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Since doing research for my own novel “Blood and Ink”, I have had many people ask me about different aspects in the novel, as to whether or not some of the events actually happened or not. Of course, as I have stated before, I am a fiction writer not a historian; but it is interesting as a writer to take things from the real life and apply them to an imaginary encounter in a novel.
One of the events in my novel is where Shakespeare and his family went to Coventry for a county fair and to see the players perform a “miracle or mystery” play on the stage. Did they really do this and what was Shakespeare’s knowledge of the old drama of the day?
So this post is about the knowledge he had and an excerpt from my novel of a day when he might have visited Coventry.
What were “miracle and mystery” plays? Craig’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare reads “The miracle play, also widely current in England, shows a different variety of religious drama, although mystery plays and miracle plays shade off gradually into each other and are not different in origin. Miracle plays, as distinguished from mystery plays, are those which tell the stories of the lives and miracles of saints and martyrs. English records are preserved in considerable numbers of plays on St. Katherine, St. Laurence, St. Nicholas, and other saints; but the texts of only two or three have been preserved, and they are not representative. To know what when on dramatically in honor of the saints one must study the plays preserved in French. One finds there a variety of saints’ plays as well as the great Miracle de Notre Dame.
There are also the great group of dramatized allegories of varying lengths, known as the morality plays. A number of them, such as The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Everyman, are still in existence. Moralities were less offensive to the taste of the Reformation than were the mystery and miracle plays so that they had a better chance to survive.”
Shakespeare knew these plays in their old forms, we know this because of his references, along with a bit of ridicule, to various episodes and characters in them. Herod and Termagant, both characters in mystery plays, appear together in Hamlet. Shakespeare compares Falstaff to the Mannington ox which is a reference to the Mannington fair and possible the morals. Falstaff remarks in contempt about Justice Shallow. Both references in I Henry IV of “that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years” and “that old white-bearded Satan” recalls knowledge of the morality plays. When Falstaff refers to the flea on Bardolph’s nose as a black soul burning in hell-fire, he may have been referring to the play of the Last Judgment.
Craig’s book also says: “Shakespeare had opportunity to see the old plays, for the Corpus Christi play was performed annually in Coventry, only fourteen miles from Stratford, until he was sixteen years old. It is no extravagant guess that he joined the throng of those who attended the play at the chief city in Warwickshire. In some places in England the Corpus Christi plays continued to be performed until after the beginning of the seventeenth century in spite of the fact that such plays were obviously “blasted with antiquity.” Shakespeare was a child of his time and therefore looked with amusement, if not contempt, on these old-fashioned folk practices.”
Which brings me to my own interpretation of his family’s visit to Coventry. An excerpt from my novel brings the flavor of the day as the Shakespeare family travels on the road toward Coventry for a Mayday fair.
Excerpt from “Blood and Ink” –
The townspeople of Stratford welcomed the drizzly days of May. The ice covering the banks of the Avon melted and laughter came again to the waters beneath Clopton Bridge. William watched the children splashing and playing, jumping from the Roman stone wall holding the bridge in an arch. The wagon he sat upon clacked across the cobblestones, rocking his family from side to side. They were one short on their journey to Coventry this spring, and he looked to the spot where his sister, Anne, would have sat. Little Anne did not make it through the harsh winter and he missed the dimples in her face.
Gilbert nudged William from his dreaming. “I heard Mother say this would be the last year for our trip to Coventry.”
William shrugged his shoulders. “’Tis the same as last year.”
Gilbert scooted closer and lowered his voice. “Nay, ’tis not the same. Father said the council in Coventry has banned the mystery plays. They see it as an old influence of Catholic Mary. You know, watch the plays and scare the common folk to confession.”
“Well, if ’tis banned, then why do we go?”
Gilbert looked to their father whose back was to them as he rallied the horses to Coventry with a click of his tongue. “Father still clings to it, know you this?”
William frowned and pulled his coat closer around his shoulders, still feeling a chill in his bones. Gooseflesh raised on his forearms as he thought of his father’s descent, the meeting with Edmund Campion and the testament he saw his father tuck above a rafter in his workshop three years ago. So much had changed since that talk with his father. Foremost, the capture of Campion. William remembered seeing his father stagger in late from a tavern, his cheeks pale and ashy, but not from too much ale. John slumped in a chair, hanging his head over his hands. Mary and William gathered near to him, sitting on the hearth and urging him to speak. When the words came out, what a tale he relayed.
