Much has been written in the last couple of days about the late Duke of Edinburgh being a rock for his wife, Her Majesty the Queen, and the Crown. But it is rather as “the man of the house” of Windsor that we can realize the extent of the centrality of his role. Thanks to Ingrid Seward’s amazing biography Prince Philip Revealed (Atria Books – Simon & Schuster), anyone can understand why this consort was so instrumental in the success of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
A “product of a broken home”, Prince Philip understood, from a very young age that life is difficult and that you need to prepare for its challenges. Private school gave him the structure and discipline he couldn’t find in his own family. Later in life, his insistence on ensuring that his eldest son, the Prince of Wales, follow the same path would leave scars in the soul of the future king. But that’s another story.
In a nutshell, Philip ensured that his family would live in a relative environment of normalcy. From his drive to modernize the kitchens of Buckingham Palace to his designing of “[…] a portable barbecue that would fit into the back of a Range Rover so he could take it out onto the moors at Balmoral”, or his insistence for the adoption of television as a medium to reach out to people, the author succeeds in making you feel that Philip was a down-to-heart man. He was keener to “[…] adapt a range of clothing that would keep him warm during the winter months” than to succumb to pump and circumstances and obsequiousness.
Simultaneously, the Duke could not suffer when a member of the family did not prioritize “[…] public performance before the needs of the individual.” I was often told by my favorite University teacher, who was an enthusiast about everything related to the British monarchy, that Lord Mountbatten’s rule was: “never explain, never complain.” In a sense, Prince Philip was the perfect embodiment of that principle and “[…] has always operated within the framework that if you obey the rules, life will be so much easier.”
Impatient, politically incorrect and profoundly independent-minded, he instilled in his children and into the family a sense of resilience that represents the essential survival tool for a House that is always under scrutiny and often the object of scandals and controversy. In my opinion, the following passage captures this essence:
““The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married and my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.” It did have the effect of making him emotionally stronger, self-sufficient, and able to deal with whatever life had in store for him without showing his heart on his sleeve.”
The extent of his personal self-sacrifice is Himalayan and anyone eager to measure it should definitely take the time to devour Ms. Seward’s insightful biography. Through all of this, nevertheless, His Royal Highness, always found time for his passions: cricket, carriage driving, cars, science, engineering, philosophy and reading. About his love of books, I take enormous pleasure in knowing that we shopped at the same bookstore.
While many people might believe that any member of the Royal family cannot really relate to our ordinary lives, Prince Philip’s life and character are a testimony of the contrary. The hardships of his youth (“[…] he didn’t even own a pair of decent hairbrushes” when he got engaged with Princess Elizabeth in 1947) fostered in him the vital qualities of self-discipline and loyalty. All of this made him an excellent partner in the alleys of the monarchy.
I have read many biographies about Royals since I was a young adult. But none compare to Ingrid Seward’s penmanship. Her love of detail, coupled with a keen sense of psychology, offers a unique portrait of this member of the Royal household who will be terribly missed. Don’t get me wrong. Prince Philip had many flaws. I would not have wanted to be at the receiving end of one of his acid comments. But he certainly has a lot to teach me as a father, as a husband and as a man. I am therefore extremely grateful for this biography.
British History is fond of adding the word “Iron” to the title of legendary personalities who left an indelible mark in the nation’s history like the Iron Duke (Wellington) or the Iron Lady (Margaret Thatcher). For all his determination in never abandoning his post as a loyal husband and supporter of HM the Queen and being the rock of the House of Windsor, the late Duke of Edinburgh deserves to be called the Iron Prince in my humble opinion.
At a personal level and to be entirely transparent, Prince Philip was my favorite member of the Royal Family. While I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, I was very sad upon learning of his passing last Friday. I might be subjective in my assessment of his legacy and I assume it gladly. What is objectivity, anyways?
Safe sailing in eternity, Your Royal Highness.
Ingrid Seward, Prince Philip Revealed, New York, Atria Books, 2020, 384 pages.
I would like to express my wholehearted gratitude to Athena Reekers of Simon & Schuster Canada who always responds favorably to my review copies requests with sincere generosity. Dealing with her contributes to make blogging a very stimulating experience.