Some foreshadow others. Until his death, Prince Philip remains the husband, the companion, the shadow of the one he married 73 years ago, the Queen of England. The man was certainly relieved. His outspokenness, his outbursts and his clumsiness betrayed a strong character that he tried, as best he could, to relegate to the background in order to maintain his rank. This strict sense of duty – whether admired, hated, or royally prefers to ignore the British monarchy – also made him the man of another era.
This time considered the monarchical institution to be obvious. And the performance of the office suffered, in the eyes of the Duke of Edinburgh, no exception. “Never complain, never justify yourself” (“Never complain, never explain”) remained the maxim of a generation destined to remain impassive, constant, faithful to its mission to embody the nation.
A new role for London
But the death of Prince Philip, in April 2021, is part of a time that is quite different for the United Kingdom. Apart from the royal family, the factors of stability are becoming more and more evanescent. For a week, the streets of Belfast have seen more clashes. A violent era, which was believed to be over, has resurfaced thanks to post-Brexit uncertainties. In a month’s time, the Scots will go to the polls to express, in all likelihood, their renewed thirst for independence. Between London and Brussels, tensions have only partially subsided, and the European Parliament has yet to ratify the treaty governing the long-term relationship. Finally, on the international scene, London is looking for a new role.
Over so much uncertainty hangs over and over again in the eyes of many Britons, monarchical imagery as the backbone of identity. The departure of the Duke of Edinburgh thus appears as the dress rehearsal of another and ineluctable transition. When Elizabeth II is gone, what will be left to allow the country to come together? The succession is not obvious because the following generations have neither the aura of the sovereign, nor the demonstrated ability to conceal their intimate torments, however legitimate they may be. The prospect of the void that the Queen will one day leave foreshadows the extraordinary challenge that awaits the United Kingdom to find a new rallying point, now that it has chosen to live only for and by itself.