Schooldays are often described as the “happiest days of our life”, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that way at the time! When you’re a member of the royal family, going to one of the UK’s top public schools, it’s inevitable that media speculation about your schooldays will be rife.
For Prince Philip Mountbatten, the future Duke of Edinburgh and husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth II, some of his schooldays were spent at Gordonstoun. Born in June 1921, he attended several schools, including Schule Schloss Salem in Germany.
With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Philip was sent to the newly-founded Gordonstoun School for boys in Moray, Scotland. It was established in 1934 in Duffus, north-west of Elgin. Located on the 150-acre estate once owned by Sir Robert Gordon in the 17th century, the boarding school is named after him.
As a public school, as defined by the Public Schools Act 1868, it has certain unique practices, including the traditional Common Entrance Exam for pupils entering the school at the age of 13-plus.
Much speculation has surrounded Philip’s schooldays, particularly in the light of the Netflix television drama, The Crown, based on the life of the British monarchy in the 20th century.
Although viewers and critics alike have praised the show, writer Peter Morgan has come under fire for allegedly fabricating some of the incidents depicted as being based on fact. The series, launched in 2016, flashes back to Prince Philip’s schooldays in the 1930s.
In one controversial scene, it shows him doing manual work at the school, building a brick wall and erecting a wrought iron gate, overcome by grief after his sister Cecilie’s death in a plane crash in 1937. It was suggested he was trying to thrash out his emotions by tiring himself out with manual labour.
Controversy surrounding the claim that Philip was subject to back-breaking work was so great, that Gordonstoun chiefs stepped in to respond to the accusations. After the school was portrayed in a negative manner during the series, it has denied that he ever had to build a brick wall or a gate!
A statement from the school described the claim as “completely untrue”, while Royal biographer Hugo Vickers, who wrote The Crown: Truth or Fiction, quipped that anyone who travelled to the school to see the wall that Philip supposedly built would be “in for a disappointment”.
In reality, although life at Gordonstoun was quite regimented, the school has denied it was unduly tough. The boys reportedly rose at 7am and had to run 300 yards to the washroom, where the showers had cold water, because it was believed to be more healthy than showering in hot water.
Prince Philip was a keen sportsman in his youth, excelling at games more so than he did at his academic studies. He was captain of both the hockey and cricket teams at Gordonstoun and was described as being “energetic, competitive and tough” by his peers. He didn’t start playing his favourite sport, polo, until after he left school.
Philip also excelled at sailing, one of the more unusual sports the boys at Gordonstoun were able to try out. On leaving school, Philip joined the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where he thrived at naval training. He graduated as the top cadet on his course and served with the British Armed Forces during World War II.
His ship, HMS Valiant, was involved in the battle of Cape Matapan and Philip was mentioned in dispatches, noted as one of the Royal Navy’s youngest and finest first lieutenants.
In line with royal tradition, Prince Charles followed in his father’s footsteps and also attended Gordonstoun. The TV series The Crown came under fire again for its depiction of Prince Charles’ schooldays – especially a claim that he was bullied.
A controversial scene portraying the young prince being humiliated while completing the orienteering task, the Gordonstoun Challenge, has been refuted. Although it was once alleged the prince described Gordonstoun as “Colditz in kilts” (likening it to the World War II prisoner of war camp), he has denied hating his time there.
In a speech he made to the House of Lords in the 1970s, he said he was “astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun”. Criticising the “ancient clichés” used to describe it, he said the school was tough only in the sense that it demanded more of its pupils, physically and mentally, than any other school.
He described himself as being “lucky” for having attended Gordonstoun, because it had taught him to take the initiative and accept challenges. He was quoted as saying he liked the “general character of the education there”.
The Prince of Wales was also a keen sportsman at school. Prior to Gordonstoun, he had attended Hill House School in London, where the school’s founder and then head, Stuart Townend, advised the Queen to let Charles take part in football training, as no-one was given preferential treatment on the football pitch. He believed all the pupils should be treated equally, royalty or not.
Like his father, Charles was a keen cricketer at Gordonstoun, although his real passion was polo – a sport he played his entire life, until the 69-year-old heir to the throne was forced to retire recently.
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