Britain bid a fond farewell to Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, who retired from public service on August 2nd.
At the age of 96, the Duke felt it was time to step back and let the younger generation manage the day-to-day engagements and patronages that are the center of royal life. Philip is also a big believer in going out while on top. The Queen is still steering the ship of monarchy, but even Her Majesty, 91, started scaling back a few years ago by ending her overseas travel and lengthy royal tours.
Prince Philip, who calls himself “the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler” isn’t your typical royal. His events were always memorable thanks to his blunt statements, which have garnered both countless critics and a legion of fans. In a world where high-profile people are often scripted and politically correct, Philip has been the opposite. His so-called gaffes have led to published works such as The Duke of Hazard: The Wit & Wisdom of Prince Philip, a compilation of his best quotes throughout the years.
Who Is Philip?
Philip’s quick mind and rough-around-the-edges manner formed during his early years of family turmoil. Though Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark, his life was very un-royal as the family barely had any money. What they did manage to acquire was gambled away by their father, Prince Andrew, despite their family of five mouths to feed (four daughters and Philip, born in 1921). As if that wasn’t bad enough, Prince Andrew and Princess Alice had to escape Greece’s political upheaval and the family were evacuated on a warship sent by King George V. Philip was only a year old.
The breaking point came while Philip was away at Cheam, a boarding school in Berkshire, England. Prince Andrew ran off with his mistress, and Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, had a nervous breakdown and went away for treatment. He stayed with various relatives as he went through his school years, never getting a chance to form any roots. This likely established his pragmatic attitude: there’s no time for being sentimental or wistful.
The prince’s sister Theodora decided to take a hand in Philip’s education and enrolled him in the Salem School in Germany. It was founded by her father-in-law and Kurt Hahn, a German-Jewish educator. When the Nazis came to power, Hahn fled to Scotland and Salem was closed. Philip followed him to Scotland and enrolled in Hahn’s new school, Gordonstoun. It was a highly structured environment in which Philip thrived. It was a blessing after the fractured early years of his life.
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July 1935: Schoolboy Prince Philip of Greece in costume for his school Gordonstoun’s production of Macbeth. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
After leaving Gordonstoun, Philip entered Dartmouth Royal Naval College at the urging of his maternal uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten. Mountbatten had evolved into Philip’s father-figure, and he steered Philip towards a naval education and career much like his own. Mountbatten had risen to the rank of First Sea Lord and he hoped for similar successes for Philip.
Young Philip Wins Elizabeth’s Heart
Princess Elizabeth met Philip during a visit with her parents to Dartmouth Naval College – she was 13 and Philip was 18. It was love at first sight for Elizabeth, who was taken by Philip’s golden tan and splash of blond hair. His rough jokes and devil-may-care attitude stood in stark contrast to Elizabeth’s genteel upbringing, but that was what Elizabeth found so exciting and she loved his high spirits. The king was not impressed, however. He thought Philip was coarse and loud.
As the years went by, the princess stayed in touch with Philip while he was overseas on duty. World War II delayed the courtship, but Elizabeth remained firm in her devotion to him. George VI had grown to like Philip and admired his active role in the Navy, his own choice of military career when he was the Duke of York. When on leave, Philip was invited to stay with the royal family and was also a regular guest of the Mountbattens. Philip had finally found family stability.
After the war had ended, the public was finally let in on the secret – Philip and Elizabeth were to be married. Philip presented Elizabeth with a ring whose diamonds had once been in one of his mother’s old tiaras. Princess Alice, at that time residing in London, had brought her diamonds to a jeweler in Bond Street to create the ring. It was too risky for Philip to do so in case he was recognized.
Though King George had relented over Elizabeth’s wish to marry Philip, he was bothered that his little family would no longer be “us four”. He was sad to lose his daughter to marriage, but after the magnificent wedding at Westminster Abbey, he was proud to see Elizabeth and Philip so happy.
Decades of Service
I believe that George VI would not only be incredibly proud of Elizabeth in her years as queen, but also of Philip’s devotion to the duties that came with his own role. It is to Philip’s credit that he has kept so many things updated and functioning smoothly, the royal residences being one example. He’s also been a key player in helping members of the family: he walked his sister-in-law, Princess Margaret, down the aisle for her wedding after the king died. Philip was known to try and cheer up Diana, Princess of Wales when she was struggling in her marriage, and he has helped bolster the Queen countless times when she probably felt exhausted or in need of a laugh. You can’t do all that without a good strength of character, which I feel Philip has in abundance.
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The Queen and Duke’s other “big day”.
It hasn’t always been easy for Philip, though. He blanched at losing his position as man of the house when the Queen ascended to the throne. No longer were they the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh; Elizabeth was The Queen, and Philip would have to walk behind her in public and be her support. He did this admirably, and part of that was because Elizabeth acknowledged that Philip needed to have a leading role to play. In private, therefore, he was the head of the family. He was also tasked with looking after renovations and improvements to royal homes. The Duke was also extremely active in his growing list of patronages and duties. His most well-known patronage was encouraged by Kurt Hahn himself – The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. This was a project that Philip managed and relished for decades.
“The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award has helped countless young people on their sometimes difficult path to adulthood,” the Duke explained. As someone who experienced his own difficult path to adulthood, The D of E Award closed the circle for Philip. He found his stability and then began his own efforts to help others find theirs, too.
From your self-motivated path to excel to your naval service, all the way until August 2nd, 2017, I’m sure I speak for many people when I say “thank you, Prince Philip”. May you enjoy your retirement (though I doubt he will rest on his laurels any time soon)!