Today we are gripped as a nation by the passing of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, our beloved Prince Philip. We have also lost a feminist icon, and for those of us seeking male role models in the world, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dignified man to emulate.
Setting aside his ribald humour and penchant for occasional gaffes and inappropriate asides, which all served to humanise him, he set a benchmark for all men. To quietly and dutifully support his wife.
When Queen Elizabeth married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, the world was a very different place. At her coronation in 1953, the 31-year-old Duke removed his own coronet, knelt at the feet of the young Queen, and swore an oath of allegiance. “I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, do become your liege man of life and limb and of earthly worship … so help me God.”
He was the ultimate “alpha male”. Tall, devastatingly good-looking, totally confident. But she loved him, and he loved her “completely and unreservedly.”
And the Queen? She may be the first female leader with a global presence. She was surrounded by men in every position of power–her advisors, but also every other head of State. The Duke’s oath of allegiance meant he had to walk two paces behind her for 70 years. His early struggles to come to terms with this subservient role are well-documented and understandable, given the times, and given his personality. That he mastered it with such elan is a testament to his success as a man.
He was not weak. He was her strength and succour. You could see in her gaze how she adored him. Yes, men, that is more than enough. The love and respect of a woman that you adore is more than enough. Philip’s belief in commitment and duty carried him through, became the bedrock of one of the most important marriages in British history.
This is a man who gave up his promising naval career to be the quiet strength by her side. This is a man in a patriarchal world who served the ultimate matriarch. Here was the only man in England who was not able to pass his surname onto his children. This is nothing new to most women in the world. And yet, how few men have done this?
For seven decades he stood loyally by the side of the most iconic woman in the world, supporting her, supporting the nation. If that doesn’t make him a feminist icon, I don’t know what does.
Where are we going to find more Prince Philips? By educating our sons to be respectful, by teaching our daughters to dream. That can be his legacy. That a great man can thrive in the shadow of the one he loves.
Goodbye dear Philip. Thank you for your service to us all.