LONDON — Elizabeth and Philip were married the year I was born — 1947 — when Britain’s deference toward its royal family had not yet been exposed to the merciless shredding that was to come. Back then, my own family might almost have seen itself reflected, albeit remotely, in their lives.
Like Prince Philip, whose funeral is on Saturday, my father had served in World War II, on deployments that were so protracted that, my mother recalled, she went three years without seeing him. In London, Buckingham Palace was bombed. So, too, were the rowhouses in Barrow-in-Furness in northwestern England where my aunts, uncles and grandparents lived, close to the shipyards targeted by the German Air Force.
When Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, we clustered around a small black-and-white television at a neighbor’s home to follow what was billed as the country’s first coronation to be broadcast live. Certainly, it was a moment of pomp that seemed to fete Britain’s re-emergence from postwar deprivation.
British Broadcasting Corporation received about 100,000 complaints about its television coverage of the event when it canceled its scheduled programming in favor of blanket coverage of Prince Philip’s life and his death at the age of 99. Some people likened the obituary programming to what might be expected in North Korea.
Broadcasters “got the tone completely wrong,” Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent, said in an interview with the rival Channel 4 News. Their hushed voices, he said, suggested that they had assumed the somber mantle of “self-appointed chief pallbearers” whose “sepulchral” utterances would have been more appropriate to a personal bereavement.
the kind of Prince Philip more favored by the script writers of “The Crown” than by official biographers. One of his sons, Prince Andrew, called him the “grandfather of the nation.”
But time and familiarity do not always breed fondness, or heal any wounds left by his statements in a country that has become more diverse. Much of the outpouring of sorrow may well have been directed at the queen, a widow facing the rigors of her reign without her “liege man of life and limb,” as her husband swore to become at her coronation.
Throughout the crises that have threatened to upend the institution she has fought doggedly to secure, Philip had been her “strength and stay all these years,” as the queen said in 1997.
It may be that historians will one day penetrate the fog of obfuscation that shrouds Prince Philip’s role in many of the royal family’s crises, part of the blend of aloofness, formality and pageantry by which the monarchy seeks to survive at the titular helm of an ever-shrinking, post-imperial domain.