The lower lid of John’s eyes reddened. “Walsingham arrested Campion, and many others. Edward sent word that his sources at the Tower reported for the past month they subjected Campion to thumbscrews and the clenching jaws of the Scavenger’s Daughter before throwing him into a pit below the White Tower. There is more. Campion crumbled and delivered names to his torturers. After his confession, they dragged him to Tyburn where they burned his innards and quartered him into four parts. His head now sits as food for the ravens atop the ramparts of London Bridge. Edward fears for us all, for the Queen’s wrath will descend upon Warwickshire, headed up by that sinister man, Walsingham. We must learn to suspect strangers in our midst.”
William found it impossible to care about the death of the Jesuit. His thoughts continued dwelling on pursuing his nagging desire for the stage. A day did not pass without his mind tracing over the peculiar dream he had several years earlier in the forest at Park Hall. Yet, his family needed money and, as the eldest, he had to find work. In between tanning hides for his father’s gloving work, setting traps for hares in Charlecote forest, and packing wool in woven bags, he managed a few chances to walk the boards at Burbage’s tavern. The plays usually brief, always staying to the classic lines of Plautus or Seneca, but just enough to keep his blood stirring.
John Shakespeare hid well the cause of his fall from the rest of the family. The thought made William’s skin crawl, for in his father’s demise he brought them all down. His mother turned into a wafting specter, ashy and non-existent, while his siblings bumped about their lives grasping for semblances of their identities, the way for a family of an ambitious man whose star plummets. William squared his shoulders and jaw, setting down a promise in his mind.
I shall never travel that path. When I marry, my family will never suffer from my ambition.
Within the hour, the cart rallied around Wiltshire Wood where the oak tree girths widen and the whispering tales of thieves in the trees fill the air. They topped the hill overlooking a fresh culled wheat field just south of Coventry, green and lush with new growth, and the lilting music of days long past drifted on the wind. Old Celtic ballads plucked upon lutes and lyres, piping and drumming surged through the gathering crowds, beckoning their pagan past. William stood up in the cart and held his hand over his eyes, shielding the spring sun, and scanned the field for the stage. In the distance, past the maypoles adorned with a rainbow of dyed ribbons, two green banners flapped in the breeze embroidered with the arms of the Earl of Leicester. William’s blood raced. He clasped his hands together and laughed, grabbing hold of Gilbert’s shirt.
“Look there, ’tis Leicester’s Men on the stage. If you look for me, there is where I will be.”
William jumped from the cart and sprinted across the emerald field. As he approached, the sights and sounds of players drowned out all notice of the festival. Richard Burbage, William’s longtime friend, saw him from afar and waved to him.
“Will, come join us!”
William touched his hand to the stage, feeling the knots and the grain as he soaked in the sensation pounding within him. He watched the players as they walked around him. They were all there, the statues of his idolatry: William Knell, Tobias Mills, and John Singer, decked in costume. Tarleton, adorned in white face paint and rosy cheeks, sat on the steps tapping upon a tabor. William nodded to him as he rounded the corner of the stage.
Richard came up to his elbow and nudged him. “What say you, Will, shall you join us for a line or two?”
A knot formed in his stomach as he cut his stare to Richard. “What do you mean? To perform with Leicester’s Men? Surely they would not allow it.”
Richard pulled a mask from his cloak. “Who is to know? ‘Tis a masque we perform today. You know Sidney’s masque The Lady of May?”
William huffed. “Know it? Has not every child in Christendom suckled on his works?”
Richard handed him the mask. “Then put this on and we will keep the secret. Master Wilson owes me a favor. I will have you on his mark, so come with me.”
The groundlings gathered before the stage and roared at the clown Tarleton’s prologue, his comic ambles full of religious slights tame enough to keep his head and wild enough to thrill the audience. The masque came next and William hit his queues with finesse, even falling upon the gestures and attitudes like natural rote. As the last exeunt passed and the final bow before a cheering crowd, William gazed out behind his mask upon the faces and heard his calling. His heart soared. At that moment, his eyes fell upon a golden-haired maiden gazing up at him as Andromeda upon Jason. She tilted her head toward him, giggled and wove away into the crowd.
