Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has died aged 99. What a life, what a century, what a couple!
The longest-serving Royal Consort in British history, Prince Philip has always inspired me. And no, unfortunately, I never met him; and worse for me, I never shared any topics we were apparently both very fond of. However, I would like to share my viewpoint with you, and in a way pay my own tribute.
Several fundamental psychological attributes and steps come to my mind when I analyse his life, and most certainly his chaotic childhood. Attributes that are very inspiring to anyone who has had to endure loss, abandonment, emotional neglect, rejection; while being loved at the same time, just like the young Prince Philip.
Prince Philip’s continuous long, thin and tall figure and his way of springing back into shape after each tough obstacle he had to face reminds me of an easily stretched rubber band. Born on a dining table on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921, he was supposed to have a royal upbringing quite similar to the one Queen Elizabeth had (before her uncle abdicated). Instead, his grandfather, King George I of Greece, was fatally shot in 1913 and Prince Philip’s uncle, Constantine I, became king.
Constantine I was then forced to abdicate in 1922, just a year after Prince Philip’s birth. From then on, this lovely royal toddler would have no other choice but to be handled by several different hands of several different caregivers in several different countries. No home, no holding environment, no good-enough mother, even though he was loved by his parents and family.
The political context he was born in left him with no constant love and no residence in the end. On top of that, as a consequence of the exile his family had to endure, fleeing Greece for France, Paris (not as straight though), Prince Philip’s mother suffered from schizophrenia and was later sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland.
Prince Philip was alone again. He was about 10 years old; his father ending his role as a husband and as a father altogether right after. And yet, he is living proof that despite an extremely tumultuous childhood, one can build a happy and long-lasting marriage filled with true love and loyalty as well as find a meaningful home.
After such a traumatic childhood, a teenager could easily get lost and find toxic or unhealthy ways to compensate. One will never know how young Prince Philip truly felt at the time (apart from his family I guess) but we can all imagine the pain he most probably experienced then. And if that weren’t enough, when he was 16, his sister Cecile, her husband, and their two children, were killed in a plane crash.
A few months later, his mother’s elder brother George Mountbatten, the 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, who had taken care of him since his mother’s departure, died suddenly of bone marrow cancer at the age of 45. The Prince later said: ‘The family broke up. My mother was ill, my sisters were married, my father was in the south of France. I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’
It most certainly wasn’t as simple as he claimed but he surely had no other choice but to accept these devastating tragedies to move forward. Acceptance is part of the grieving process one needs to go through after a loss. And Prince Philip had so many losses to grieve.
As he wrote to then Princess Elizabeth: ‘To have been spared in the war and seen victory, to have been given the chance to rest and to re-adjust myself, to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly, makes all one’s personal and even the world’s troubles seem small and petty.’ At long last, he was offered the chance to love, be loved, find a home, a country, and settle down.
Prince Philip’s awfully long and traumatic childhood may explain why a man of his calibre accepted a role displaying a strong man ‘two steps behind’ the Queen in a patriarchal society. A man who was actually really close to his wife and had a powerful role thanks to Queen Elizabeth and to him. He was able to carve out a successful and modern part in the Firm.
In 1947, he decided to become a naturalised British citizen and changed his surname to Mountbatten. Out of love for the Queen and the UK, Prince Philip gave up his career and passion in the Royal Navy. I believe he accepted this loss as he had found something he thought he would never get: a caring and steady home and a home country at long last.
For this, Prince Philip knew he needed to find a meaningful purpose. And that is exactly what he did. He participated in the work of many organisations with similar goals: environment (quite revolutionary at the time), youth achievements, athletics. And what a legacy he left behind.
Prince Philip established the youth achievement award in 1956, now known as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The objective is to inspire and transform the lives of young people, from 14–24, through volunteering, physical activities, and expeditions. It runs in more than 140 countries and has helped boost the self-esteem, confidence, sense of security, and careers of millions of young people around the world.
Prince Philip also modernised the British monarchy. He was the one who suggested that Queen Elizabeth’s coronation should be broadcast in 1953 and he accepted a royal family documentary in 1969 (totally revolutionary at the time). He pushed the Royal family to engage more with the public through television and the now famous walkabouts. We have a lot to thank him for.
As I said, I admire Prince Philip’s contributions to the British society and the world as a whole. I also admire his courage, dignity, sense of duty, authenticity, and of course, his witty sense of humour.
He will be greatly missed and my thoughts go to his family and the Queen who has lost the love of her life and ‘rock’ (she was only 13 when she first met him).
I also think Prince Philip’s legacy is about hope, resilience, and transformation. He is living proof we can all reshape our lives, ways of thinking and sustain a balanced life despite seemingly overwhelming and ineluctable challenges. Now, ‘let’s get on with the job’.
Margareth Van Steenlandt is a certified counsellor, personal development and business coach.