Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Obituary: HRH Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip


By Dhiraj Kumar

Yesterday on the 17th of April 2021, the longest-serving British consort monarch, His Royal Highness Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, prince consort and husband of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II was laid to eternal rest at the Windsor Palace in the United Kingdom. One of the most famous personalities in world history, the demise of Prince Philip has drawn condolences from across the globe with world leaders sharing their grief. Though he passed away months short of his 100th birthday in June at the ripe age of 99, he lived a full life and was mentally and physically active till the end days.

Prince Philip was an outsider to the British monarchy when he married Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in 1947 and continued to be so his entire life. He was the insider in the Windsor dynasty who was also the original outsider. Born a royal as Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 10th June 1921 as the fifth and final child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, his mother delivered him a dining table on the island of Corfu, Greece. He was considered more royal with his background than Queen Elizabeth was. In the Greek-Turkish war of 1922, Prince Philip’s uncle Constantine I was forced to abdicate his throne and there was a threat to the life of young Philip when he was arrested by the revolutionary forces. Owing to the arbitrary actions of the military government, Prince Philip was banished from Greece for life in December 1922. Since his birth he faced great upheaval in his life, when he was forced to move out of Greece as a baby, his sisters married German princes and his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an asylum. Philip eventually joined the school at Gordonstoun from where he completed his studies in 1939. He then joined the Naval academy at Dartmouth in the United Kingdom. This set a stage for his life as a navy man which would become his first love. In 1942, during the peak of World War 2, he became the first lieutenant of HMS Wallace, during the invasion of Sicily, in July 1943, as second in command of Wallace, he saved his ship from a night bomber attack. Prince Philip would remain passionate about the navy and his naval career throughout his life. It’s a lesser-known fact that Prince Philip also had an India connect. His uncle was the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, or Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India. It was Louis who asked Philip to escort young Elizabeth Mary in Dartmouth in 1939 which started a lifelong romance between them. It is believed Elizabeth fell in love with the dashing Prince Philip in these early meetings. Neither of them had any idea how their life was going to change forever.

In the summer of 1946, 7 years after their first meeting, Philip requested King George VI for approval to marry his daughter. The King granted them permission, and the wedding was solemnized on 20th November 1947 in Westminister Abbey, London barely three months after Indian independence. The critical task of providing a male heir to the British Kingdom was fulfilled with the birth of Prince Charles in 1948 and the birth of a daughter in Princess Anne in 1950 which completed the small family. Philip and Elizabeth spent the most carefree days of their life for five years. They had four children Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, and Princess Anne. It was on a royal tour in Kenya, that news broke headlines all over the world, that her father had passed away. The death of King George VI in 1952 necessitated the ascent of Elizabeth to the British throne thereby leaving Prince Philip two steps behind. The accession of his wife to the throne of the United Kingdom created various problems for Philip. He was not allowed to attach his surname to his children nor was he allowed to pursue his naval career he was so passionate about. He was often overruled in the decisions related to the royal family due to his uneven relationship with his mother-in-law. The frustration of dealing with the initial years of Elizabeth as Queen wore heavily on Philip. The birth of his son also relegated him to a lesser position as per the constitution. He became a chained bird in the golden cage. It is to his credit that he accepted his destiny and the one job he had at hand- to stand with the Queen and support her in her reign. In later years, the Queen generously issued an order declaring that Mountbatten- Windsor would be the surname of her and her husband’s male-line descendants and gave precedence to the Duke of Edinburgh in next to her in official functions, thereby giving him the official importance, he was struggling for.

Philip was an alpha male who was deeply interested in sports, flying, high seas, environment, care for endangered species and culture. Philip also took initiatives for wildlife conservation. He wanted to create a difference in the monarchy and added a human element to his work. Apart from helping the Queen and standing rock solid in all her years as monarch, Philip maintained his own identity through various initiatives and programs. He is solely responsible for televising the crowning of Queen Elizabeth in 1952 which directly took royal functions to the drawing rooms of the British people through the BBC. He was the sounding board to the Queen as sovereign and head of the Commonwealth of 52 countries and her true advisor even as she dealt with 15 Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Britain went through various turmoil from 1952 to 2021. Since 1952, Prince Philip has completed a staggering 22,219 royal engagements on his own, apart from the ones taken with the Queen.

The Duke of Edinburgh visited India in 1959, 1961, 1983, 1997, four out of which he accompanied Queen Elizabeth to India in 1961, 1983, and 1997. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru received Prince Philip for his first visit to India in January 1959. Prince Philip visited Jamshedpur on 3rd February 1959 and stayed for two days to visit Tata Steel and Tata Motors factories. He was accompanied by J.R.D. Tata and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a member of the Planning Commission when he met workers and managers of both the factories and visited the Jubilee Park which was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru a year earlier in 1958.

Over the years, Philip had become gaffe-prone, commenting on issues that created a stir. While some say, he was not being shrewd, but personally, Philip always spoke his mind on what he believed and never cared for political correctness. In an interview, he said, “I can’t change my way of reacting to things.”

With failing health and a “pre-existing heart condition”, Philip retired from royal duties in 2016 and was also involved in a car crash (he loved driving his Land Rover) where two people were injured. He had been in and out of hospital recently and the family hoped he would be home to celebrate his 100th birthday.

On 9th April 2021, Buckingham Palace announced “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”

Prince Charles who is now the patriarch of the Windsor family bid farewell to his father saying, “He was a much loved and appreciated figure and apart from anything else, I can imagine, he would be so deeply touched by the number of other people here and elsewhere around the world and the Commonwealth, who also I think, share our loss and our sorrow.”

Philip will be known as the longest-serving supporting actor to any British monarch in history with his unwavering strength and support behind the throne. He stood with and behind the Queen and weathered out each storm that they faced in their life, be it the death of his uncle Louis Mountbatten in an IRA bomb blast, or the issue of the marriage and separation of Charles and Diana, the divorces of his children, death of Princess Diana, the BREXIT, or as recent as the Harry-Meghan Markle bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey.

The world today stands in support and solidarity to Queen Elizabeth II, who has returned to work, in her hour of grief as she will sorely miss Prince Philip who was the biggest pillar of support in their 73 years of a blissful marriage and her reign as Queen of England for 69 years.

(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and writer and he is writing his first book. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @authordhiraj.)

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