The May dance began. Hundreds of people gathered at the poles, clapping to the rhythm of the pipes and tabors and watching as maidens attired in white laced corsets and flowing blue skirts circled and braided the ribbons of the maypole, in and out, twisting the colors, as their voices soared breathless in laughter and song. William watched only one girl among the virginal flowers, her hair shimmering like struck gold coins dipped and cooled in water, and flowing down her back to her waist.
So, using a bit of artistic license, I used Shakespeare’s knowledge of the miracle, morality, and mystery plays as food for my own scene in my novel. While these plays, in Shakespeare’s time, affected the population in moral and religious instruction, Craig points out that it also gave them a command of a way of dramatic thinking and a form of literary culture. The plays were so dear to their hearts that they disappeared slowly from the surrounding countryside, from those who still adhered to the old way of thinking. And do we not see the same in our own modern-day theater and film? Culture and drama are still developing and updating, yet many hold on to old ideas, the old miracles, morality and mystery of our day.
To write about men like Shakespeare and Marlowe is to write about ourselves, for in truth, whether 21st century or 17th century, we are still human, influenced by the same wants, needs, and desires. Ambition still rules our hearts, love still moves us, and tragedy shapes our actions. So, to view a slice of their lives, whether in fiction or non-fiction, gives a mirror into our own soul. At least, that is my thoughts… what about yours?
I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review. This is the first time I have read any books by Mercedes Rochelle, but it won’t be the last!! I must say, she has an impeccable talent for providing in-depth research bordering on a non-fiction style, flawlessly with the necessary elements of fiction. The dialogue was natural; she gives you well-rounded characters, fleshing out these historical figures so that you feel as if you are actually standing in the room with them in their time period. One of my favourite Shakespearean plays is Henry V, and I adore the Hollow Crown series, so this book expanded the story of that time period with perfection. I will definitely be adding the rest of this series to my TBR list. I highly recommend this book!!
This is an interesting question for any writer, no matter what century he or she lives/lived in, and merits a post about Shakespeare’s thinking as he wrote his plays, as well as how modern day writing is influenced by religion, or if it is at all anymore!
This section of Craig’s Shakespeare follows: “After Elizabeth came to the throne there was a bitter reaction against the Catholics. Those Protestants who fled abroad to avoid persecution under Queen Mary brought back with them continental ideas of theology and a new and stiffer type of Protestantism. The Church of England assumed a middle position between this extreme Protestantism and Catholicism; this was the position of Burghley and of Queen Elizabeth (as I expound in my novel “Blood and Ink”). By the middle of her reign extreme Protestantism, commonly called Puritanism, was expressing itself either in Presbyterianism or Independency, and the time came when it offered a violent attack on the middle position held by the Church of England. Shakespeare hardly shows himself aware of this powerful and pregnant force. His allusions to the Puritans are few and indefinite, but they have been thought to be scornful. His position on religious matters was probably that of the Queen. He is equally noncommital as regards the Church of Rome, although he shows a sympathetic understanding of the institutions of the Catholic church in Hamlet, King John, and elsewhere.”
This is very interesting, as the whole “non-commital” stance that Craig points out. I do believe that as a playwright, one who had the ear of the Queen (and possibly an entirely different writer as “Blood and Ink” alludes), this goes hand in hand with my thoughts on his possible compromise to promote his works. Keep quiet so the higher powers will continue to patron his works.
I think it is interesting to what extent many artists, and writers, and so on, will go to in an attempt to promote their works. Some compromise their beliefs, their morals, and their own integrity to make money, to commercialize instead of maintaining their love for their own artistry. I am not saying this is what Shakespeare did, for as we are well aware, his works speak for themselves; but at what cost? We may never know, well, for sure we don’t have the present opportunity to speak with the man himself and ask him what he sacrificed in order to see his works come to fruition. He may have sacrificed his beliefs and stayed quiet in order to appease the Queen, he may have sacrificed his life in Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife and children to see his works upon the stage. Who knows?
But the idea makes us, as modern writers, sit back and peruse these thoughts in relation to our own writing. What are we willing to sacrifice to see our works in print? To see them become best sellers? Our time? Our beliefs? Our family? Our name?
