Prince Philip helped write book about sister's German hunting lodge

Prince Philip helped write book about sister's German hunting lodge

Revealed: Prince Philip was helping to write a book in his final days about his sister’s German hunting lodge home

  • Philip had completed a foreword to a history of Wolfsgarten researched and written by his nephew, son of his sister Sophie who’d lived at the country estate
  • Duke’s foreword pays tribute to Hesse family’s 18th Century hunting lodge near Frankfurt and a place which he had been visiting since childhood
  • Despite large age gap and being sent away to school in England from seven, he remained close to his four older sisters – Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie and Sophie

Right up to the end of his life, the Duke of Edinburgh was working on a book about his family’s ancestral home in Germany – a mark of enduring devotion to his European relatives

Right up to the end of his life, the Duke of Edinburgh was working on a book about his family’s ancestral home in Germany – a mark of enduring devotion to his European relatives.

Prince Philip had completed an elegantly constructed foreword to a history of Wolfsgarten researched and written by his nephew, the son of his sister Sophie who had lived at the country estate.

His words were posted to Germany from Windsor Castle last week and, poignantly, arrived on Friday, an hour before news of his death reached the extended family.

The Duke’s foreword pays a fond tribute to Wolfsgarten, the Hesse family’s 18th Century hunting lodge near Frankfurt and a place which he had been visiting since childhood. 

It was there, in its beautiful gardens, that he always felt most at home.

Philip grew up the youngest of five children – born to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and his wife Princess Alice – and spent his earliest years in Corfu and then Paris.

Despite a large age gap and being sent away to school in England from the age of seven, he remained close to all four of his older sisters – Margarita, Theodora, Cecilie (known as Cecile) and Sophie. 

He would later establish a firm bond with their children, too. It remains largely unknown that the Duke, quietly and privately, paid for some of their schooling.

Prince Philip had completed an elegantly constructed foreword to a history of Wolfsgarten (above) researched and written by his nephew, the son of his sister Sophie who had lived at the country estate. The Duke’s foreword pays a fond tribute to Wolfsgarten, the Hesse family’s 18th Century hunting lodge near Frankfurt and a place which he had been visiting since childhood

Philip grew up the youngest of five children – born to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and his wife Princess Alice – and spent his earliest years in Corfu and then Paris. Above, from left, his sisters – Sophie, Cecilie, Theodora and Margarita pictured in 1923

Yet Philip’s family relationships were also troubled by politics at times and by intense tragedy. All four of his siblings married German princes, some of whom became members of the Nazi party.

His youngest sister Sophie, and her husband Prince Christoph of Hesse, were friends of Hermann Goering and his wife, and even joined Hitler for private lunches.

This association cast an inevitable shadow on his burgeoning relationship with the young Princess Elizabeth during the war and in the years following. 

The Queen Mother expressed an open dislike of the Germans because they had killed her brother Fergus in the First World War. She instructed her ladies-in-waiting that they did not have to curtsey to Philip’s sisters.

However, Elizabeth persisted in her choice. But it was still considered imprudent to invite Philip’s sisters to their wedding in 1947, so soon after the end of the war. They were hugely upset.

They adored Philip – a child Sophie recalled as having been ‘a fat little baby with blond hair’ – and accepted it was important to him that they stayed away. 

By the time of the coronation, in 1953, they were all welcomed to Westminster Abbey. This was largely down to the influence of Philip’s eldest sister, Margarita, a feisty character.

Sixteen years his senior, Margarita married Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, who fought for the Germans on the Russian front. But he turned against the Fuhrer and was dismissed from the army when he was implicated in the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. Margarita later became Princess Anne’s godmother, and died in 1981.

Above, Philip with his parents. Despite a large age gap with his siblings and being sent away to school in England from the age of seven, he remained close to all four of his older sisters. Yet Philip’s family relationships were also troubled by politics at times and by intense tragedy. All four of his siblings married German princes, some of whom became members of the Nazi party. His youngest sister Sophie, and her husband Prince Christoph of Hesse, were friends of Hermann Goering and his wife, and even joined Hitler for private lunches

The second daughter, Princess Theodora, was the only sister who did not marry a Nazi. She had three children with a second cousin, Berthold, Margrave of Baden, and died in a sanatorium aged 63 in 1969, two months before her mother. 

Sadly, Philip missed her funeral as he was on an official tour of Canada and the US at the time. Prince Charles, then just 20, travelled to Germany in his place.

Losing two close family members, weeks apart, affected Philip deeply. But perhaps the family’s greatest tragedy – and one which haunted Prince Philip for the rest of his life – had come 30 years earlier, with the death of his sister Cecile in a plane crash in 1937.

Heavily pregnant Cecile, 26, was travelling with her husband Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse, and two of their children from Germany to his brother’s wedding in London when the plane hit a factory chimney in fog near Ostend, Belgium. All were killed. 

The Queen Mother expressed an open dislike of the Germans because they had killed her brother Fergus in the First World War. She instructed her ladies-in-waiting that they did not have to curtsey to Philip’s sisters. However, Elizabeth persisted in her choice. But it was still considered imprudent to invite Philip’s sisters to their wedding in 1947, so soon after the end of the war

A Belgian inquiry into the disaster concluded the pilot had attempted an emergency landing when Cecile went into early labour – rescuers found her newborn son dead in the wreckage by his mother’s body. 

Philip, then 16, was a pupil at Gordonstoun when he was called into his headmaster’s study to be told of her death. It was, he recalled, one of the worst moments of his life. He later wrote: ‘I have the very clearest recollection of the profound shock with which I heard the news of the crash and the death of my sister and her family.’

Philip travelled to Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, for the funeral. Cecile and Georg had recently joined the Nazi party and pictures show Philip flanked by grieving relatives, some in Nazi uniforms.

Philip’s closest and most enduring sibling relationship was with Sophie. She was the first of the family to marry, aged 16, lived until 2001 and was a frequent guest at Windsor and Buckingham Palace.

Her first husband, Christoph, was a director in the Third Reich Air Ministry, an SS colonel and chief of Luftwaffe commander Goering’s secret intelligence service, responsible for spying on anti-Nazis. But by the time war broke out she was no longer aligned with the party, or its followers.

She took in and cared for the children of her Hesse relations, and once said that if there was a knock on her bedroom door in the night, ‘you didn’t know if it was a child crying or the Gestapo’.

Christoph was killed in a plane crash in Italy in 1943 and, three years later, Sophie married Prince George William of Hanover. To her great surprise, Philip turned up for the ceremony.

She was a great confidante for Philip in the early days of his marriage and helped steer him into the royal world, staying at Birkhall with him and Princess Elizabeth in the years before the coronation. She visited regularly and became godmother to Prince Edward.

When Sophie died, I was lucky to fly with members of the Royal Family, including Prince Philip, to Germany. It was January 2002, and we had lunch at Wolfsgarten. The service was held in the little chapel in the garden. 

Paying tribute to her, Philip said: ‘She did so much kindness in her life that she stored up many gifts in Heaven and I hope she’s enjoying them now.’.’

A sentiment, surely, which his family would agree applies to the Duke himself.

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