The survival of the monarchy, especially in Britain, was the story of the transformation of the dynasty into the family; from the aristocracy to the paragons of the middle class. But royal families are vulnerable to the conflicting obligations of their job description. They should be familiar but formal; traditional but modernizing; formal here, informal there. While they are required to be politically buttoned up, they must also be frank. In this last job, as in so many others, Prince Philip was reputed, or notoriously good; the royal yang to the queen’s yin. Without this complementary match, which, breaking away from much of royal history other than Victoria and Albert, was born and rooted in genuine love, the monarchy might not have survived.
Prince Philip wore his own catastrophic family history on the signet ring he recovered from the funeral of his father, Prince Andrew, and has never been removed. The Corfu villa where he was born in 1921 was called “Mon Repos” but his youth had nothing of it. His grandfather, King George of Greece, was assassinated. His father was one of those blamed for poor military performance in the Greco-Turkish War of 1921-22; and it was believed that he might well be tried and executed like other high-profile accused leaders.
Baby Philip was rescued by a British cruiser. But his childhood was almost swallowed up by the European maelstrom. His sisters married Germans who served the Nazi Reich while Philip was a young hero in the Royal Navy during the Battle of Cape Matapan and the invasion of Sicily. Her mother, Princess Alice, was institutionalized as a schizophrenic. Her father lived his days in Monte Carlo with a pneumatic actress who invented a false aristocratic title for herself.
As the princes depart, when the younger brother appeared, duly tall and handsome, to escort Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret around Dartmouth Naval College in 1939, he was uprooted, financially difficult, his family compromised in every way imaginable . Miraculously, however, 13-year-old Elizabeth knew he was The One. And precisely because his upbringing had been so perilous, Philip embraced marriage, the constitutionally indeterminate role of husband, and the hard work of making the transformation of the Empire into the Commonwealth a chapter of British revival rather than a retreat. without on energy rather than ritual resignation.
There was of course all the Good Work: the hundreds of charities and organizations, social and educational, for which he has put his time as a patron; the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards which were instituted as a forward and outward review of the austere muscular education he had received at Gordonstoun. His premonitory work for the World Wildlife Fund connected the monarchy with environmentalism.
But its indispensable character to the monarchy lay in two other vital roles. The first was the modernization mission, urgent but never crude enough to exceed public expectations for the dignity of the Crown. The televised wedding and live broadcast of the coronation shaped a crucial path of modernization, and in 1969 a BBC documentary did what it could to humanize the family part of the royal family, despite the Duke’s barking to “bloody cameras” when, in his sight, they were too much in front of the queen. At this point, of course, Philip would have had no idea that if family affairs turned badly like they did catastrophically with the Charles-Diana disagreement, society might feel the sharper side of it. the double-edged sword of the television.
Ultimately, however, the grounding he gave was as much personal as it was institutional. Known for expressing his wit, often, as he admitted, to the point of offensiveness and beyond, frankness was exactly what the queen, trapped by deference, the compulsive calculations of the leaders of the company, the rituals of the daily and annual tour, needed. hear. The paradox was that Philip’s unheard-of instincts, the raw side of his personality, proved essential to his own composure, often when family matters became obscure and the whole institution seemed almost in free fall.
He was the longest-serving husband of the longest-serving monarch in British history. But in reality, it is not the duration but the depth of the marriage that has proven, despite all the calamities, to make the very idea as well as the reality of the “royal family” something much stronger. than a consoling national myth.