Revealed: Prince Philip’s close family from Germany is isolating in Ascot for the funeral after two great nephews and a cousin travel to UK for the service

  • Only 30 mourners are permitted inside St George’s Chapel on Saturday afternoon in line with Covid rules
  • It means a tenth of the congregation paying tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh will be coming from Germany
  • Prince Philip’s cousin and two nephews who will attend the funeral described it as ‘an incredible honour’

They were all denied a place at his wedding, thanks to post-war nervousness at Buckingham Palace. But for the rest of his life, the Duke of Edinburgh was adamant that bygones should be bygones.

That is why he made it clear that he wanted his ‘blood’ family — the network of German nieces, nephews and cousins to whom he was devoted — to be properly represented and included in his funeral arrangements. And so they shall be.

For I learn that two great-nephews and a cousin are currently locked in a Covid-compliant bubble at the Berkshire home of a mutual friend ahead of Saturday’s funeral.

They were quietly invited to fly to the UK last weekend, in order to undergo quarantine procedures ahead of the service.

Like Prince Harry, they will — provided final Covid tests permit — be eligible to join the Queen and other members of the immediate family at St George’s Chapel on Saturday.

For now, Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden; Prince Donatus, Landgrave of Hesse; and Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg are all behind closed doors in a house near Ascot.

With only 30 mourners permitted inside St George’s Chapel on Saturday afternoon, in line with Covid rules, it means a tenth of the congregation paying tribute to the Duke will be from Germany.

‘It really is an incredible honour and we are all extremely touched and privileged to be included on behalf of the wider family,’ says Prince Philipp, 51, in a statement from the house where he and his cousins must remain isolated until the weekend.

His grandmother, Princess Margarita, was the Duke’s elder sister and the Duke paid many visits to the family home, Langenburg Castle in southern Germany.

Prince Bernhard, 50, also a father of three, is a grandson of the Duke’s second sister, Theodora (known as ‘Dolla’).

Prince Donatus, known as ‘Don’, 54, is the head of the House of Hesse, into which the Duke’s two younger sisters, Cecile and Sophie (known as ‘Tiny’) married.

Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, pictured with Prince Charles, said: ‘It really is an incredible honour and we are all extremely touched and privileged to be included on behalf of the wider family’

Prince Bernhard, pictured with his wife at the wedding of the Prince and Princess of Monaco in 2011, is the grandson of the late Duke’s sister Theodora

Prince Donatus, head of the House of Hesse and pictured with the Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2019, is also related to the monarch

Family seat: The Queen and the Duke were guests at Langenburg Castle on a state visit in 1965

Troubles ahead: Philip, second from left, as a boy with his parents and four sisters, who adored him. They all married German aristocrats

Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg is one of many of the Duke’s relatives isolating behind closed doors in a house near Ascot 

Prince Charles meets members of his father’s extended family on a trip to Langenburg in Germany in May 2013 

Princess Stefanie and Bernhard, Hereditary Prince of Baden – a great-nephew of the Duke of Edinburgh at the wedding of Count Bjorn and Countess Sandra Bernadotte in Germany in 2009

Queen Elizabeth II (accompanied by Donatus, Prince and Landgrave of Hesse) watches her horse ‘Barber’s Shop’ compete in the Tattersalls and Ror Thoroughbred Ridden Show Class on day 3 of the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Home Park on May 16, 2014 in Windsor

All these families enjoy so many precious recollections of the ‘Uncle Philip’, who thought nothing of popping over to Germany for a christening or a landmark birthday party for the offspring and relatives of his older sisters.

They were the kind-hearted, glamorous quartet of princesses who had doted on their boisterous little brother through an often troubled childhood.

The Duke never forgot that, as I learnt from Prince Philipp of Hohenlohe-Langenburg earlier this year when I was researching the Duke’s European family.

‘It was such a joy having a conversation with him. His memory was extraordinary,’ he explained. ‘He could remember playing hide-and-seek in the castle when he was a boy, and he always enjoyed talking to the local people.

‘He could switch from German to English and back, whether he was talking about Winston Churchill or the local wildlife.’