For my part, I will gladly sacrifice the words on a page, my writing, if it meant losing any of those things; but that is just me…. what about you?
A repost from a while back, since this discussion keeps popping back up!!
I recently got entrenched in a discussion about the true nature of historical fiction, i.e. what is it? what is the true definition? how does an author keep the integrity of history while maintaining a creative license? and so forth….
So, here are my thoughts, as well as some of the comments from the discussion. In definition, the Google definition of historical fiction, it reads: is defined as movies and novels in which a story is made up but is set in the past and sometimes borrows true characteristics of the time period in which it is set. A novel that makes up a story about a Civil War battle that really happened is an example of historical fiction.
Sometimes, I feel, it is hard to define the difference between being a FICTION author and holding true to history. We are, after all, not historians, but we want to represent history as true, or at least to the extent that is commonly accepted as truth in our society. But, to be fair, even some historians who research and research history often have conflicting accounts about what is true and what is not true. How should this affect the historical fiction author? ‘Tis a quandary….
Here is where I will share some of the comments in the discussion. Please read and share your thoughts in the comment section below:
Paula Lofting, moderator of the Historical Writer’s Forum, opened the discussion with this:
“What is the best definition of historical fiction and does it mean that it should be as accurate an depiction of a time and its events, or should there be a free for all with the facts, after all its fiction isn’t it type attitude?
Personally this is my view – I like my historical fiction to be as true to the time, events, and environmental settings as possible. I am more bothered about the atmosphere, costumery, architecture, and landscape than I am by the language and events, however I prefer to write these as accurately as possible when I am writing myself. If I am reading historical fiction then the story must come first because there is no point in having an accurate read if the plot or story line is boring and dull. and story is dull. Secondly I want the characters to ‘look’ like someone of that time, what they wear etc, daily life, what buildings they lived in etc, creating an atmosphere that makes me feel i’m in the for example 15thc, Lastly, if it is about fictional characters then of course the story is a made up one and this goes without saying, but where the facts are changed to suit the story, I would prefer they weren’t but I don’t mind if they are as long as the author leaves a historical note explaining where they have used their author’s licence. Where the facts are missing, I’m happy to allow the author to fill in the facts with plausible explanations.”
To which, led to some of these comments:
Rachel McDonough: Try to be as accurate as you can, otherwise what is the point of it being historical fiction. Inaccuracies can take the reader out of the story. The history is part of the experience, so get it right!
Julie Newman: Historical fiction is a story within a story, but you have to do your research and make sure you know as many of the historical facts as possible. The reader will discard your work if there are any discrepancies. Given that history is always changing the more we unearth but we need to be true to the facts of the time.
Rachel V Knox: It depends a little bit on what you’re writing. If it’s fiction set in a time there’s more freedom so maybe the story comes first. I’ve just written one based on real people, so the story was restricted to facts, making researching facts foremost to the story which developed based on that.
Kate Jewell: I like to be as accurate as I can be with the historic events, politics etc. And the social history side especially travelling times. (Fun to research that stuff!)
Language is a bit more of a problem. I want the reader to get a flavour of the period through the language used by my characters but not being so pedantic that I loose them. I’ve been surprised several times when looking up an alternative word or phrase that would fit the 15th C better to find that what I thought of first was actually in use during my period. Something to do with being immersed in the period maybe!
Of course, the writer of Historical Fiction lays him/herself open to all sorts of dangers, not least the discovery of facts unknown at the time of writing that could make a nonsense of their original plot. The archeology that has been done to determine the exact site of the Bosworth battle field for example. And the dIscovery of Richard III and the analysis of his dna. How many books describe him as having dark eyes and black hair?
Kerry Lynne Smith: How do we (both reader and writer) know what the “facts” really are? Anyone who has studied history for long comes to realize that it’s an ever-evolving, constantly changing. What was thought of as “fact” forty or even twenty years ago is now laughed at as folly. The more adamant one insists that they know what “really happened” the more they show their ignorance. All the HF writer can do is use what “facts” are satisfying to them and their purpose. It’s then up to the reader to decide if it is or isn’t pleasing, satisfactory to whatever their perceptions and expectations are.
I am happy to have Mark McLaughlin on the show today talking about his sensational books “Throne of Darius” and “Princess of Persia” set during the time of Alexander the Great. This is in conjunction with his author takeover on April 12th at The Historical Fiction Club and his featured spotlight on my blog, The Hist Fic Chickie. Come join us!
