Britain’s prince of steadfastness

Special to

By John J. Metzler

A page has turned on the House of Windsor. Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died at 99 just short of his hundredth birthday.

The long serving consort to the Queen has lived a notable and indeed remarkable, if sometimes controversial life.  The Queen (94) described Philip, her husband of 73 years as “my strength and stay all these years.”  Philip’s passing at Windsor Castle has “left a huge void in her life.”

Princess Elizabeth married Philip in 1947; on his wedding day, he was made Duke of Edinburgh.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Coronation portrait, June 1953, London, England. / Public Domain

Quite unexpectedly just a few years into marriage, Elizabeth became Queen upon the death of her father George VI, Britain’s beloved wartime King.  Elizabeth and Philip heard the sad news in 1952 while at the Treetops Lodge in Kenya.  It was time to stand up and serve.

Later at the time of Elizabeth’s Coronation in June 1953, Philip the “media savvy” prince, insisted that the splendid Royal ceremonies and pageantry be presented on that new medium called television. It was a step toward modernity and transformation of the institution of the monarchy.

His family roots rested in complicated bouillabaisse of royalty from Greece, Germany and Denmark.

This was a long time ago.  President Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister. The Korean War was still raging.  Elvis was yet to be famous.

Coverage of Prince Philip’s passing has generally been fair, but has often swerved into the editorial weeds by sometimes viewing this man through a contemporary Woke lens.  Philip was a scion of a very different generation, an era really, one that served and went through the tumultuous years of WWII, and then lived through the heady but threadbare years after 1945, often known as Austerity Britain.

Prince Philip was in many ways a living figure who bridged the generations from postwar-Britain to the present.  His keen interest in science and technology, his initiatives for young  people, the Duke of Edinburgh’s awards, has helped more than eight million young people around the Commonwealth achieve their dreams. His role in a myriad of charities underscored his compassion.

His notable quips and sometimes gaffes were typical of his generation but often hurtful.

Again he reflected another era.

Conrad Black, writing in Canada’s National Post opined, “He always had that fine royal combination of self-confidence without pomposity.”

The mega series on the Royals, the Crown, has brought these figures to life and has done a good job of it; yet, most people will recall Philip in a less than positive light regarding their bumpy years of marriage during the 1950s.

Philip wished to make the Royal Family “more accessible.” In a 1969 BBC documentary “Royal Family” camera followed the Queen, Philip and their four children, Charles and Anne, along with Andrew and Edward, through daily routines.

The Crown series while blending fact and fiction serves to “demystify” the Royals.

At the same time Philip stressed making the monarch “modern and relevant”. He was clearly a modernizer but at the same time a fellow whose gravitas was proudly rooted in traditions.

His BBC TV obituary recorded the Prince as “a man of strong views and a strong sense of duty.” One can add he was steadfast in his duties and was loyal to the crown. All wonderful attributes but often echoing another age. Some say that his service in the Royal Navy and his closeness and commitment to the military solidified his stature.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated somberly, “Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world.…one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in the second world war.”

“It is to Her Majesty, and her family, that our nation’s thoughts must turn today,” the prime minister added.

Lauded throughout the Commonwealth’s 54 nations from Canada to Kenya and India to Malaysia, Philip often visited far flung shores.

All former living American presidents issued statements praising Prince Philip’s role; most had met him during their visits to the United Kingdom or the Royal couple’s visits to America. Indeed, the “Special Relationship” between the United States and Britain endures as an alliance and partnership.

Philip may have been the dutiful unsung hero. But Britain’s monarchy is not all smoke, mirrors and mystery but a very tangible cohesive force which binds the country together in spite of politics, fads and the occasional errant Prince. The institution, its history, and its meaning go well beyond pomp and glitter.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]