By Obadiah Mailafia
During the royal coronation at Westminster Abbey in November 1947, Prince Philip knelt down before his wife and vowed to be her “liege man of life and limb” — her faithful servant for life. Many of my gentle readers have asked me why he himself was never crowned king. The reason is simple. In the constitutional conventions of the British monarchy, a female royal consort can be crowned Queen, but a male royal consort cannot become King. We, however, foresee challenges for Camilla Parker Bowles when Prince Charles becomes King.
Having been required to resign from a military career that he loved so much, Philip’s lack of an official role made him feel rather frustrated. The Queen made up for this deficiency by drafting a letter patent which decreed that, in all matters of precedent, he shall be treated as next to her on all occasions. As required by protocol, he always walked a step behind Her Majesty.
Philip also wanted his children to bear his own family name of Mountbatten. Churchill and the government preferred Windsor. A compromise was reached in Mountbatten-Windsor. He complained bitterly that he had become a “bloody amoeba”.
Like all marriages, the royal couple had their own ups and downs. Britain itself had gone through triumphs and disasters. The post-war years were filled with glorious optimism. The Suez debacle in 1956, however, signaled the end of Empire. The sixties brought with them a kind of old-world weltschmerz. Britain became “the sick man of Europe”. Accession to the European Common Market in 1973 brought some renewed hope. In the eighties, Margaret Thatcher and the New Tories reinvented Britain as an entrepreneurial, market-driven economy. But it was a new form of capitalism without a soul.
After 47 years of membership of the EU, the British voted to leave in June 2016. After prolonged, agonising negotiations, Brexit formally came into force on force on 31 January, 2020. We predict that the Commonwealth will become even more important for British trade and diplomacy in the decades to come.
For many of us, Britain is regarded as the Mother Country. The Queen remains the titular head of the Commonwealth: an organisation that has endured as a symbol of hope in a divided world. She is also Head of State for 16 Commonwealth realms ranging from Canada to Australia, New Zealand and the islands of the seas. Philip was her constant companion during most royal visits to the Commonwealth dominions.
During the Golden anniversary of their wedding in November 1997, Her Royal Majesty eulogised the prince as “my strength and stay in all these years”. He once confided to a friend that his job, “first, second and last” was never to let Elizabeth down. They have endured so much together: Her late sister Margaret’s troubled life; the failed marriages of Charles and Diana and that of her daughter, Princess Anne. Diana’s tragic death in an automobile accident in a Parisian tunnel in August 1997 cast a shadow. The recent estrangement of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, from the royal household have dented the image of the royal family. These events may deepen the uncertainties regarding the future of the monarchy.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip first visited Nigeria in 1956. Coincidently, my own parents’wedding took place in the grand old church in Randa during the week of that royal visit in February 1956. Mother Dearest told me that the glow of the royal visit cast a glorious light over their own wedding. The second time the royal couple came to our country was in December 2003, on the occasion of the Commonwealth Summit in Abuja.
Prince Philip was known to be prone to embarrassing gaffes. In our age of political correctness, many people found them rather offensive. For example, he told our own President Olusegun Obasanjo during a state visit to Britain in 2003: “You look like you’re ready for bed” (in reference to his flowing agbada). Addressing a gathering of the General Dental Council, he proudly announced that he was the inventor of “dentopedology”, which he defined as “the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it”. He belonged to a bygone age.
Despite his foibles, the late Duke took his dharma seriously, performing, according to Buckingham Palace sources, 22,191 solo engagements, 637 overseas visits and 5,493 speeches. He believed that “the purpose of monarchy is to serve the people, not the other way around”. He once told a Canadian audience: “If at any stage people feel that the monarchy has no further part to play, then for goodness sake let’s end the thing on amicable terms.”
A keen outdoorsman, he promoted physical exercise and fitness. He also took on charitable causes, ranging from the arts to the sciences, sports and wildlife. He was for many years the head of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF. He will also be remembered for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme that has helped more than two million youths find a meaning and a purpose for their lives.
While the Queen reigned as monarch, he ruled the household. Decisions regarding the children were largely his. He also took on the task of managing the Queen’s vast assets, valued at over $500 million; including Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham. He also pursued hobbies such as sports, painting and aviation. He painted a remarkable impressionist watercolour of the Queen having breakfast by herself. He also reputedly loved long walks and reading – he was said to have a large collection of history books.
He built close friendships with noted businesspeople, including the chemist Harold Hartley, with whom her created the Oxford Study Conferences to address the living conditions of factory workers.
According to the writer Hugo Vickers: “Prince Philip applied a military (or perhaps naval) logicality to all he did. If he took on a project, he backed it thoroughly and saw it through. He relished an argument and accepted nothing at face value. He possessed the impatience of a man who was eager to implement his plans. He was quick to spot incompetence and ignorance. He had a particular dislike of chairpersons of companies…if they had not mastered their brief.”
Right from the early years of their marriage, rumours were rife about other women. The duke was a socialite who enjoyed partying and revelling with his friends. But there has been no evidence of infidelity. According to the former Archbishop of York, Rt. Rev. John Sentamu who was close to him, Philip was a man of deep faith who had knowledge of and appreciation for, holy scripture.
According to royal historian Robert Lacey: “Their life together was always built on regular separations”, including, apparently, separate bedrooms from very early on. Despite the rumours and innuendoes, he remained to the very end her soulmate, lover, best friend, confidante and trusted adviser. Until he moved to the royal estate at Sandringham in his last days, they unfailingly had afternoon tea and dinner together.
Asked the secret of his long and happy marriage, he was quoted as saying: “Tolerance is the one essential ingredient…You can take it from me, the Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance”.
On the Pacific island of Tanna in Vanuatu, he was worshipped as a reincarnation of one of the ancestral gods. Prince William was once asked to sum up his grandfather. He responded: “Just one word — legend!” Even in death, the legend lives on. And it will live on for as long as England endures.
Prince Philip was buried in the crypt at St George’s Cathedral in the ancient grounds of Windsor Castleon Saturday April 17, after a family funeral. The sunset of an era. Sic transit gloria mundi.