Of all the members of the House of Windsor who’ve stabbed the Queen in the back, of which there have been a few, none has inserted the knife deeper, with more relish, and with less apparent guilt or remorse than her cousin, Princess Alexandra of Kent. Born the only daughter of Elizabeth ll’s youngest surviving uncle, the late Prince George, Duke of Kent, and his legendarily elegant wife, Marina, who was born a princess in her own right, Alexandra, nicknamed Alex by close friends and family, has long been the most popular and respected among the so called “minor royals,” that distaff branch of the Queen’s family consisting of cousins of hers who are still royal highnesses. Outwardly charming, friendly, and known for an affable graciousness that she combines effortlessly with a naturally regal bearing, the princess was considered one of the great and glamorous European royal beauties of the ’50s and ’60s. Cecil Beaton, the celebrated photographer particularly renown for his royal portraiture, was especially fond of photographing her.
Gazing at her portraits from that period, she strikes one as a taller, more statuesque, slimmer, more elegant, and frankly more well bred version of Princess Margaret. Such an unfavorable comparison is especially apt given the antipathy shared by the mothers of these two princesses. Lady Colin Campbell writes in her biography of the Queen Mother that Princess Marina, whose father was a prince of Greece and Denmark while her mother was a Russian grand duchess, often referred to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, whose father was a mere Scottish earl, as “that common little Scottish girl.” Another notable feature of Princess Alexandra’s personality is that, unlike her notorious mother, she’s never been known for being a snob.
What these portraits fail to capture, however, is the charisma for which the princess has always been especially renown. For it’s often been written her real charm lies in the seductive nature of her personality. Prince Phillip, whose her maternal first cousin, once removed, and the husband of Alex’s paternal first cousin, the Queen, has long been known to have fallen victim to her charms sometime in the late ’50s, and the two remained in thrall with each other for at least the next 20 years. Their decades long affair, which all but destroyed her marriage and nearly destroyed his, as well as having a shattering affect on both their families, is chronicled in Nicholas Davies’ book, Elizabeth ll, A Woman Who Is Not Amused. Simply put, no other dalliance of her husband’s has devastated Elizabeth ll more than Philip’s prolonged amour with her own cousin, who until that point the Queen regarded as a close friend. While no other royal biographer, that the author of this post is aware, has described Philip and Alexandra’s affair with the same detail as Davies, several other biographers, some of whom are known to have been authorized by members of the Royal Family, among them Sarah Bradford and Ingrid Seward, have either written directly about this most notorious of the Duke of Edinburgh’s numerous extramarital romances, or have strongly hinted at it. To this day, this subject is easily considered the most taboo topic a royal biographer would do best not to write about.
Before one delves into this sordid tale, it’s instructive to first give some background information concerning these two most amiable of royal kissing cousins, for one of the reasons this affair happened in the first place was because of the complicated nature of Alex and Philip’s positions within the Royal Family, and their respectively complicated relationships with the Queen, at the time their illicit romance began. By the late ’50s Prince Philip’s position within the royal household had become untenable. In direct defiance of the constitutional precedent set by Queen Victoria, who decreed upon marriage that her children and male line descendants take her husband’s last name, Elizabeth ll’s courtiers, at the instigation of Queen Mary, Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, moved swiftly upon her succession to ensure the royal family’s last name would remain Windsor, instead of Philip’s chosen name of Mountbatten. Adding insult to injury, they also forced the Duke of Edinburgh to give up his naval career when his wife inherited the throne, but denied him a meaningful advisory role within the Monarchy. Exasperated, Philip at one point described himself to a journalist as being “just a bloody amoeba.” According to Clive Prince, Lynne Picknett and Stephen Pryor in War Of The Windsors, A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy, he actually characterized himself as being “just a bloody sperm,” but the statement was sanitized before publication. Compounding Philip’s quagmire was the breakdown in his marriage that occurred around 1955 when, according to Lady Colin Campbell in her book, The Royal Marriages, the full extent of his cheating was finally revealed to the Queen by her sister, Margaret, in a fit of rage over Elizabeth’s refusal to support her in Margot’s ill fated attempt to marry the divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. Cutting off all intimacy with her husband, the Queen retaliated by first keeping platonically loving company with her friend and courtier, Patrick, Baron Plunkett, then, according to Davies, sharing a far more carnal relationship with Lord Porchester. As the decade drew to a close, Philip increasingly sought escape from his wife and her court by taking prolonged, solo trips abroad. It was also during this period that he sought increasing refuge in competitive sailing, especially participating in the annual Cowes Regatta; no doubt finding particular solace in the event because Elizabeth abhorred it, and would never accompany him there. It was during one of the Cowes racing weeks that, after years of flirting, Philip finally bedded his and Elizabeth’s mutual cousin, Princess Alexandra of Kent.
