TThe death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has been announced by Buckingham Palace. It is not intended to trivialize by saying that this news did not come like a bolt out of nowhere. The duke was, after all, 99 years old and less than three months before his centenary, a formidable age for any man, even in these days of unprecedented longevity. He had rarely been seen in public since he finally retired from public life in 2017. His health had been a cause for concern on several occasions in recent years, and a car accident in 2019 seemed to mark a more decisive retreat from the world.
Now the bell is finally ringing for the man who spent more than 73 years married to the queen. And while his death was not unexpected, it does send a rude, grim and resonant message to millions of people in every corner of Britain. The Duke’s passing is not simply a reminder, amid continued human loss from the Covid pandemic, of the reality of death itself. It is also a reminder that the current monarchical order is, in the end, also a finite era. Only a minority of Britons can remember a time when the Queen and the Duke were not together. But the duke’s death forces the nation to recognize that all things must pass.
The Duke’s death is first and foremost a personal event for his family, and especially for the Queen. As much as a death may be anticipated, such an event is never insignificant to the bereaved when the time finally comes. This death, coming like it does when life is being lived in close family and domestic groups, it will strike particularly hard. In many respects, a gulf normally separates the life and habits of the royal family from those of other families in the country. In this experience, however, other families today can see themselves reflected, their own grief and their own losses and sorrows. That is one of the reasons why this death is indeed a national event for Britain.
The duke has been an imposing figure in the royal house for so long that his impact on the nation and its institutions is not easily summed up. For many, he will be remembered primarily as the member of the royal family who could not be gagged. The duke’s willingness to call out a bloody shovel was legendary. It distinguished him from the crowd, in a way that hardly won the affection of liberal opinion in Britain. He could be direct, rude, and offensive, and he didn’t care much if it caused discomfort. He came from a time when men of his class and background felt free about how they lived and how they talked to others. Until the end, the duke was able to use racist and sexist language that had become publicly unacceptable decades ago.
Royalty is a role that is acquired by birth or marriage. But Prince Philip was also, perhaps paradoxically, the pioneer of the idea of royalty as a profession. His diligence, like that of the queen, helped reshape the postwar monarchy. In his day, the Duke was also a true modernizer. He wanted the monarchy to change with the times. I wanted the family to be publicly active and useful. He was opposed to royal mischief. He embraced science and technology in a way that royalty and their circle have rarely done before. He wanted Britain to be on the cusp of the new, not wallow in the old. He saw TV as a medium that could reinvent the monarchy for the age of mass culture, and lobbied for the family to accept the televised documentary about them, which aired in 1969.
To his undoubted frustration at times, the duke was primarily important because he was a lieutenant and lifetime consort of the longest reigning monarch in British history, not because of his personal interests or qualities. He did what was most asked of him in life by begetting an heir and a spare with the queen. But he could be a distant husband, sometimes disappearing only to go on long tours abroad. And sometimes a remote and unsympathetic father. He was irritated by the weight of tradition that frustrated his efforts to give his children his own surname, or that resisted his attempts to reform the royal palaces in a more twentieth-century way, or that refused to put him in charge of projects. and hierarchies in which courtiers were unwilling to loosen their grip.
The undeniable central fact of his life was that the Queen depended on him. His marriage was central to his reign, despite the fact that his family experienced, and still experiences today, many unhappiness. His spirit of public service was not based on a historical or legal requirement to behave in this manner. It was pragmatically based on a collective instinct for self-preservation and a principled sense of decency. Given that the queen has reigned for over 69 years, and that Philip was by her side for most of that time, this means that she must share some of the credit for the successes of the modern House of Windsor and share some of the blame for her traumas. . His death rings the bell for a remarkable period in the history of the monarchy. But it leaves an irreplaceable void in the life of the monarch.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism