In November 1947, a dynastic union was forged between the royal houses of Greece and Great Britain. It would be one of the last of this kind of royal marriages in history — a type of union that had knitted together the continent for 1,000 years.
When Philip, prince of Greece and Denmark married Elizabeth, princess of Great Britain, they reconnected two bloodlines descended from Queen Victoria. But they also renewed a kinship tie between Britain and Denmark that had been joined together numerous times, from Canute and Aelfgifu in 1015 to Edward VII and Alexandra in 1863.
For centuries, almost every European monarchy maintained diplomatic relationships with its neighbors through dynastic marriages, in a system that persisted all the way up to the 1930s, then rapidly faded away in the postwar era.
In stark contrast, before the second world war this practice was the absolute norm — particularly seen in the dense web of intermarriages between the royal families of Sweden, Denmark and Norway in the earlier decades of the 20th century.
One of the great dreams of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert — themselves the product of close dynastic union, as first cousins — was to unite the continent of Europe through kinship relations, hoping that close cousins would be less likely to go to war with one another.
This proved to be politically naive — disastrously so. The Great War that followed not long after Victoria's death pitted the forces of "Cousin Nicky" (Tsar Nicholas of Russia) and "Cousin Georgie" (King George V of Great Britain) against those of "Cousin Willy" (Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany), close kinship notwithstanding. By 1914, Britain, Russia and Germany had evolved as nation states, with modern governments, beyond the control of princely dynasticism as a political or diplomatic force.
Prince Philip's marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947 thus represented one of the last iterations of this Queen Victoria's dream. It reunited two of her descendants: Elizabeth through her father's line, and Philip through the line of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Victoria. Indeed, in the previous decade, three of Philip's four sisters had married other descendants of Victoria.
But in 1947, times had changed and postwar Britain was not so keen to see the heir to the throne married to a foreign royal. Particularly not one whose sisters had married prominent German officers and whose family had an extremely fragile position on its throne in Greece, with a dynastic history full of abdications, military coups and plebiscites. Prince Philip was therefore "rebranded" before his marriage as Philip Mountbatten, lieutenant in the Royal Navy, naturalised British subject. But where did the name Mountbatten come from? And why before he changed his name was he called "Prince of Greece and Denmark"?