In recent days, quite properly, all the focus has been on the tremendous sadness felt by the Queen, the Royal Family and the Duke’s vast network of friends and organisations.

But his death has also left a huge hole among the broader continental cousinhood, who all adored the energetic, unstuffy uncle, great-uncle and cousin who always made a beeline for his younger relatives to hear their latest news.

For he was not only an enthusiastic participant in family gatherings. In fact, many refer to him as ‘the glue’ or ‘the bridge’ who has kept the current British Royal Family closely connected to the European cousinhood.

They are the ‘other’ royal family, the relatives who might not be household names in Britain but who, for generations, have happily slotted in at house parties or picnics at Balmoral, Sandringham and elsewhere. Besides, they are all themselves related to Queen Victoria anyway. And it was always at this time of year, traditionally, that the Duke would invite many of his relatives for one of the highlights of the royal calendar — the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

If Ascot Week was when the Queen filled the castle with her friends from the world of racing, then the horse show was ‘the Duke’s week’ each spring, with plenty of Langenburgs, Badens, Hesses and Hanovers occupying the Windsor guest rooms.

At big family gatherings, whether in the UK or in Germany, there would always be a big crossover. At the celebrations for the golden or diamond wedding anniversaries of the Queen and the Duke, for example, the German relations were fully included. Similarly, many a German christening has featured a House of Windsor godparent at the font.

Prince Philip and his four sisters had grown up in the strange, unsettled world of peripatetic refugee royalty between the wars. They were all born into the Greek royal family, itself descended from the ruling house of Denmark, but had been driven into exile in 1922 after a military coup.

Prince Philip was still a baby, taken to safety aboard a British destroyer by his big sister, Margarita, who famously carried him in an orange box.

He was just a schoolboy when all four of his sisters married within a year of each other, all to German aristocrats.

One of the greatest tragedies in his long life was when his sister Cecile was killed in a 1937 plane crash with her husband, George Donatus of Hesse, and two young sons, en route to a family wedding in London.

Come the outbreak of war, all three surviving sisters would find themselves on the other side as Prince Philip served gallantly in the Royal Navy. 

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, pictured as baby in 1922. His extended family are now in the UK ahead of his funeral on Saturday

A rare picture of the Duke of Edinburgh, also known as Prince Philip of Greece, at the public school of Gordonstoun, Elgin, Scotland

Prince Philip of Greece, later to become the Duke of Edinburgh, being held by Princess Alice of Greece after he was born in 1921

July 1922: From right to left, the Princess Theodora, Princess Cecilia, Princess Margarita and Sophia of Greece at the wedding of Edwina Ashley and Louis Mountbatten. They are the four daughters of Prince Andrew and Princess Alice of Greece

December 1922: Prince Andrew of Greece (1882 – 1944) with his wife Princess Alice (1885 – 1969) and their daughters, Princess Theodora (1906 – 1960) and Princess Margarita (1905 – 1981)

Left to right; Princess Cecilia, Princess Margaret, Princess Sophia, Princess Theodora – the Duke of Edinburgh’s four sisters

One aspect of some of this week’s coverage of the Duke’s long life which has upset many of his German relations is the oft-repeated myth that ‘all his sisters married Nazis’.

Though all the surviving brothers-in-law would be forced into uniform during the war, they were certainly not all active members of the Nazi party.

For example, Theodora married Prince Berthold of Baden and it was the Badens who encouraged the pioneering Jewish educationalist, Kurt Hahn, to establish his original school at their family seat, Salem Castle.

Prince Philip was a pupil there himself until Hahn was driven out by the Nazis. He fled to Scotland, where he founded Gordonstoun.

The young Philip followed him there soon afterwards, after persistently getting into trouble for mocking the Nazi salute. ‘Dolla’ Baden realised that this was clearly no place for her little brother. 

Come his wedding to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, however, the bridegroom was told that none of his sisters could attend. It was explained to the Duke that this was to spare him criticism from the Press and public — but it hurt, nonetheless.

He had always loved them all dearly. Only his mother, who had become a nun, was invited to Westminster Abbey for the ceremony.

