On Nov. 20, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, celebrate 70 years of marriage. Here, we look back at the royal romance that took the world by storm.
It was a fairytale wedding for the ages; a televised event broadcast to more than 200 million rapt viewers from across the globe. At the centre of it all was a young princess, barely out of her teens and still five years away from being crowned Queen.
Decked out in a timeless ivory satin gown and trailed by eight bridesmaids, including her younger sister, Margaret, 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth exchanged vows with the dashing 26-year-old Philip Mountbatten before more than 2,000 guests at Westminster Abbey. It was 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 20, 1947, and the world stood still to witness the wedding of the eldest daughter King George VI and his wife, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.
It was only two years after the conclusion of the Second World War and Britain was still reeling from the aftermath of the Blitz. Rationing was still in full effect and the young princess, ever the frugal royal, had barely saved up enough clothing coupons to purchase her showstopper of a wedding dress.
The gown, designed by renowned British fashion designer Sir Norman Hartnell, was made of soft Damascus Prokar, with a high neckline, tailored bodice and 13-foot short train. Her husband-to-be, a member of the Royal Navy in the Second World War, stood tall in his crisp black and gold uniform.
The eagerly-anticipated nuptials proved to be a breath of fresh air for a nation still burdened by rations, fuel shortages and other post-war struggles. When, on July 9, 1947, Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, the country rejoiced. The wedding, which took place just four months later, gave England a much-needed boost in spirits as thousands lined the streets of London hoping to catch a glimpse of their future queen. And, to think, the royal family had spent months wringing their hands over whether people would turn out to witness such a lavish wedding ceremony.
Elizabeth was only 13 years old when she first fell for the charming Philip, then an 18-year-old Royal Navy cadet with, she wrote, “piercing blue eyes.” It was 1939 and the young princess was smitten with the fair-haired tennis-playing student at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. The rest, as they say, was history.
The first three years of the royals’ married life was largely spent in Malta while Philip continued his military career. Prince Charles was born in 1948, followed by Princess Anne in 1950. (The couple later had two more children, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.)
On Feb. 9, 1952, as the pair travelled to Australia to represent King George VI at a Commonwealth event, they received word while they were in Kenya that the monarch had died in his sleep at the age of 56. Elizabeth and Philip’s lives were irrevocably changed as the young queen, only 25 years old, took on advisers and tutors and struggled to dedicate herself to her new role.
Despite whispers of infidelity and Philip’s “wandering eye” throughout their marriage, the pair always put on a united front when appearing at public engagements. The rampant speculation as to the status of their relationship never seemed to rattle the pair and now, four children, eight grandchildren and five grandchildren (with another on the way) later, Elizabeth and Philip will ring in their seventh decade together at a private dinner at Windsor Castle.
So far, 2017 has been an eventful year for the 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth: In February, she became the longest-reigning monarch in British history, marking 65 years on the throne with a Sapphire Jubilee celebration. More recently, Prince Philip announced his retirement from public service. At age 96—and after 65 years of royal tours and official engagements—the Duke of Edinburgh called it quits on Aug. 2, without much pomp and circumstance, by attending a Royal Marines’ charity parade outside Buckingham Palace.
During the celebration of her 50th wedding anniversary in 1997, the Queen paid tribute to her husband: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”
Twenty years after that statement, the dynamic duo still speak highly of one another, having weathered many national (and personal) storms together.
While the Royal Mint and Royal Mail produced commemorative stamps and coins to mark the occasion of their Platinum Anniversary, there will not be an opportunity for the public to acknowledge the milestone, unlike previous years. Buckingham Palace confirmed no public events were planned, stating the Queen and her Prince preferred a low-key celebration with cherished family and friends.