Queen Elizabeth II is the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Prince Philip, the man she fell in love with by all accounts when she was 13, was Queen Victoria’s great-great-grandson. It’s no surprise then that the man Philip most resembled in his devotion to the throne was Prince Albert, Victoria’s beloved consort who died at the age of 42. If Elizabeth is the dutiful doppelganger of Victoria, Philip is much like Albert, albeit one who lived a much longer and more enriched life.
Albert, an outsider like Philip, was always regarded with some suspicion by the court but like Elizabeth, Victoria refused to listen to the murmurs. Like Albert, Prince Philip was a moderniser; like Albert, he knew his place, which was always behind the Queen; and like Albert, he knew his true allegiance lay to the throne.
Philip was a curious mix of stiff upper lip Englishness and continental compassion. He sent off a young Charles to Gordonstoun, a school run on Spartan principles and kept him there for some time even when he complained about being bullied, but equally he wrote to Princess Diana and Prince Charles asking them to sort out their problems and choose love and duty. He was a patron of several global charities, founder of the Duke of Edinburgh scholarship and a decorated naval officer. He was also, however, a gaffe-meister, known for racist remarks (‘if you stay here long enough you’ll become slit-eyed,” he told a group of English students in China), and equally he was a man given to involved discussions on spirituality.
Much of our knowledge of Philip comes from The Crown, Netflix’s interpretation of the monarchy where he comes out rather well (compared to his son Charles), or from tabloids, who loved to focus on his political incorrectness. But what is clear is that he was a man ahead of his time, happy to play second fiddle to his queen, and do as she directed.
Not everything he did was a success. His decision to allow BBC to make a documentary on the royal family in 1972 was seen as a blunder, as was his insistence that Charles marry Diana, a woman he thought was perfect–and perfectly docile–for him. His rather unsettled life in the 1950s led to allegations of affairs which have never been proven. And though it is true that he was bitter about his family not being allowed to have his surname (Mountbatten)–“I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children,” he said–it is also true that the little boy who was smuggled out of his homeland, Greece, in an orange crate, remained forever in service of his beloved queen and adopted country.
Elizabeth and Philip’s was a love affair that lasted 73 years, almost as old as the kewel in Victoria’s crown, India. In today’s era of intermittent affections, it is impossible to imagine a relationship, indeed a partnership, that can be as long-running, as respectful and as democratic. When he swore loyalty to her, kneeling down in front of her for the world to see in a ceremony that was televised, he was making it easier for many men after him to put their women first.
He may have been almost a century old but he was more progressive than any centennial. Husband, father, sportsman, Englishman, Prince Philip was all this and more.