Prince Philip’s fluent French

The Duke of Edinburgh spoke the language of Voltaire and Rousseau on several occasions

HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visiting UNESCO in Paris in October 1988 (UNESCO/Michel Claude).

Although Prince Philip spent much of his life speaking in English when representing the British crown, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II was also a proficient French speaker.

Several videos of the Duke of Edinburgh speaking the language of Voltaire and Rousseau appeared on social media accounts yesterday, following the death of His Royal Highness two months away from what would have been his 100th birthday.

In one video, Prince Philip is shown entertaining guests in eloquent French at a dinner held at the Elysée in Paris in December 1966. The Duke of Edinburgh makes regular use of his notes but, in a convincing French accent, stirs up much laughter as he hits out light-heartedly at national stereotypes.

He says: “We’ve heard some English people using the word “frog” to refer to the French. But I’ll refrain from repeating the terms used by the French to allude to the English!” 

He goes on to joke about the obsession of many Brits with tea, as well as the often-depressing weather on the other side of the Channel.

Of course, despite being known for his witty remarks, some comments made by the Duke of Edinburgh did cause controversy.

Meanwhile, other footage from the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel shows Prince Philip conversing with journalist Léon Zitrone in 1979, whilst the Prince is out training his horses.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s distinguished level of French could be explained by the fact that he spent part of his childhood in the Saint-Cloud area of Paris. Prince Philip and his family fled to France after the abdication of his uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, in 1922.

The Prince’s international heritage, given that he had German, Danish, Russian and Greek roots, coupled with the fact that French is known as the traditional language of diplomacy, may also have contributed to his linguistic skills.

Several other members of the royal family speak French. The Queen impressed the world when she used French with former president François Hollande in 2012 and when she made a speech on a state visit to France two years later. Prince Charles also attracted headlines in January this year when he addressed the virtual One Planet Summit, led by President Emmanuel Macron, in French.

The French-speaking skills of the British royals may well remain important over the next few years. Ten of the 52 countries of the Commonwealth are members of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

Furthermore, at a time when relations between Britain and European countries including France are changing, perhaps speaking the local lingo will open up doors. 

And don’t forget that 7.5 million French people watched coverage of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.

Will the next generation of British royals maintain this tradition of linguistic excellence? If they choose to follow in the footsteps of their elders, their daily Duolingo streaks are sure to be incroyable.

Photo Credit UNESCO / Michel Claude, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/igo/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

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