Writer’s Note: Several weeks ago, many around the world focused their attention on the death and funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and consort to the Queen. Jim and I sat quietly through the entire service, marveling at Britain’s earnest — and, for the most part, successful — attempts to hold fast to tradition.
Professional media commentators reporting on the occasion seemed especially struck by the image of Queen Elizabeth II, herself well into her 90’s, seated alone throughout the service in St. George’s chapel on the Windsor estate. She was still the queen, of course, but to nearly everyone she seemed smaller somehow. Grief — deep, heartsick grief — can do that to anyone, even a queen.
Frankly, I admire the significant role that the Queen and most members of the Royal Family play in keeping their country’s history alive — helping others to see history as a living thing rather than something that is written in a book somewhere and rarely thought about.
The British people’s respect for their traditions, and their recognition of the importance of them, is something that I think we should all be more mindful of here in our own country. After all, without traditions that we pass down through the generations that remind us of our history, how can we possibly remember the lessons taught by that history?
Rewriting history is for the foolish. Rereading history – often – is for the wise. — GP
A Tale of Two Princes
The announcement of Prince Philip’s death was not unexpected. He had been in and out of the hospital, and it had been reported that he had specifically requested to go home to Windsor castle where he could die in peace. Just a few months shy of his 100th birthday, his was a life that spanned, quite literally, a century of British history.
I recently asked through social media for some reactions to Philip’s death and funeral. The responses reflected strong feelings both for, and against, the Royal Family. Ro Worley wrote that she had a hard time “. . . believing that they’ve gotten away with this ‘royalty’ thing for as long as they have. Loyalty to a monarch is not the same as loyalty to a country.” Mary Katheryn Berry thought the funeral went far beyond a dignified funeral and that parts were “downright gawdy” — although the music was splendid.
Others found the funeral and Prince Philip’s contributions moving. Jeanette Colvin said that she said a prayer during the service for Queen Elizabeth and the family. “Prince Philip was one of the Greatest Generation, having fought for the freedoms that we enjoy today,” Colvin wrote. Tim McIlvenne became a committed Anglophile when he studied abroad in London for a semester. “Prince Philip made quite a contribution by doing his duty, and doing it well. It’s sad to see that extraordinary generation pass away,” McIlvenne wrote. John Jones had only recently read Gary Larson’s historical novel, The Splendid and the Vile (which deals with Sir Winston Churchill and the London Blitz in WWII) when Philip died. “Watching the funeral reminded me of the courage and tenacity of Great Britain and its people during WWII, which would include Philip,” Jones wrote. “The funeral highlighted their longevity as a monarchy and an empire – a history of traditions and power we can’t even get our heads around.”
Philip experienced many things, beginning with a difficult childhood — one that taught him to appreciate “home” and “family” perhaps more than most. Born a prince of Greece and Denmark, when he was 18 months old his family was exiled from Greece. Though there was uncertainty throughout his childhood in terms of safe havens (compounded by his mother’s institutionalization for schizophrenia), the young fellow’s education didn’t suffer. He spoke English, French, and German, and considered himself to be a Dane. He studied in Paris, England, Germany, Scotland, and finished at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Philip would go on to have a distinguished, if foreshortened, naval career in service to Britain. You see, love got in the way.
A Royal Romance . . .
Many do not realize that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip share a common great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. They are third cousins. They met in 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Dartmouth with their two daughters, the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and Philip was asked to show the young girls around.
The lengthy courtship began with letters between the two. It was in this way that they both later said that they got to know each other. Seven years after that first meeting, Philip asked King George for permission to marry Elizabeth. Permission was granted, with the stipulation that no formal announcement be made until Elizabeth’s 21st birthday a year away. During that year, Philip renounced his Greek and Danish royal titles, became a member of the Church of England, and prepared for the ceremony which would be broadcast by radio to some 200 million people worldwide.
The marriage was a good one, lasting 73 years. Philip gave up what many historians agree was a very promising naval career to marry Elizabeth. Even so, the years of naval training, his wartime service during WWII, and he love for the military would remain mainstays with him throughout his life.
of Windsor Grows . . .
Four children were born to Elizabeth and Philip —Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward. Over time, their family grew to 8 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. As with every family, there were tragedies and sadness to balance the joy of their lives together. Philip had to define the role of “consort” virtually alone, and he decided early on that “duty” to his country and his sovereign was to be his “job”. He proved himself to be quite good at both. He was also an advocate for the advancement of technology and an ardent supporter of environmental awareness and action — both well ahead of his time.
There were scandals, of course, that threatened the Royals. Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, became quite a jetsetter causing all manner of consternation at the time. Margaret was always the more outgoing, gregarious sister; Elizabeth was the quieter, contemplative one. A generation before, King Edward VIII had abdicated to marry an American divorcee, thrusting his brother George onto a throne he never wanted. Because King George VI had only the two daughters and Edward had no children, his firstborn Elizabeth suddenly found herself in line for the throne — not something that she relished, but something she committed herself to doing for the rest of her life when her father died.
The marriage of Prince Charles to Diana began with great anticipation but crashed to an end with a messy divorce and Charles’ marriage to a divorcee. And then there was Prince Andrew, Fergie — and perhaps Epstein. Hope rose again with the marriage of Prince William to Catherine. The birth of their first child, Prince George, was a watershed moment for the Royal Family. There was another marriage of note — that of Prince Harry to an American actress and divorcee. The impact of this one is still up for debate. Harry, who his mother famously called “the spare”, has been particularly rebellious since his mother’s untimely death. Frolicking in a Nazi uniform — or nothing at all — at parties around the globe did not exactly endear him.
for the Prince . . .
As with all mortals, even princes die. Adding to the tragedy was the interview seen around the world that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex gave, clarifying exactly why they had chosen to no longer be working senior members of the Royal Family. It aired only a few weeks prior to Prince Philip’s death, and brought unwanted attention to the Queen and her family. Not accustomed to public pronouncements by Royals of personal disagreements among themselves, the Queen no doubt flinched at this latest challenge. As the young prince openly renounced the life of duty that his grandfather had espoused, the clash between the postmodern generation and the Greatest Generation became all too apparent.
In the best example that I’ve seen, the Queen “kept calm and carried on” with grace and dignity both in the aftermath of the unfortunate interview and the death of her husband. The pandemic limited what would have ordinarily taken place, but the funeral was in keeping with the prince’s wishes and personality. The military was on display throughout, with a special emphasis on the British Navy.
The Royal Marines played “Last Post”, followed by military buglers sounding the “Action Stations” — a call used on naval warships to summon crew to their battle stations. The most poignant to me was the Royal Navy pipers’ participation. They used the boatswain’s whistle, or pipe, to honor the fallen prince. This was a tradition that dates back to 1248 — and had been requested by Prince Philip for his funeral.
A military green Land Rover Defender bore the coffin to the chapel. It had been designed by Philip as a salute back to his military service during WWII. Philip’s personal flag (aka standard) covered the coffin. It was designed in 1947, shortly after he married Elizabeth and featured symbols of his ancestry. One part showed elements from the coat of arms of Denmark, a second included the Greek flag, a third showed the House of Mountbatten emblem, and the final was of Edinburgh Castle to represent his dukedom. Atop the standard lay Philip’s naval cap and sword.
Prince Harry attended the funeral, alone. One wonders what it was like to come back “home” to honor his grandmother and say farewell to his grandfather. What might he have been thinking as the hymns were sung and the prayers were said? It cannot have been easy to walk away from the only life that he had known.
Two princes. Two men. Two very different attitudes toward duty and honor.