The Magazine

Philip the Good

The royal consort as hero.

Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By TRACY LEE SIMMONS
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Prince Philip, despite his permanently secondary role, has tried to make his own mark on British life, an effort that began straightaway. From the beginning he made himself a confident presence on the stump, one at first far more confident than that of his wife, and has made a gradual attempt over the years to modernize the monarchy, whatever that may mean from one decade to the next. Early on he sought to be, as one writer has dubbed him, a “Prince Albert of the jet age,” an advocate for science able to turn “statistics into patriotism” for a public in need of both instruction and bucking up. Even his famous gaffes can still endear him to a world now weary of sanitized, politically approved speech. (To a British student who had made a hike through Papua New Guinea, he said, “So you managed not to get eaten, then?” Of a Scottish driving instructor, he asked, “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”)

But his most auspicious role—aside from siring the next heir to the throne—will probably be the example he has set of smiling, unostentatious loyalty to family and country alike, an example the coming flock of royals would do well to heed.

Tracy Lee Simmons, author of Climbing Parnassus, is writing a book about Thomas Jefferson.