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Life and Legacy of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

by Daniel Hesp

On the morning of April 9th, Prince Philip passed away. Political parties paused in their campaigning for May’s elections, the House of Commons was recalled a day early for formal tributes and media channels cancelled scheduled programming to run tribute coverage of his life and death. In Scotland, political leaders have expressed their condolences and parties have suspended their Holyrood election campaigns. For almost three quarters of a century, the Prince was a supportive presence for the Queen, a figurehead of the monarchy and an international public servant.

From his school days, Prince Philip had a long and close association with Scotland.

And so, in honour of the Duke’s contributions to the United Kingdom, Commonwealth, and his close ties to Scotland and Aberdeenshire, we look back on the extraordinary life and legacy of the Duke of Edinburgh.

Credit to Allan Warren on WikiCommons

Contrary to where he ultimately finished, the Prince had an unsteady upbringing. Born to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenburg, the Prince was an only son among four daughters. Upon the expulsion of his father from Greece, during which the baby Philip was smuggled out of the family home in a box of apples, the family relocated to Paris, where he lived for six years.

In the early 1930s Prince Philip attended Salem School in Germany, under Dr Kurt Hahn, who was famous for his innovative educational techniques, which were focussed on physical education and discipline alongside academia. Dr Hahn was forced to flee Germany to Britain after speaking out against Hitler, opening a new public school in Elgin, Scotland. Prince Philip followed. Gordonstoun was to be a refuge amid the chaos of Philip’s early life, and an environment in which he thrived. During his time at the school, Philip became Captain of both the hockey and the cricket teams as well as Guardian (head boy). Latterly, Philip remembered loving the military discipline and ethos of the school, saying that it brought him “intense happiness and excitement”. After graduating from Gordonstoun at 17-years old, Philip answered his military calling and joined the Royal Navy. He came 16th out of 34 candidates in the Navy’s Dartmouth college exams, and later distinguished himself as the foremost candidate in his class. It was also here that he first met the young Princess Elizabeth.

At the beginning of the second world war, Philip was prevented from joining for political reasons. As a member of the Greek royal family, he couldn’t be seen to be fighting on neutral Greece’s behalf. However, once Greece joined the war, Philip became one of the Navy’s youngest First Lieutenants, seeing action in both Libya and Sicily. He further distinguished himself during the allied landings in 1943 where, according to the Times, he helped save many lives by launching a wooden raft to burn as a decoy target for a German bomber.

While on leave, Philip was consistently invited to stay at Windsor. So began his fractious relationship with the press, as his relationship with Princess Elizabeth blossomed.

While they somewhat callously referred to him as “rough, ill-mannered, uneducated”, ostensibly in the interest of the Princess, Elizabeth herself became besotted. In a gesture full of significance, she kept a photograph of Philip on her bedside table.

Then, in 1946, Philip was invited up to Balmoral to be ‘secretly’ engaged. The engagement was announced in 1947, and Philip renounced his right to the Greek and Danish thrones, taking an anglicised version of his mother’s name of Mountbatten. He also became a British citizen at this time, further committing himself to a new identity and public profile. In marrying the Princess, who was to become Queen prematurely, Philip unknowingly traded a promising life of military service for a vastly dissimilar life of public service. The nature of his legacy was transformed.

Nonetheless, the Prince was to acclimate to his new role. During his time as the longest serving royal consort in British history, he contributed massively to various organisations, including 15 years as president of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Another of these was the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, which he launched in partnership with his old headmaster and friend, Dr Hahn. From its inception, the scheme encouraged young people to discover their potential with a focus on the great outdoors. The DofE Award reached across the globe in an unprecedented way, with more than four million participants to date.

New Zealand’s Prime minister, Jacinda Ardern paid tribute to the scheme, saying Philip would be “fondly remembered for the encouragement he gave to so many young New Zealanders through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award”. It speaks to the Duke’s impact, that young people on the other side of the world were being encouraged to experience the outdoors. Closer to home, the Welsh Rugby Captain and Gold DofE Award holder, Alun Wyn Jones said that “the award itself will live on and [Philip’s] legacy will live long in the memories of everyone involved in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.” Through the DofE scheme, Prince Philip’s own love of the outdoors, that was conceptualised in the hills and lochs of Scotland during his own youth, continues to inspire generations.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s title signified his close bond with Scotland, connecting him with its capital. Edinburgh University also enjoyed his patronage, where he was chancellor for 57 years. The University remembered him as, “[overseeing] the development and growth of the University and [giving] invaluable support to students, staff and senior University officials.”

What’s more, Prince Philip’s influence extended throughout Scotland to our very own Aberdeen University. In 2012 both Prince Philip and the Queen came to Aberdeen to oversee the opening of the new Sir Duncan Rice Library.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “Prince Philip’s commitments to countless charities and organisations […] in Scotland will leave a profound mark on its people."

By the end of a long career in public service, Prince Philip had managed to carve his name into the world’s cultural memory as one of the quintessential figures of British tradition and selflessness. A fact that is evident in the outpouring of praise and remembrance in world leaders and citizens in countries everywhere. For an exile who began life in a precarious position, he became a balanced rock, outlasting 14 prime ministers and providing support to a post-war Britain through to modern day. Whereas some of his remarks were tactless at times, they were few and far between in a legacy of distinguished care for others.

The Prince of Wales described his father as “a much loved and appreciated figure”; Princess Anne, that he would leave a “legacy which can inspire us all”; and Prince William said that he was lucky to have “not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence […] both through good times and the hardest days.”

Through these memories, Prince Philip is survived by the Queen, four children, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.


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