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Philip: death of an aristocratic mediocrity

There was nothing remarkable about the Prince, not even his misanthropic gaffes that reflected his upbringing in a degenerate and moribund class — he spent his dull life as an empty vessel for the great machinery of privilege to project its royal myths onto, writes NICK WRIGHT

THE bosses at the BBC must be relieved that, unlike their more commercial competitors, its day-to-day income does not rely on advertising revenue streams tied to their audience viewing figures.

Negative audience reaction to the wall-to-wall coverage of the not entirely unanticipated death of a 99-year-old man has come as a surprise to those coteries of courtiers whose life’s work is to fawn upon the House of Windsor and trumpet every anniversary, every birth, every engagement and of course, every death as if it is of momentous importance to the entire nation.

As it pulled its entire schedule on all its domestic channels BBC2 television took a spectacular 60 per cent hit on its viewing figures.

BBC1 suffered a smaller drop but ITV too lost 60 per cent of its Friday night audience.

Even the marginally more iconoclastic Channel 4 suffered a hit as audience fatigue morphed into outrage at the corporate collapse into organised sycophancy.

Turning contrived reality on its head, the highest viewing figure was achieved by Channel 4’s Goggle Box which netted a record 4.2 million viewers, fittingly for a programme that allows its audience the guilty pleasure of watching people much like themselves transformed into TV performers with a mandate to take the mickey out of the great and good.

With a record-breaking 100,000 complaints, the BBC’s audience reaction facility was overwhelmed by complainants upset by losing the closing session of Master Chef, an episode of EastEnders and in a low blow to the sanctity of tradition, Gardener’s World.

It is a morbid symptom of a decaying political Establishment that every politician felt the pressure to join in this spectacle of hypocrisy, to pretend that the passing of this well-attested reactionary bigot, patrician patroniser of every commoner he met and lifelong leech on the public purse is a matter for national mourning.

Particularly unedifying is the sordid spectacle of the Right Honourable Sir Keir Starmer, nominally leader of a party that bears the abject appellation “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” cancelling political activity and election campaigning in a measure that makes absolutely explicit the perverse principle that the party of labour should desert its duty as tribune of the people while a propaganda machine in the service of hereditary wealth and unelected power is given unbridled license.

Reprising his year-long schtick Sir Starmer said: “In supporting the Humble Address, I would like to echo the remarks made by the Prime Minister and on behalf of my party, to come together today in appreciation of a life well-lived.

“A life of service and of duty. A life that shaped modern Britain and provided much-needed stability to our national story.”

He went on conventionally enough to express the human feelings we all might have for an elderly woman now widowed: “My thoughts, first and foremost, are with Her Majesty the Queen and the royal family.”

And then he veered off into la-la land to describe Prince Philip as “a man of many titles: Duke of Edinburgh. Lord High Admiral. A Royal Commander. Baron of Greenwich.”

True enough. Philip was decorated with titles, gold-braided uniforms and medals (some of which he properly earned in combat operations in the war which pitched his adopted nation against his many German relatives and in laws).

But the full list of titles with which Philip was born, acquired and abandoned tells us something about the archaic structures of power and privilege which prop up the grand spectacle of British royalty.

Philip was born on June 10 1921, the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice, the daughter of Prince Louis of Battenberg.

Battenberg is in Hesse, just north of the pleasant university town of Marburg.

Thus he was connected through family with assorted German and Austrian “nobility,” the Russian tsarist ruling clan and with the usual connections to the royal families of Europe.

Among the many conceits which appear important to people in courtly circles, he was thus deemed to possess more “royal blood” than his wife.

To say that he was born into a dysfunctional family is to put it mildly. His father, a senior officer in the Greek army, was the son of King George of Greece, whose father was King Christian IX of Denmark which is how Philip got the old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon name of Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.

In the revolutionary fallout from the first world war the disgraced Andrew was court martialled and banished from Greece for life.

That is how the young Philip pitched up, temporarily in Britain and then France. His mother developed mental illness and was committed to a clinic and his father became what the Daily Telegraph courteously describes as “something of a boulevardier.”

This, the respectful organ of conservative views opined, was because he was “traumatised by his treatment at the hands of the Greek revolutionaries and depressed by exile.”

It was here that the intimate familial links which connect Europe’s royal families came to the aid of the young prince.

Taken in by his grandmother, the Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, he lived in Kensington Palace, was sent to prep school in Cheam and eventually privately educated in Germany and then at the odd Gordonstoun School in Scotland — the same one that shaped the development of the present-day heir apparent.

After his sister Cecile — married to the Grand Duke of Hesse and Rhine — was killed in a plane crash, he was photographed walking at the head of the funeral cortege with half a dozen uniformed German officers including the husband of his younger sister Sophia, Prince Christoph of Hesse-Cassel, in his Nazi SS uniform as the watching crowd gave the Hitler salute.

And when, in 1938, his guardian George Milford Haven died, he was taken under the wing of the deceased’s young brother Lord Louis Mountbatten from the repurposed German Battenberg family.

The Battenberg tribe were anglicised into Mountbattens in the same process that saw the German character of the British empire’s royal family changed from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor.

In the following year circumstance or contrivance put the 19-year-old cosmopolitan — now inducted into the Royal Navy as a “neutral foreigner” — in the company of the 13-year-old princess Elizabeth.

After the war the now blooded naval officer was posted to Britain to press his suit. He got a free transfer from the Greek Orthodox Church to the Church of England and was rebranded as His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Order of the Garter and created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.

Job done. And in a unspoken tribute to the anti-fascist sentiments of a British people who had just endured years of struggle against the Nazi regime the newly minted British subject’s surviving sisters, still married to their corps of princeling Nazi functionaries, were told to stay away from the wedding.

If there is any truth in the words Starmer spoke — that the duke loved this country and Britain loved him in return — it is because for seven decades a massive machinery of mystification has been at work to create a mountain of myths.

In much the same way that is impossible to see inside another’s marriage it is impossible to arrive at an informed judgement about Philip’s real life.

We can leave that to the Mail on Sunday that, among a bourgeois press dedicated to “respectable” myth-making, has the franchise to speculate about the prince’s extracurricular interests and the identities of an apparent grand assembly of amorati.

There is a substantial industry under way to present his occasionally reported racist comments, misogynist meanderings and misanthropic musings as the charming eccentricities of an old man long relegated to an essentially ceremonial role in life.

But as Marx said: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

A reasonable speculation might be that someone brought up in his circumstances might well have formed hostile ideas about republicans and revolutionaries, that educated in the rampantly collaborationist and pro-Nazi ruling circles of the pre-war European ruling classes, he might hold to the conventional collection of reactionary ideas and even add a few more to the basic ideological armoury of a degenerate class.

It doesn’t matter for a moment what he thought or even what he did. Apart from his military service, his long life is without consequence.

His role was to be a canvas upon which showmen in the service of our ruling class projected a magic lantern performance that stands not a minute’s serious scrutiny but which plays an essential role in upholding a system of hereditary power and property.

Indeed, in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in his discussion of the 1851 accession to power in republican France by Louis Napoleon, Marx commented on the “circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.”

Nick Wright blogs at


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