Well, today I woke up and the first news I see is that His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, has died quietly at the royal residence of Windsor Castle.
And then I see a bevy of nasty and inappropriate tweets across the Twitter board blasting him and the royal family. Dancing memes and laughing emojis are not the sort of thing anyone wants to see when someone has died.
People need to remember that despite their supposed opinions about Prince Phillip, death is a horrible thing for anyone to experience. He is a person like anyone else, the Queen is a person with feelings and has just lost her husband after having spend 73 years with him. That is a remarkable accomplishment and something to be celebrated, AND something to mourn with her over.
73 years, people!!
Yes, Prince Phillip caused stirs throughout his lifetime, no doubt, but when all is said and done he stood by the Queen as Prince Consort for all these years, through all the ups and downs, and their constancy has been a backbone for the Royal Family for all these years.
Death is a tragedy no matter who you are and what your station in life is – it is painful and heart-wrenching to suddenly have someone gone who has been such an important part of your life. I send my heartfelt sympathies to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. If I lost my husband I’m not sure I could keep functioning. And now, she and her feelings and her whole family’s feelings are out there for the world to trample on. Shame on the ones who cannot pause for a moment to be kind!! Just because they are in the position they are does not give people the right to stomp on them, especially during a tragic moment as this.
So, in my endeavor to show a little humanity, perhaps an In Memoriam post is in order for a man who supported his Queen for 73 years.
HRH, The Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Extra Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Grand Master and First and Principle Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, Member of the Order of Merit, Order of the Dogwood, Extra Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Companion of the Order of Australia, Knight of the Order of Australia, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Additional Member of the Order of New Zealand, Extraordinary Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Extraordinary Companion of the Order of Canada, Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.
The Duke of Edinburgh was appointed by King George VI to the Order of the Garter on 19 November 1947, the eve of his wedding. Since then, Philip has received 17 different appointments and decorations in the Commonwealth, and 48 from foreign states. The inhabitants of some villages on the island of Tanna, Vanuatu worship Prince Philip as a god; the islanders possess portraits of the Duke and hold feasts on his birthday. Upon his wife’s accession to the throne in 1952, the Duke was appointed Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the British Army Cadet Force, and Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps. The following year, he was appointed to the equivalent positions in Canada and made Admiral of the Fleet, Captain General Royal Marines, Field Marshal, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. Subsequent military appointments were made in New Zealand and Australia. In 1975, he was appointed Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, a position he handed over to his son Andrew in 2017. On 16 December 2015, his role as Honorary Air Commodore-in-Chief was handed over to the Duchess of Cambridge.
To celebrate his 90th birthday, the Queen appointed him Lord High Admiral, as well as to the highest ranks available in all three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces.
On their 70th wedding anniversary, 20 November 2017, the Queen appointed him Knight Grand Cross (GCVO) of the Royal Victorian Order, making him the first British national since his uncle Earl Mountbatten of Burma to be entitled to wear the breast stars of four orders of chivalry in the United Kingdom.
And these are just a smattering of other titles, medals, honors, decorations, appointments, foreign honors, and honorary military positions he held. He was also a patron of many organizations and schools.
Philip was born into the Greek and Danish royal families. He was born in Greece, but his family was exiled from the country when he was an infant. After being educated in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, he joined the British Royal Navy in 1939, aged 18. From July 1939, he began corresponding with the thirteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, whom he had first met in 1934. During the Second World War he served with distinction in the Mediterranean and Pacific Fleets. After the war, Philip was granted permission by George VI to marry Elizabeth. Before the official announcement of their engagement in July 1947, he abandoned his Greek and Danish titles and styles, became a naturalised British subject, and adopted his maternal grandparents’ surname Mountbatten. He married Elizabeth on 20 November 1947. Just before the wedding, he was granted the style His Royal Highness and created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich by King George VI. Philip left active military service when Elizabeth became queen in 1952, having reached the rank of commander, and was made a British prince in 1957.
Philip had four children with Elizabeth: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Through a British Order in Council issued in 1960, descendants of the couple not bearing royal styles and titles can use the surname Mountbatten-Windsor, which has also been used by some members of the royal family who do hold titles, such as Anne, Andrew, and Edward.
