Melanie McDonagh

Prince Philip epitomised a very British stoicism

Prince Philip epitomised a very British stoicism
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So, Prince Philip has died, at home in Windsor Castle, thank goodness, and the Queen could be near him at the end. That’s something to be grateful for. The other thing to be grateful for is a life well lived.

More than a man has passed with Prince Philip. A culture, the sensibility of his time, a reticence about emotions, a sturdy willingness to put your best foot forward, has died with him. He was Phil the Greek for his contemporaries, with rather an interesting back story. But, for the generations that succeeded him, he epitomised a very British stoicism.

For an awful lot of the nation he has been a presence in the collective consciousness for as long as they can remember, the perpetual figure by the Queen’s side. Those who are a bit older will cherish the memory of his gaffes, or rather, his plain speaking. They are a reminder of a time where the subject of race wasn’t off limits in normal discourse, nor were many other things. 

For quite some time, he hasn’t said anything out of turn, though it didn’t take much wit to imagine what he made of his grandson and his American wife. That’s part of the sadness of today. Now it’s just the Queen who represents the values of their generation: the mustn’t grumble, think of others worse off than you, just get on with things, generation. One can only hope that the Queen inherits her mother’s genes and lasts as long as she did. Because now she is alone as the bearer of those values.

It only takes a cursory look at Prince Philip’s children and grandchildren to remind us that his way of looking at the world – a product of his time but also of his war service – departs with him. For one thing, the Prince and the Queen were married for 73 years, notwithstanding their undoubted vicissitudes. But for that generation, marriage was something more than the pursuit of happiness; it was a matter of commitment. We’ve lost that.

Part of the change between Prince Philip and his grandchildren is down to the influence of Princess Diana, but part of the change is that British society has created a royal family in its own image. Prince Philip, prickly, testy, outspoken (when he was allowed to be) and motivated without even thinking about it by a sense of duty, was the antithesis of the spirit of the age. He only retired, remember, in 2017. But if you want to see how Britain has changed in half a century, put Prince Philip next to Prince Harry and compare and contrast.

Prince Philip was also a Christian (his mother was something of a saint). Requiescat in pace.