There are not many people who in their lifetime have had films made about them, had their image stamped onto a coin or had their obituary printed. But then not that many people have maintained an arduous work schedule in a highly visible job to the age of 96, as has Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and consort of Queen Elizabeth II who retired this week. He has royally earned the right to rest (some would say so has his wife, but then she’s only 91).
The 5-pound coin struck to mark the occasion bears the words “not for self but country” in Latin, a most appropriate motto for an aristocratic immigrant who served in the Royal Navy but left to marry a royal heiress, and then, as her consort, made 22,219 of the sorts of formal appearances that royals do for a living in these post-feudal times, from cutting ribbons to visiting distant lands. That was in addition to the many formal occasions on which he has accompanied the queen.
The shift to royal duties never fully tamed the old salt who joined the Royal Navy at age 18, and his caustic wit produced a long list of quips and gaffes — some famously inappropriate, such as when he said to the president of Nigeria, dressed in traditional robes, “You look like you’re ready for bed!”
At his last public engagement, inspecting muscular marines who had competed in a series of endurance feats, he told them, “You all should be locked up.”
The role of monarchies in democracies will be debated as long as they persist. But of those countries that still have them (a dozen in Europe), Britain is the one most difficult to imagine without a crowned ruler and all the medieval ritual and pageantry. And as long as they exist, it is better that royals be dedicated to what they do, like Queen Elizabeth and the dashing naval officer she fell in love with at age 13.
By curious coincidence, the laudatory press on Prince Philip’s retirement (which included the accidental publication of a draft obituary in The Daily Telegraph) coincided with reports about another prince consort, Prince Henrik of Denmark, who after long kvetching about not being named a king announced that he did not want to be…