A sports enthusiast, Philip helped develop the equestrian event of carriage driving. He was a patron, president, or member of over 780 organizations, and he served as chairman of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a self-improvement program for young people aged 14 to 24. He was the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch and the longest-lived male member of the British royal family. He retired from his royal duties on 2 August 2017, aged 96, having completed 22,219 solo engagements since 1952. Philip died on 9 April 2021, at the age of 99, just two months before his 100th birthday.
The war went badly for Greece, and the Turks made large gains. Philip’s uncle and high commander of the Greek expeditionary force, King Constantine I, was blamed for the defeat and was forced to abdicate on 27 September 1922. The new military government arrested Prince Andrew, along with others. The commanding officer of the army, General Georgios Hatzianestis, and five senior politicians, were arrested, tried, and executed in the Trial of the Six. Prince Andrew’s life was also believed to be in danger, and Princess Alice was under surveillance. Finally in December, a revolutionary court banished Prince Andrew from Greece, for life. The British naval vessel HMS Calypso evacuated Prince Andrew’s family, with Philip carried to safety in a cot made from a fruit box. Philip’s family went to France, where they settled in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud in a house lent to them by his wealthy aunt, Princess George of Greece and Denmark.
Because Philip left Greece as a baby, he did not speak Greek. In 1992, he said that he “could understand a certain amount”. Philip stated that he thought of himself as Danish, and his family spoke English, French, and German. Philip, who in his youth was known for his charm, was linked to a number of women, including Osla Benning.
Philip was first educated at The Elms, an American school in Paris run by Donald MacJannet, who described Philip as a “know it all smarty person, but always remarkably polite”. In 1928, he was sent to the United Kingdom to attend Cheam School, living with his maternal grandmother, Victoria Mountbatten, Dowager Marchioness of Milford Haven, at Kensington Palace and his uncle, George Mountbatten, 2nd Marquess of Milford Haven, at Lynden Manor in Bray, Berkshire. In the next three years, his four sisters married German princes and moved to Germany, his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed in an asylum, and his father took up residence in Monte Carlo. Philip had little contact with his mother for the remainder of his childhood. In 1933, he was sent to Schule Schloss Salem in Germany, which had the “advantage of saving school fees” because it was owned by the family of his brother-in-law, Berthold, Margrave of Baden.With the rise of Nazism in Germany, Salem’s Jewish founder, Kurt Hahn, fled persecution and founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland, to which Philip moved after two terms at Salem. In 1937, his sister Cecilie, her husband Georg Donatus, Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse, her two young sons, Ludwig and Alexander, her newborn infant, and her mother-in-law, Princess Eleonore of Solms-Hohensolms-Lich, were killed in an air crash at Ostend; Philip, then 16 years old, attended the funeral in Darmstadt. The following year, his uncle and guardian Lord Milford Haven died of bone marrow cancer.
Promotion to lieutenant followed on 16 July 1942. In October of the same year, he became first lieutenant of HMS Wallace, at 21 years old one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy. During the invasion of Sicily, in July 1943, as second in command of Wallace, he saved his ship from a night bomber attack. He devised a plan to launch a raft with smoke floats that successfully distracted the bombers, allowing the ship to slip away unnoticed. In 1944, he moved on to the new destroyer, HMS Whelp, where he saw service with the British Pacific Fleet in the 27th Destroyer Flotilla. He was present in Tokyo Bay when the instrument of Japanese surrender was signed. Philip returned to the United Kingdom on the Whelp in January 1946, and was posted as an instructor at HMS Royal Arthur, the Petty Officers’ School in Corsham, Wiltshire.
Eventually, in the summer of 1946, Philip asked the King for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The King granted his request, provided that any formal engagement be delayed until Elizabeth’s 21st birthday the following April. By March 1947, Philip had abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles, had adopted the surname Mountbatten from his mother’s family, and had become a naturalised British subject. The engagement was announced to the public on 10 July 1947.
Though Philip appeared “always to have regarded himself as an Anglican”, and he had attended Anglican services with his classmates and relations in England and throughout his Royal Navy days, he had been baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, wanted to “regularise” Philip’s position by officially receiving him into the Church of England, which he did in October 1947.
