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Leader comment: Prince Philip’s values

16 April 2021

FOR someone with a reputation for outspokenness, the Duke of Edinburgh left many things unstated. The most obvious reason for this, of course, was his acute awareness of the often unhealthy obsession of the British public with the Royal Family: how it could hang on every statement that issued forth from within it, and then analyse it in the harshest light possible. More influential than that, though, was his natural reticence on matters of importance. Accounts of conversations about faith with various church dignitaries over the years suggest a questioning, intellectual approach; but this was simply another aspect of public engagement by a man who, according even to his children, was not accustomed to expressing his private emotions.

Despite the Prince’s determination to remain in the background, much has been written in the past week about his influence on British life and thought. Quite naturally at such times, this can be overstated; but his early expression of concern for the future of the planet provided a vital air of respectability to the environmental movement, which, until that time, was being too easily dismissed as a radical metropolitan fad. Through his work for the World Wide Fund for Nature, he forged a link between conservatism and conservation which challenged those in government who found themselves behind the curve. Under his direction, the Christian Churches, too, were acquainted with the care for creation long exercised by Eastern religions. In another field, the influence of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards cannot easily be exaggerated. Unable to influence the British people directly, he embraced his powerlessness and responded in what might be termed an act of subversiveness: encouraging successive generations of young people to adhere to his values — which, fortunately, were beneficial ones of healthy, outdoor adventure, problem-solving, and self-reliance. It was not for nothing that the former Bishop of Norwich noted his interest in Pelagius.

Most admirable, though, is his support for the Queen. There is no way in which the Queen’s realms can be said to have been ruled by a couple for the past decades; and yet the Queen’s ability to cope with the trials of monarchy was hugely enhanced by her constant companion, counsellor, and friend. When they married in 1947, life expectancy for men was 66. Instead of 40 years, the Queen and Prince Philip have enjoyed 73 years together. Any churches that have allowed prayers for the Queen and the Royal Family to lapse would do well to ensure that prayers continue for their Supreme Governor, as she faces the rest of her reign with a “huge void” instead of her “rock”.

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