Let’s face it, Buckingham Palace is E. F. Hutton on steroids. Whenever Palace authorities so much as whisper — the world’s ears perk up. And it seems the recent Palace statement that the Duke of Edinburgh is retiring from royal duties in a few months has search engines across the world all atwitter.
Prince Philip, the Queen’s consort will turn ninety-six next month, so this news should not come as a shock. Still, the longest reigning monarch in world history – Queen Elizabeth — still rules and reigns. And that is saying something.
Americans like to act like they don’t give a hoot about an outdated, somewhat feckless monarchy that we rebelled against more than two hundred years ago. But that would be more than a bit mendacious. Perhaps because we, as a nation, have eschewed all things royal, we are fascinated by its movements and trappings. The reality is that these are some fairly curious folks.
Americans who watched the Netflix series, The Crown, (and there were a lot of us) witnessed a portrait of Prince Philip that was at once repelling and sympathetic as the oft-times playboy, ne’er-do-well husband of the new Queen tried to find his way amidst palace intrigue. Without a doubt, Philip comes to the Royal stage with a history that carries an echo of a distorted fairy tale of sorts — but a true story nonetheless. Ill-prepared for what would become of his life, Philip carried a sense of his own person throughout the decades, much to the likely ecstasy of numerous former Fleet Street scribes.
A member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, Philip is of Greek and Danish royal descent. Born in Greece, but exiled along with this family when he was an infant, Philip endured a rather tumultuous childhood in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. At the age of eighteen, he joined the Royal Navy in 1939 and re-connected with his third-cousin, Elizabeth. (Royals always seem to have a way of marrying each other and often within their own families.) As the romance kindled, it seemed rather unlikely that the oldest daughter of the second oldest son of the King would end up anywhere near the throne. But life often has a way of taking us where we would rather not go – and such was the case of Elizabeth and ultimately Philip.
In the early years of their marriage, this proud, overly masculine, athletic man found himself discordant with the Royal traditions in which his wife often had to succumb. Nevertheless, he never lost sight of himself even when overruled by the Palace again and again:
Brusque, avuncular and with a reputation for plain – in fact overly plain – speaking, Prince Philip has for seven decades been the formidable presence by the side of Elizabeth as she has made the endless round of dinners, ceremonies and other engagements expected of a British Monarch. (NYT)
Perhaps it is that very plain-spoken manner of Philip that has endeared him to people worldwide. Here are a few of his observations over the years that underscore that famous dry humor for which Brits are so well known:
“People think there’s a rigid class system here, but dukes have even been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans.”
“We don’t come to Canada for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
When asked if he would like to visit the Soviet Union: “I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family.”
He asked a Scottish driving instructor in Oban: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”
So, here’s to a straight-shooter wrapped in a Royal robe sporting the mouth of a truck driver from Dayton. May his remaining years be filled with family, friends, and plenty of Scotch.
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