However, the sisters were all extremely touched and moved when they learnt how he had cheekily included them in the service. They had given him a joint wedding present — a gold fountain pen — and he insisted on using that (rather than the Abbey nib) to sign the wedding register.

After his wedding, he made a point of including them in family gatherings.

A favourite character at Royal Family bashes was always Princess Margaret of Hesse — ‘Aunt Peg’, as Prince Charles and others called her. She had been the Hon Margaret Geddes, the British bride whose wedding to Prince Ludwig of Hesse had been the reason why poor Cecile and her family were heading for London on that fateful flight in 1937. All through her life, she would remind the younger generations that Prince Philip was ‘one of the best dancers in Europe’.

When the Queen paid her first state visit to Germany in 1965, it was again decided that the Duke’s sisters and their husbands should be omitted from the formal events. Undeterred, the Queen and the Duke simply went to stay with them privately in between state occasions.

‘It was wonderful when they arrived on the train at Langenburg — it was the last time a proper train stopped there because the station closed after that!’ recalls Princess Charlotte Croy, who was then married to Prince Kraft of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. She is the mother of Prince Philipp, who is now ensconced in that Ascot bubble.

She has fond memories of the Duke of Edinburgh subsequently visiting the family just like any other house guest, often bringing one of his own children, so the British junior royals have all grown to know their cousins.

‘I remember once that I had to finish stuffing all these felt toy animals for a charity,’ says Princess Charlotte. ‘I was very late with them so the Duke just joined in. There he was, stuffing toys as we chatted!’

Left to right, back: Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Princess Margarita von Hohenlohe-Langenburg (sister of Prince Philip), Andrew Elphinstone (Cousin of the Queen); front, left to right: Princess Alice Countess of Athlone, the Queen with Princess Anne and the Queen Mother

Circa 1930: Princess Margarita of Greece (1905 – 1981), the sister of Prince Philip, shortly before her marriage to Prince Gottfried of Hohenlohe-Langenburg

July 1922: Princess Sophie of Greece, sister of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the wedding of Lord Louis Mountabatten to the Countess of Ashley. She married Prince Christopher of Hesse, and in 1946 married Prince George William of Hanover

Circa 1930: Cecilia, Grand Duchess of Hesse (1911 – 1937). She is the daughter of Princess Alice and Prince Andrew of Greece, (sister of the Duke of Edinburgh)

July 1922: At just one year old, the Duke of Edinburgh, also known as Prince Philip of Greece shows an interest in things floral

Prince Philip and his sister, Princess Sophie of Hanover when they attended the funeral of the Dowager Lady Brabourne and Nicholas Knatchbull at the Church of St John the Baptist at Mersham, near Ashford, Kent

Lady Louise Mountbatten with Princess Theodora of Greece (left) and Princess Margarita of Greece (right), daughters of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and sisters of the Duke of Edinburgh

When Prince Kraft died in 2004, Prince Philip dropped everything. ‘He was the first person we called to share the sad news with and he certainly made sure he would be there by our side,’ says Kraft’s daughter, Princess Xenia zu Hohenlohe, a great-niece of the Duke.

‘During the funeral service, after I had stood up to do my reading and sat down again, he put his arm around me briefly and whispered: ‘Well done’. It was one of the biggest compliments paid to me in my life. If you got that kind of a remark from someone as practised in public appearances, you knew you’d got something right!’

Now an international expert in sustainability in the hospitality industry, Princess Xenia says that the Duke was always a driving force in encouraging younger members of his wider family to greater things.

‘His unofficial motto was always: ‘Just get on with it!’,’ she tells me from her home in Munich. ‘Over the days since his death, I have personally realised that his sense of duty, his discipline, his passion for environmental issues, his unique sense of humour and lack of ego are something for us always to aspire to. He certainly motivated me to be courageous and to stretch my horizons. I am forever grateful for this influence of his.’

Like all the other members of this wide European diaspora of very sad, very proud royal cousins, Xenia wishes she could be there to pay her respects this weekend.

But they are all very pleased and deeply touched that when it came to surrounding himself with his nearest and dearest at the end, dear ‘Uncle Philip’ had certainly not forgotten the family into which he was born.

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