Philip and Elizabeth were married in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, recorded and broadcast by BBC radio to 200 million people around the world. In post-war Britain, it was not acceptable for any of the Duke of Edinburgh’s German relations to be invited to the wedding, including Philip’s three surviving sisters, all of whom had married German princes. After their marriage, the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh took up residence at Clarence House. Their first two children were born before Elizabeth succeeded her father as monarch in 1952: Prince Charles in 1948 and Princess Anne in 1950. Their marriage was the longest of any British monarch.
With the King in ill health, Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were both appointed to the Privy Council on 4 November 1951, after a coast-to-coast tour of Canada. At the end of January 1952, Philip and his wife set out on a tour of the Commonwealth. On 6 February 1952, they were in Kenya when Elizabeth’s father died and she became queen. It was Philip who broke the news to Elizabeth at Sagana Lodge, and the royal party immediately returned to the United Kingdom.
The accession of Elizabeth to the throne brought up the question of the name of the royal house, as Elizabeth would typically have taken Philip’s last name upon marriage. The Duke’s uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, advocated the name House of Mountbatten. Philip suggested House of Edinburgh, after his ducal title. When Queen Mary, Elizabeth’s grandmother, heard of this, she informed the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, who himself later advised the Queen to issue a royal proclamation declaring that the royal house was to remain known as the House of Windsor. Prince Philip privately complained, “I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.”
On 8 February 1960, several years after the death of Queen Mary and the resignation of Churchill as prime minister, the Queen issued an Order in Council declaring that Mountbatten-Windsor would be the surname of her and her husband’s male-line descendants who are not styled as Royal Highness or titled as prince or princess. While it seems the Queen had “absolutely set her heart” on such a change and had it in mind for some time, it occurred only 11 days before the birth of Prince Andrew (19 February), and only after three months of protracted correspondence between constitutional expert Edward Iwi (who averred that, without such a change, the royal child would be born with “the Badge of Bastardy”) and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who had attempted to rebut Iwi’s arguments.
After her accession to the throne, the Queen also announced that the Duke was to have “place, pre-eminence and precedence” next to her “on all occasions and in all meetings, except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament“. This meant the Duke took precedence over his son, the Prince of Wales, except, officially, in the British parliament. In fact, however, he attended Parliament only when escorting the Queen for the annual State Opening of Parliament, where he walked and sat beside her. Contrary to rumours over the years, the Queen and Duke were said by insiders to have had a strong relationship throughout their marriage, despite the challenges of Elizabeth’s reign. The Queen referred to Prince Philip in a speech on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 as her “constant strength and guide”.
Prince Philip received a Parliamentary annuity (of £359,000 since 1990) that serves to meet official expenses in carrying out public duties. The annuity was unaffected by the reform of royal finances under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. Any part of the allowance that was not used to meet official expenditure was liable for tax. In practice, the entire allowance was used to fund his official duties.
As consort to the Queen, Philip supported his wife in her new duties as sovereign, accompanying her to ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament in various countries, state dinners, and tours abroad. As chairman of the Coronation Commission, he was the first member of the royal family to fly in a helicopter, visiting the troops that were to take part in the ceremony. Philip was not crowned in the service, but knelt before Elizabeth, with her hands enclosing his, and swore to be her “liege man of life and limb”.
In 1956, the Duke, with Kurt Hahn, founded The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in order to give young people “a sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities”. In the same year, he also established the Commonwealth Study Conferences. From 1956 to 1957, Philip travelled around the world aboard the newly commissioned HMY Britannia, during which he opened the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne and visited the Antarctic, becoming the first royal to cross the Antarctic Circle. The Queen and the children remained in the UK. On the return leg of the journey, Philip’s private secretary, Mike Parker, was sued for divorce by his wife. As with Townsend, the press still portrayed divorce as a scandal, and eventually Parker resigned. He later said that the Duke was very supportive and “the Queen was wonderful throughout. She regarded divorce as a sadness, not a hanging offence.” In a public show of support, the Queen created Parker a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Further press reports claimed that the Queen and the Duke were drifting apart, which enraged the Duke and dismayed the Queen, who issued a strongly worded denial. On 22 February 1957, she granted her husband the style and title of a Prince of the United Kingdom by Letters Patent, and it was gazetted that he was to be known as “His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh”. Philip was appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada on 14 October 1957, taking his Oath of Allegiance before the Queen in person at her Canadian residence, Rideau Hall. Remarks he made two years later to the Canadian Medical Association on the subject of youth and sport were taken as a suggestion that Canadian children were out of shape. This was at first considered “tactless”, but Philip was later admired for his encouragement of physical fitness. In Canada in 1969, Philip spoke about his views on republicanism:
“It is a complete misconception to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarch. It doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people. If at any time any nation decides that the system is unacceptable, then it is up to them to change it.”
