Two Steps Behind
‘The mind cannot absorb what the backside cannot endure’.
The Duke of Edinburgh was well-known for his pithy, sometimes caustic, one-liners. And with this one we heartily agree! Anyone obliged to listen to thousands of speeches must feel the same! It sounds as if the funeral he has planned for himself is set to mirror his no-nonsense approach.
Do we mourn his passing? How could we? Our picture of the Duke has depended on media representations of his life – news, documentaries, and of course, the Netflix drama,The Crown. Far from being the model family, the Windsors have often shown themselves to be rather dysfunctional as a unit. The not infrequent scandals in which they have been caught up do not reflect well on them, even given the exploitation of their lives by scandal-hungry media and all of us as consumers. There are fairly reliable stories that he did not always excel as a husband or father. Even though, it is clear that his own childhood was far from ideal, it is difficult for us to feel much empathy or any profound personal connection with him.
If reports are to be believed, the Duke, in his unpredictability, kept the royal house on its toes, especially perhaps the stuffy advisors and assorted equerries. His no-nonsense approach clearly hastened the Royal Family’s reluctant passage into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. His edginess did sometimes show up some of the royal stuffiness for what it was. We know from personal experience with students that his award scheme did empower many young people.
Our attitudes to ‘The Royals’ are increasingly conflicted. In general the family embodies an outdated and hierarchical system of entitlement and preferment which is anathema. The extended court of minor royals and aristocracy is impossible to reconcile with the world of Black Lives Matter, #Me Too, food banks and welfare credit.
But there’s another perspective for people of our age. During our lifetime Prince Philip has always been there, two steps behind the Queen. From the time we saw him at the Coronation, kneeling at his wife’s feet, promising to be her 'liege-man of life and limb...', he has been part of the wallpaper of our lives. Love him or loathe him he has been a constant. His family has sometimes been a source of stability during times of social and political unrest. We hold on to our monarchist credentials but by our fingertips – largely because it’s human for people to want figureheads and it’s likely that republicanism would throw up its own set of non-royal dynasties. Any transition towards it would probably see turbulence on a Brexit-plus scale and we can do without that!
There is, after all, something to be said for a (mostly) quiet presence. For someone to whom we look for a sense of continuity and some idea of where and who we are. For someone who, despite their flaws, we can largely take for granted. Perhaps we need that as both individuals and as a nation.
Prince Philip will have heard many sermons describing God in roughly similar terms.
The very suggestion that there was any parallel would have no doubt produced an unprintable riposte from him. Such a pity we shall not be able to hear it!