Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/4/2021 (194 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I grew up with Prince Philip. Not, of course, in a literal sense. But being born in Britain in 1959, the Royal Family was as much a part of communal life as the BBC and football.
He was part of the fabric of daily life, an adjunct of the monarch who was, in an implicit sense, integral to who and what we were. This matters. U.S. nationalism, for example, is soaked in the military and the self-defined exceptional. This was different: not to be taken too seriously, always self-critical, rooted as much in the historical as the contemporary.
I say this as someone whose father’s family were eastern European Jewish immigrants, and whose mother’s people had spent most of the centuries as poor farm labourers. It’s that aspect of the Royals that is so difficult to quantify, impossible to replicate, and still — to the chagrin of republicans — so successful.
Philip himself was known to speak his mind, and that mind could be embarrassingly reactionary at times. These so-called gaffes didn’t cause him much damage, and it was always assumed that the Queen would never behave thusly, so it was somehow OK. He was obviously a flawed character, who embodied a past time when people were rougher around the edges. Not really an excuse, and certainly not a justification — but there we are.
Born into the Greek and Danish royal families in 1921, Philip’s family was exiled when he was a baby, and he was educated in France, Germany and Britain. He joined the Royal Navy in 1939, and served bravely in the Mediterranean and Pacific fleets. While in the military he began to write to Elizabeth, who was then still a princess. They were engaged in July 1947, and married in November. He left the navy only in 1952, when Elizabeth became Queen. He was made a prince five years later.
There were, of course, four children, and they and their own children certainly have their own stories! That, of course, is part of the ongoing saga of the family, and even now there are people trying to introduce Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, into Philip’s death, ghoulishly holding her and husband Harry partly responsible. Good Lord, the man was two months short of his 100th birthday; attempts to exploit his passing are appalling.
As are the attacks on him that have already begun on social media. While Philip retired from royal duties in 2017, he had completed more than 22,000 solo engagements since 1952, and did so mostly with grace and empathy. He may have been conservative, but he was part of a royal couple that were known to be opposed to South African apartheid, usually more comfortable with socialist rather than Tory prime ministers, and a disappointment to the hard right in modern politics.
More than this, to somehow blame Philip for the crimes of the British Empire is somewhat far-fetched. While certainly a product of power and wealth, his mother risked her life to oppose Nazism and shelter a Jewish family, and he also risked death fighting authentic fascism during the Second World War.
Most of all, he was a husband, and that role as shadow or reflection of a monarch was never easy, especially for a man so strong-willed. In spite of any challenges or vacillations, they seem to have been truly in love, and these will be difficult days for Queen Elizabeth.
We will not see the likes of Prince Philip again in British, Commonwealth or world politics. Perhaps that’s for the best. Our thoughts now, however, should be with those close to him who are left behind. God bless them.
Rev. Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and contributing columnist to the Star’s Opinion section and iPolitics. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelcoren