A few days after the death of King George VI in February 1952, Earl Jowitt, the Lord Chancellor under Clement Attlee, addressed the House of Lords in a message of condolence to the new Queen Elizabeth II.
‘It is, I fear, inevitable that the life of the Sovereign must be in some sense a lonely life,’ he said. ‘We must be thankful that she has by her side her Consort, the Duke of Edinburgh, who has so completely identified himself with the people of this country and with their way of life, and who has won for himself such respect and affection from all those many people who have been privileged to meet him.’
Those few words encapsulate the importance of Prince Philip not just to the Queen herself, but to the monarchy as a whole, both as an institution and as a family.
All these years he has been the rock on which the Queen’s astonishing and unprecedented success has been built. She was the ship, he her anchor, not always visible but ever present, protection against the shifting sands of opinion and the jagged rocks of life.
The Duke’s passing represents much more than the end of a single life; it also represents the end of a certain set of values that seem to have less and less place in the modern world
Now that he has gone, he leaves a gaping hole in both her heart and the heart of the nation (which, after all, are the same thing). Bigger and more profound, perhaps, than many of us might have expected.
Because his passing represents much more than the end of a single life; it also represents the end of an era. Of a certain set of values and personal qualities that seem to have less and less place in the modern world but without which, we all instinctively know, life is an infinitely more superficial and barren experience.
Values the Prince embodied. Hard work, dedication, self-sacrifice, duty, of course; but also a kind of joyous, unapologetic masculinity that nowadays would – and routinely is – described by many as toxic.
Much has been written about his dedication to his Queen and country, about his philanthropic endeavours, about his passion for the environment and helping young people. And these are all important parts of his legacy. But the thing that always struck me as so wonderful about Prince Philip was the fact that he was unequivocally and unapologetically a bloke.
It wasn’t only the dashing good looks, or general inability to suffer fools, or his tendency to put his foot in it, or his fondness for dangerous and eccentric sports. It was the fact that despite clearly being someone who felt things keenly and whose emotions ran deep, he knew how to marshal his feelings and not let them cloud his judgment.
Instead of running away from responsibility – as one in his position might so easily have done – he ran towards it. He never took the quick or easy option but always stayed the course, however bumpy the ride.
Not for Philip the airs and graces, the expectations and baubles that have appealed so much to other Royal consorts. He lived simply and practically, never happier than when barbecuing sausages in the rain on a hillside in Scotland, or doing something complicated with a spanner. In other words, he knew what it meant to be a man. A real, grown-up man. And that, I’m afraid, makes him a rare gem in this day and age.
He was exactly the sort of man a girl needed if she was to make a decent fist of being Queen, someone who would be able to kneel at her feet as his Queen but remain at home her husband and equal
It is also what made him such a vital source of support for the Queen. Her Majesty has rarely made an unwise decision in her life; but her choice of husband was positively inspired.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. She knew the damage weak, selfish men can do. She became Queen at the tender age of 25 because of the general spinelessness of her uncle, Edward VIII. Someone who turned his back on duty and family to make a life for himself and his American divorcee wife, and in so doing burdened his brother, the Queen’s father, with a set of responsibilities that, while he ultimately embraced them, nevertheless sent him to an early grave.
What a contrast to the wet-eyed self-indulgence of Uncle Edward the young Philip – her second cousin twice removed – must have seemed, with his steely gaze, confidence, dynamism and charisma.
No wonder she fell for him as a teenager and determined to make him her husband. Among other things she liked the ease, apparently, with which he jumped over tennis nets. He was exactly the sort of man a girl needed if she was to make a decent fist of being Queen.
Someone tough enough, mentally and physically, to withstand the vicissitudes of Royal life. Someone who would love her and be a father and role model to her children without allowing her position to undermine his confidence.
Someone who was certain enough in his own masculinity to defer to her as the Monarch without allowing his position as loyal subject to emasculate him.
Someone who would be able to kneel at her feet as his Queen but remain at home her husband and equal.
Of course, there were moments when it got to him.
He once famously said that he was ‘just a bloody amoeba’ (following the decision that their children should be called Windsor, not Mountbatten).
But for all that he may not have been constitutionally powerful, he remained the undisputed head of his own family – and that is what made him such an important source of support for the Queen.
She needed someone she could defer to occasionally. Someone to respect and who could, if the occasion demanded it, stand up to her and help keep her grounded. Not in an oppressive, patriarchal kind of a way, but in a wise, equal sort of way. To act, in other words, like a husband rather than a subject.
Such ideas are, of course, terribly unfashionable in this day and age, when women are encouraged to consider even the offer of a lift to the shops as an act of patriarchal micro-aggression. But for all the heat and noise generated by decades of sexual politics, you can’t fight nature. At the end of the day a woman like the Queen needs a man who can do man things – and Philip was quintessentially that.
Prince Philip was a man who knew how to stand his ground. No wonder, as the Queen said, he was her ‘strength and stay
Too often in marriage – especially marriages where one person is richer or more powerful than the other – one ends up consuming the other. Everything revolves around their wants, their needs, their ambition. The less dominant person finds their identity shrinking, wavering. They become bent out of shape, lost to themselves and deeply unhappy.
The more dominant partner, meanwhile, finds their ego raging out of control. For a penniless Greek Prince from a fractured family and a lonely upbringing, that could so easily have been the case. But such was Philip’s strength of character it never happened to them.
Perhaps it was his education at Gordonstoun, perhaps it was the Navy – or maybe it was just who he was. But Prince Philip was a man who knew how to stand his ground. No wonder, as the Queen said, he was her ‘strength and stay’.
If the young Elizabeth were looking for a consort now, I don’t know that she would ever find her Philip. Men like him are as rare as hen’s teeth these days, not least because the modern world seems to despise them so much.
It never affected Prince Philip because he was far too old; but how many young men growing up today can afford to espouse his values? Values that society no longer sees as strengths but weaknesses, unforgivable flaws even, the kind that require the sternest re-education at the hands of the woke guard.
But if toxic masculinity is loyalty, duty, courage and wisdom, so be it. If it’s someone who walks ten steps behind his wife while still managing to show her the way, that’s fine by me.
And if toxic masculinity is providing stability for his children and giving countless others the opportunity to be their best, then I for one would prefer it to the polished pronouncements of some empty-gestured, hand-wringing, virtue-signalling eunuch.
RIP Prince Philip. There are far too few like you left.