Ten years the Queen’s junior, Alexandra was born in 1936 to the most sexually libertine couple, after the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, within their generation of the Royal Family. Her father, Prince George, Duke of Kent, was easily the most brilliant son of King George V. He was also a bisexual drug addict whose conquests ran the gamut from African American ’20s showgirl, Florence Mills, to the also drug addicted American heiress, Kiki Preston, whom many believed he fathered a son with, to the noted playwright Noel Coward. He also had a fondness for underage French and South American rentboys, at least one of whom, according to Charles Higham in his biography, The Duchess of Windsor, The Secret Life, successfully blackmailed him. In 1934 he met, and by all accounts genuinely fell in love with, Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark. Despite their marriage later that year, he continued his unbridled pursuit of both sexes. Marina, who’d grown up an occasional penniless refugee shuffled around the various remaining royal courts of Europe, is rumored to have joined her husband in his sexual adventures, and even to have on occasion shared a male lover with him.
All this fun, however, came to an abrupt end when the Duke was killed in a plane crash in 1942 that several noted historians suspect wasn’t an accident. For Prince George, like most European royals during the Second World War, was a secret Nazi sympathizer whose attempts at ending the conflict through a negotiated peace may’ve resulted in blatant espionage. Both Higham in Duchess of Windsor, and Prince, Picknett and Prior in War Of The Windsors make a compelling argument for him having been murdered by his brother’s government as a traitor and national security risk they deemed had to be eliminated. But that, alas, is another story for another post.
After the Duke of Kent’s death, his widow and three small children were left in a financially straightened position given he’d apparently not planned his estate for the contingency of his early demise, and his Civil List allowance was terminated upon his passing. This left only his wife’s minuscule appanage from George Vl’s government upon which to raise her family. It’s because of this circumstance that the Kents, for decades to come, were regarded the poorest members of the House of Windsor. Princess Alexandra grew up wearing her far more well off cousins’, Elizabeth and Margaret’s, hand me downs and telling her school friends when she grew up she expected her husband to be tall and rich.
Perhaps Alex’s financial hardship, and that of her immediate family, could’ve been relieved by her uncle, the King, had it not been for the extreme rancor shared by his beloved, trusted, all powerful consort, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess of Kent. As Lady Campbell notes in her biography of the Queen Mother, Elizabeth always envied Marina’s beauty, style and vastly superior lineage. Marina, for her part, couldn’t stand Elizabeth’s pretentiousness, lack of sincerity, and the naked narcissism and ambition she presumed was cleverly disguised behind her always cheerful demeanor. It’s long been rumored the Queen Mother took especial delight in watching her most hated sister-in-law, after the Duchess of Windsor, raise her family in the British royal equivalent of genteel poverty, and blocked every attempt to relieve Marina’s financial burden by significantly increasing her appanage. Nicholas Davies writes the Duchess’ oft repeated quip regarding the Queen Mother’s origins eventually made its way to Elizabeth ll’s ear, and despite her fondness for her aunt, Marina, she wasn’t amused. One doubts Princess Alexandra found her aunt, Elizabeth’s, machinations amusing either.
Nonetheless, Alex grew up within a post war atmosphere in which hers and her cousin, Elizabeth’s, branches of the House of Windsor put on a show of togetherness whenever the occasion called for it. The princess first met Elizabeth’s future husband, Philip, while they were courting, and later served as a 10 year old bridesmaid at their wedding in 1947. Like Princess Elizabeth before her, Alexandra’s said to have fallen in love with Philip at first sight. It’s been argued she’s yet to fall out of love with him. The princess certainly had a torch for her Viking like first cousin, once removed by the time she’d blossomed into a buxom, amiable, broad shouldered and unusually tall young woman by the late ’50s. Alexandra and Philip initially drew close through a mutual love of sailing.
Gregarious and a natural man’s woman, with a temperament that suited Prince Philip far more than his wife’s, the Duke of Edinburgh asked Alex to act as his hostess during Cowes Regatta Week sometime in the late ’50s. It was within this congenial atmosphere that they embarked upon the forbidden love affair that would within the next two decades wreak such havoc on their personal lives, as well as the lives of those closest to them. Both being working members of the Royal Family, Nicholas Davies writes it was initially quite easy for Philip to arrange assignations with Princess Alexandra without too many people noticing. Often times they conducted their trysts at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and on the one time royal yacht, Britannia. The only rule of thumb was that the Queen had to be away from such places at the time her husband and cousin were meeting for an amorous romp. Likewise, when Prince Philip was away from said places, and Her Majesty was present, Alexandra was never invited.
For it didn’t take long before the Queen found out her husband, on top of all his previous sins, was now breaking his marriage vows with one of her first cousins, who also happened to be among his first cousins, as well. Devastated, she turned to her husband’s uncle, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, for comfort and council. While Dickie, his family nickname, assured Lilibet, Her Majesty’s family nickname, this new affair was just a passing fling, he also wrote Philip imploring him to end his dalliance with Alex as soon as possible on the grounds that they were “too close,” meaning their lineal relationship was such that Dickie feared if Alex got pregnant, which she shortly did after marrying her husband, and Philip was in fact the father, the child ran the potential of being the next Elephant Man.
For in 1963 Alexandra married Angus Ogilvy, the second son of the Earl of Airlie, while her affair with the Duke of Edinburgh was in full swing, and she and her new husband starting a family was a forgone conclusion. She’d began her affair with Philip shortly after she started dating Angus, which was in 1955, and had strung him along with several other suitors for 8 years before finally agreeing to marry him. Angus, a successful, though not wealthy banker, whose lack of a title led Alexandra’s mother to attempt more than once to talk her out of marrying him, may or may not have been aware of his girlfriend’s attachment to the Queen’s husband at first. Certainly, Elizabeth ll did her part to throw Angus off the scent by encouraging him to marry her cousin by offering him an earldom, which he refused, then assuring Ogilvy he wouldn’t have to give up his career in order to support his wife in her royal duties.
It’s important at this juncture to analyze the Queen’s attitude regarding this chapter in her marriage and how she coped with it, especially after her husband refused Lord Mountbatten’s entreaties to end his affair. Dickie and Philip grew apart because of this incident, and their relationship would never be close again. Mountbatten, as a result, grew closer to Prince Charles, becoming even more of a surrogate grandfather to him than he already was. This wasn’t the only family relationship of Philip’s that would irrevocably change because of Alexandra. But back to Lilibet.
Despite at one point becoming so distraught she sought religious counsel with a bishop named Mervyn Stockwood, she nonetheless was prepared to keep up appearances and allow Princess Alexandra to remain within the her inner circle within the Royal Family. Davies explains the maintenance of a united family front has always been the Queen’s top priority, and the scandal that might’ve arisen by Elizabeth freezing Alexandra out, especially in the early ’60s, could potentially have caused substantial damage to a Monarchy that by then was experiencing its first post war popularity dip in the polls as more taxpayers were beginning to question its purpose. Furthermore, the unwritten, golden rule at the Court of St. James has always been that a monarch never punishes a fellow royal for committing a sin; they’re only punished if they get caught. Time and again throughout her life Elizabeth ll has demonstrated an innate moral hypocrisy when it comes to her friends and family. Princess Alexandra’s saving grace is, and always has been, her complete discretion when it comes to her illicit liaison with Her Majesty’s husband. At the end of the day, Phillip and Alex have successfully exploited the Queen’s double standards, and few royals and courtiers blame them for it.
