Prince Philip, an Endearing and Enduring Figure, Who Saw British Monarchy's Transition to Modernity

Sanjay Suri
·4-min read

Prince Philip couldn’t quite restrain himself when he spotted some wires hanging loose in a building he was visiting years ago. “They look like they’ve been put up by an Indian,” he had remarked then. The Palace, usually given to defending royalty or stonewalling attacks on it, on this occasion did neither. It issued an instant apology. Coming from the Duke of Edinburgh, the remark was in any case considered more quirky than racist. Like his remark at a meeting with British students he was visiting in Beijing. “You’ll all get chinky-eyed if you stay here much longer,” he said. In him these seemed more light eccentricities than seriously controversial attitudes. But that was then.

Recalling those remarks today feels thornier than before, given the cloud of racist allegations hovering over the British royalty following the Harry and Meghan interview. Whatever the colour of those clouds, they did not hang over Prince Philip. Harry and Meghan did make clear that the remarks they referred to did not come from either the Queen or Prince Philip.

All through, Prince Philip stayed clear of any serious public controversies. And over a long career in the public eye in a country like Britain that is remarkable, even if the media remain overwhelmingly loyal to royalty.

Prince Philip was an endearing – and enduring – symbol of the continuity of old Britain into modern days. He lived through tumultuous times: the rise of Nazism, the Second World War and the blitz of Britain that it brought, and through national crises, one after another. Not least, the decline of Britain as a world power.

Crisis

Prince Philip through the times saw the royal household engulfed by one serious crisis after another. The Diana days and her death brought the image of royalty down to new lows then. And now the departure of Harry from the royal household, effectively from the royal family itself, was a blow he had to live with through the last days of his life. That ended just short of what would have been a 100th birthday on June 10.

The Queen traditionally sends birthday greetings to everyone in Britain who turns 100. She would have been preparing to do more than that for her husband. Britain is planning a funeral instead.

As funerals go, no one does royal funerals quite as grandly as the British do. It’s not clear how many will be able to attend the funeral, or line the funeral march route under the present circumstances induced by the pandemic. But bitterness is certain to mark the funeral, Prince Harry and Meghan will undoubtedly attend. The public eye, through the cameras, will be on a show of family togetherness at the funeral amongst a family now torn worlds apart.

It is a family that the world believes it has come to know closely. It has always been through the media, but The Crown on Netflix has brought glimpses of the royal family that have been dramatically different from the ceremonial images offered by media usually through royal events.

Some of the presentations within that webseries have been contested. But the public has largely accepted the world it has presented as credible, even if not in every dramatized detail. The Crown presents a particularly troubled relationship between Prince Philip and his son Prince Charles. It also suggests positions that Prince Philip took through the Diana days that would necessarily be controversial, if considered to be true.

Queen

The Queen does now appear a lonely figure. Her consort has always been seen by her side through generations now, through the longest reign by an English monarch. The two were married for 73 years.

Britain became considerably quiet after announcement of the death, and it wasn’t the lockdown. The death has taken the buzz out off the preparations for imminent release after the long lockdown. The mourning was spontaneous and felt; it did not have to be declared.

The announcement of Prince Philip’s death immediately spread gloom, and a deep sense of loss across the country. Through imperfect times for nation and family, nobody doubts that Prince Philip held his own with much public dignity. And he has remained an affable person whenever seen publicly, even if his public appearances were limited mostly to turning up at the Guards Polo Club in Windsor estate, just by the castle where he died Friday morning.

The announcement from the Palace was simple. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”

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