also says Kirkwood told a journalist, "A lady is not normally expected to defend her honor. It is the gentleman who should do that. I would have had a happier and easier life if Prince Philip, instead of coming uninvited to my dressing room, had gone home to his pregnant wife on the night in question."
In addition to Kirkwood, the Prince has also been tied (to varying degrees) to TV personality Katie Boyle, singer Hélène Cordet, actress Merle Oberon, novelist Daphne du Maurier, Princess Alexandra (the Queen's cousin), and the Duchess of Abercorn (she said they had a "passionate friendship" but also, "I did not go to bed with him"), among others. One journalist even went so far as to ask Philip about the possibility of children he had with other women and to suggest that the Duke had enjoyed a "homosexual liaison" with the former President of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Philip did not respond to these questions
But when the Duchess of Abercorn was asked if she thought Philip slept with any of his friends, she responded, "I doubt it very much. No, I'm sure not... But he's a human being. Who knows? I don't. Unless you are in the room with a lighted candle, who knows?"
Biographer Sarah Bradford had no doubts when she plainly labeled Philip an adulterer in her 2011 Elizabeth II: Her Life in Our Times. “The Duke of Edinburgh has had affairs ... full-blown affairs and more than one," she wrote. "He has affairs and the queen accepts it. I think she thinks that’s how men are."
"He's never been one for chasing actresses," she continued. "His interest is quite different. The women he goes for are always younger than him, usually beautiful, and highly aristocratic."
More than one person has suggested that this is just the royal way—for centuries, kings, princes, dukes, and consorts have enjoyed the freedom to quietly carry on affairs. Tapes of Princess Diana recorded by her public speaking coach Peter Settelen reveal that Philip approved of Prince Charles's affair with Camilla. Or at least, Diana thought so. Per Newsweek, "Diana says that Prince Philip told Charles that he could go back to Parker-Bowles 'after five years' if the marriage did not work."
And a British documentary titled Inside Buckingham Palace that came out in 2016, referenced panic in the palace over the public suggestion of Philip's infidelity early on in his marriage to the Queen. As with so many issues regarding the royal family, optics were as important—if not more—than what was really taking place.
"Royal aids panicked as rumors grew about Philip having affairs. The affairs were denied and there was no evidence. But rumors persisted," explained the documentary voiceover. "Action was needed. In 1956 the queen was advised to let Philip go away on a long overseas tour which should keep him out of trouble."
Many of Prince Philip's closest confidants maintain that while the Duke of Edinburgh was an admirer of attractive women, he didn't act on those feelings. As former Palace press secretary, Dickie Arbiter put it, "He has always liked window shopping, but he doesn’t buy."
Philip's private secretary, the late Mike Parker, who depicted as a philanderer in his own right on the show, was unwavering in his assertion that Philip was steadfast. "Philip has been one hundred percent faithful to the Queen," he told the Telegraph back in 2004. "No ifs, no buts."
We may never know for certain if the Philip merely had a wandering eye or if he acted on romantic impulse, but Philip, whom the Queen called her "strength and stay all these years," did have an answer to all the rumors.
"Good God, woman,” he once said when a female journalist asked about possible infidelity. “Have you ever stopped to think that for years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?"
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.