The passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is a very sad loss to the country – and the Commonwealth. The man who stood by the Queen’s side for 73 years of marriage, and who has died just two months short of his 100th birthday, is worthy of great honour.
He gave up a career which could have seen him rise to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy and chose instead to help steer the monarchy through many choppy waters. The ‘forthright’ advice he has given the Queen over the years (her description) has doubtless served to steady the ship.
But I believe that perhaps his greatest legacy will be his role in what the Sydney Morning Herald has called ‘an enduring love story’. The Queen was just 13 when they met in 1939, 82 years ago, and theirs is a powerful testament to the beauty and wonder of the God-given institution of marriage which has been so tragically undermined ever since their 1947 wedding.
Its true worth was demonstrated through the undying support and devotion the royal couple showed one another. Their partnership was a near-perfect example of the biblical purpose for marriage – of a man and woman coming together as “one flesh” (Gen 2:24) in order to provide mutual strength and stability.
Though in one sense playing second fiddle to his wife, Prince Philip was the no-nonsense figure behind the Sovereign – an action man who spoke his mind and who has inspired millions of young people to take up the challenges of life with boldness and enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, he showed total loyalty and humility in his service to this country while fulfilling his Coronation oath of being fully committed to the Queen, giving up his own rights to the thrones of Denmark and Greece and at the same time playing the leading role in his family. As has been neatly put, he decided he would wear the trousers so she could wear the crown.
If there was a secret to the success of their marriage, former Archbishop of York John Sentamu spelled it out on the Andrew Marr Show, explaining that in Christian marriage, there is a third person involved – the Lord Jesus Christ – and that this was evidently the case with the royal couple. The Duke himself had made this clear to the Archbishop by saying: “Yes, of course, the Queen and I are so strong in our belief in Christ.”
The fruit of such faith was dramatically demonstrated on their historic tour of Ireland ten years ago. It was a visit widely seen as a gesture of reconciliation with a nation with whom we have dealt harshly, and unwisely, in the past.
The Prince himself was anxious to forgive the IRA for murdering his beloved mentor and father-figure Lord Mountbatten in 1979, and he later sought out Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness for this very purpose.
Former Irish President Mary McAleese saw the tour as a ‘pilgrimage of reconciliation’ and a mission to heal history, adding that “faith demanded of them that they seek reconciliation and forgiveness” – focusing on the future instead of carrying the baggage of the past, so appropriate in view of the ugly resurgence of violence in Northern Ireland in recent days.
Philip also followed in his mother’s footsteps as a friend of Israel, for which he sometimes came in for criticism. He spoke at many Jewish and pro-Israel events over the years and was the first member of the Royal Family to visit the Jewish state in 1994, when he accepted Israel’s honour of ‘righteous among the nations’ on behalf of his mother, Princess Alice of Greece. She is buried on the Mount of Olives, from which Jesus ascended and to which he will return (Zech 14:4, Acts 1:11). Alice famously saved a Jewish family from the Holocaust by hiding them in her palace and later dedicated herself to God’s service as a nun.
“The Holocaust was the most horrific event in all Jewish history, and it will remain in the memory of all future generations,” Philip said at the time. “It is, therefore, a very generous gesture that also remembered here (at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum) are the many millions of non-Jews, like my mother, who shared in your pain and anguish and did what they could in small ways to alleviate the horror.”
The Prince, meanwhile, will be laid to rest on Saturday (April 17th) at Windsor Castle, where his mother was born in 1885. He set an example in so many ways, even in strictly adhering to COVID rules which prevented grandchildren from visiting him in hospital.
Our hearts go out to the Queen, who will be fortified by her strong Christian faith, to which she has boldly testified in her many Christmas broadcasts. As broadcaster Gyles Brandreth (a friend of the Prince for 40 years) put it, “Her faith is everything to her and (because it was shared) she knows that they will be reunited one day.”
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.