One courtier, however, who could never abide the arrangement was Angus Ogilvy, and the resentment he harbored over being obligated to share his wife only increased as the liaison simmered on. His marriage had started out passionately enough, with Alexandra by all accounts being passionately in love with him, while also being in love with the Duke of Edinburgh, and there’s no doubt their children, James and Marina, are Angus’s. Taking his cue from the Queen once he discovered the truth, however, and pretending all was well within the House of Windsor became an act that, certainly by the ’70s, Angus could no longer perform. By the early ’80s he quietly and informally separated from Alexandra and they remained apart for the rest of his life. It was perhaps because of their parents’ de facto divorce that by the late ’80s James and Marina Ogilvy knew all about their mother’s affair, and in 1989 Marina nearly sold the story to a tabloid. Only the Queen managed to talk her out of it. The author shall return to this shortly.
Alexandra’s daughter wasn’t the only child whose parent was involved in this arrangement to find out about it. Sometime in the late ’70s, according to Nicholas Davies, Prince Charles found out about it as well. While it remains a mystery who told him, one shouldn’t rule out his beloved grandmother. She’d long hated Phillip, would’ve much preferred her namesake daughter married a chinless, British aristocrat instead of a Teutonic princeling from the continent, and, as Lady Campbell chronicles in her biography of the Queen Mum, never tired of getting even with her enemies, or finding ways to turn Prince Charles against his father. Revealing the Duke’s darkest secret to his oldest son, who’d hero worshipped him up till that point, wasn’t above her character, though the author admits he can’t prove this supposition. Regardless of how he found out, once Charles knew about his father’s liaison with a cousin Charles himself had been quite fond of while growing up, he was never able to think of his father, or look at him, the same way again. It was perhaps out of guilt and shame that Philip retaliated by refusing to speak to Charles for a year resulting from this revelation. Much of the rancor that still exists between father and son stems from this period when their relationship irreversibly changed.
It was around this time also that Philip and Alex’s long term passion noticeably cooled. After 20 years, in which they’d both shared their affections with various other parties in addition to their spouses, one might suspect they’d at long last grown used to each other. Still, their love has endured since then, according to several accounts, even if now it’s more of a platonic nature. The memory of their illicit amour, however, would come back to haunt them, and nearly threatened to engulf all parties involved in a public scandal in 1989.
It was in that year that Marina Ogilvy announced to her parents she was pregnant by her live in boyfriend, Paul Mowatt, and she intended to have the child without marrying the father. After she refused her parents’ attempt to talk her into an abortion, they cut off her allowance. She retaliated by selling part of her story to a tabloid, revealing in the article that when she asked her father which was more important to him, queen and country or his daughter, he responded emphatically it was queen and country! What Marina didn’t reveal was her mother’s most significant extramarital liaison. She threatened her parents and the Queen, however, that she would if a satisfactory resolution wasn’t reached forthwith. Even Princess Alexandra implored Elizabeth to get involved. Her Majesty summarily summoned Marina to Buckingham Palace; they agreed she’d marry her baby daddy before the birth; her parents would attend the wedding, but not the reception; they’d reinstate their financial support of their daughter while she was starting her family; and Marina would cease communicating with the press. Needless to write, Miss Ogilvy wasn’t included on the Queen’s Xmas card list that year.
And so ends this sordid little royal love story. Noel Botham wrote in Margaret, The Last Real Princess that the Queen’s little sister lived her life with such a pathological sense of entitlement that she behaved as if she never had to apologize for any of her misdeeds. One could write the same about both Princess Alexandra of Kent and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. When analyzing their prolonged liaison, it’s instructive to juxtapose their relationship with that of Phillip and his wife. Both Lilibet and Alex met him when they were little girls, and both fell in love with him immediately. With Princess Elizabeth, however, Phillip had to be talked into marrying her and dragged his feet on the subject for years before finally proposing. And he experienced such trepidation with every material advantage in the world to be gained by marrying her. With Alexandra, on the other hand, he stood the risk of losing everything by pursuing a romance with her, and some of the same family members that convinced him to plight his troth with the Queen, Lord Mountbatten chief among them, tried even harder to dissuade him from potentially destroying his marriage, and maybe even the Monarchy had his affair been revealed to the public, by carrying on an extramarital dalliance with Alexandra. Yet he carried on an affair with her anyway. For at least 20 years! The author shall leave it to his readers to draw their own conclusions concerning which of the these two women he might’ve loved more.