Prince Philip is dead at 99. Good riddance. In a parasitic family infested with rank reactionaries, that the prince stood out from the pack tells you something about what an obnoxious man he was.
The British press have in recent years regularly run pieces listing the dozens of “embarrassing gaffes” uttered by the prince in his 69 years as the consort of Britain’s monarch. But gaffe doesn’t begin to cover it. A gaffe is getting drunk at an office do and unknowingly criticising someone to their partner. What came out of this man’s mouth was nothing but filth. It was systematic, repeated over many decades and entirely predictable.
Philip was an unrepentant holdout from the age when “Wogs begin in Calais”. There was his statement to a British student in China in 1986: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes”. Asking a British trekker in Papua New Guinea in 1998: “You managed not to get eaten then?” Asking Australian Aboriginal elder William Brin in Queensland in 2002: “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
Above all was the stench of class privilege associated with the prince. The sycophants for the royal family in media outlets like the British Daily Telegraph tried to portray Philip as a no-nonsense “man of the people”. But Philip hated the plebs. He held a dim view of democracy, reportedly telling the vicious Paraguayan dictator General Stroessner in 1963: “It’s a pleasure to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people”. In 1981, when unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain hit three million, Philip opined:
“A few years ago, everybody was saying we must have more leisure, everyone’s working too much. Now everybody’s got more leisure time they’re complaining they’re unemployed. People don’t seem to make up their minds what they want.”
On a tour of a community centre in London in 2015, Philip asked a group of female Asian volunteers: “So who do you sponge off then?”.
“Works hard” would never be an apt description of Philip. On his retirement from public life in May 2017, the British media reported that he had undertaken 22,219 “engagements” in his capacity as the Duke of Edinburgh over six decades. But most such engagements, involving anything from launching battleships and unveiling plaques at town halls to guzzling drinks and tucking into banquets in the company of other reactionary toffs, lasted on average an hour.
Over 64 years, that comes down to 350 hours a year, less than seven a week. For such exertions, Philip was paid a stipend of £360,000 a year. This was essentially pocket money, given everything he ever did, from travelling internationally to dining at top restaurants, was paid for by someone else.
Philip’s racism, sexism and hatred of the lower orders were only a reflection of the thinking and attitudes that dominated in the British ruling class in the decades of his upbringing. Fascism came naturally to them, and his “gaffes” give some insight into their social world.
It is common knowledge that King Edward VIII was forced to abdicate in 1936 not because of his decision to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorcee—which at that time was a contravention of the British constitution—but because the two of them were fanatically pro-Hitler at a time when the British ruling class could see that a war with Germany was looming. A man who taught the six-year-old Princess (and future Queen) Elizabeth the fascist stiff-arm salute, as Edward did in 1933, was not the look the ruling class now wanted to cultivate in the country’s royal family on the eve of a conflict with the Nazis.
Prince Philip’s mother and father were European bluebloods, part of the same limited gene pool that dominated the royal houses of Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, a major-general in the Greek army, was the younger brother of King Constantine of Greece and a cousin to King George V of Britain. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was a great granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
Philip, the youngest of four children to Andrew and Alice, was born in Corfu at the Greek royal family’s summer house in 1921. He was sixth in line to the Greek throne. At the age of eighteen months, however, Philip and the rest of his family had to flee Greece after a disastrous military campaign in Asia Minor led by his father and uncle. Whisked away from Corfu by the Royal Navy, the family decamped to London and then Paris where Philip spent the next ten years.
Philip’s family in exile were embedded in the circles of German fascism. All three of his sisters married German princes. One, Sophie, married Prince Christoph of Hesse, a Nazi SS member, whose brother, Prince Philipp of Hesse was a member of the SA, Adolf Hitler’s original paramilitary group known as the stormtroopers.
Another sister, Cecile, joined the Nazi Party with her husband George Donatus. They were killed in an aircraft crash in 1937; Hitler and Goebbels sent their condolences to the family, while Goering attended the funeral in person. Philip’s third sister, Theodora, married Berthold, prince of the Duchy of Baden who served in the German army at the outbreak of World War Two. But for chance, Philip, a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, could also have ended up serving in the German military like his brothers-in-law.
Instead, with his father disappearing with his mistress to play the tables in Monte Carlo and his mother confined to a psychiatric asylum in Switzerland suffering manic depression, Philip was sent to boarding school in Britain in 1932, where he spent his teenage years, first in Surrey and then at Gordonstoun in Scotland, where he became head boy.
On completing high school in 1938, Philip was taken under the wing of his uncle Louis Mountbatten, later Viceroy of India. Philip entered officer training in the British naval college before joining the Royal Navy in 1939. World War Two was spent on active service in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, vital arteries for the British empire.
So it was that by the time of his 1947 engagement to Elizabeth Windsor, heir to the British throne, Philip had been thoroughly inculcated with the kinds of rotten prejudices, disdain for the feelings of others and detachment from the cares of most British people that he was to demonstrate for the rest of his life. His “gaffes” were merely the unwitting expression of the social mores of the circles in which he grew up.
Sixty-nine years as royal consort, kept at huge expense to the public to lead a life of waste and self-indulgence, only reinforced Prince Philip’s unlikability, his rude and overbearing manner. What were regarded as outrageous statements by many were the norm in what counts as “high society” in Britain—the royal enclosure at the Ascot races, the royal box at Wimbledon, the “coming out” parties of the debutantes, the country hunts, the London clubs, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, the Henley Royal Regatta, the charity balls and the countless polo matches. To this scum, the rest of us are the unwashed masses.
It says something about the arrogance of the British monarchy that, despite his unerring ability to offend, Prince Philip was never pulled from public life, never confined to some wing of Buckingham Palace never to be exposed to the public again. Now, at least with his too-long delayed death, we will not have to face this awful man again.