Philip was patron of some 800 organizations, particularly focused on the environment, industry, sport, and education. His first solo engagement as Duke of Edinburgh was in March 1948, presenting prizes at the boxing finals of the London Federation of Boys’ Clubs at the Royal Albert Hall. He was president of the National Playing Fields Association (now known as Fields in Trust) for 64 years, from 1947 until his grandson Prince William took over the role in 2013. He served as UK president of the World Wildlife Fund from 1961 to 1982, international president from 1981, and president emeritus from 1996. In 1952, he became patron of The Industrial Society (since renamed The Work Foundation). Between 1959 and 1965 Prince Philip was the President of BAFTA. He was president of the International Equestrian Federation from 1964 to 1986, and served as chancellor of the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, Salford, and Wales. In 2017, the British Heart Foundation thanked Prince Philip for being its patron for 55 years, during which time, in addition to organising fundraisers, he “supported the creation of nine BHF-funded centres of excellence”. He was an Honorary Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.
Philip was the third-longest-lived member of the British royal family (following Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) and the longest-lived male member ever. His time as royal consort exceeded that of any other British consort.
In 2008, Philip was admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital, London, for a chest infection; he walked into the hospital unaided, recovered quickly, and was discharged three days later. After the Evening Standard reported that Philip had prostate cancer, Buckingham Palace – which usually refuses to comment on health rumours – denied the story and the paper retracted it.
In June 2011, in an interview marking his 90th birthday he said that he would now slow down and reduce his duties, stating that he had “done [his] bit”. His wife, the Queen, gave him the title Lord High Admiral for his 90th birthday. While staying at Sandringham House, the royal residence in Norfolk, on 23 December 2011, the Duke suffered chest pains and was taken to the cardio-thoracic unit at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, where he underwent successful coronary angioplasty and stenting. He was discharged on 27 December.
On 4 June 2012, during the celebrations in honour of his wife’s Diamond Jubilee, Philip was taken from Windsor Castle to King Edward VII’s Hospital suffering from a bladder infection. He was released from hospital on 9 June. After a recurrence of infection in August 2012, while staying at Balmoral Castle, he was admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for five nights as a precautionary measure. In June 2013, Philip was admitted to the London Clinic for an exploratory operation on his abdomen, spending 11 days in hospital. On 21 May 2014, the Prince appeared in public with a bandage on his right hand after a “minor procedure” was performed in Buckingham Palace the preceding day. In June 2017, he was taken from Windsor to London and admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital after being diagnosed with an infection. He spent two nights in the hospital and was unable to attend the State Opening of Parliament and Royal Ascot.
Prince Philip retired from his royal duties on 2 August 2017, meeting Royal Marines in his final solo public engagement, aged 96. Since 1952 he had completed 22,219 solo engagements. Prime Minister Theresa May thanked him for “a remarkable lifetime of service”. On 20 November 2017, he celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with the Queen, which made her the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum wedding anniversary.
On 3 April 2018, Philip was admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital for a planned hip replacement, which took place the next day. This came after the Duke missed the annual Maundy and Easter Sunday services. On 12 April, his daughter, Princess Anne, spent about 50 minutes in the hospital and afterwards said her father was “on good form”. He was discharged the following day. On 19 May, six weeks later, he attended the wedding of his grandson Prince Harry to Meghan Markle and was able to walk with the Queen unaided. That October, he accompanied the Queen to the wedding of their granddaughter Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank, with The Telegraph reporting that Philip works on a “wake up and see how I feel” basis when deciding whether to attend an event or not.
On 17 January 2019, 97-year-old Philip was involved in a car crash as he pulled out onto a main road near the Sandringham Estate. An official statement said he was uninjured. An eyewitness who came to the prince’s aid described having to wipe blood off his hands. The driver and a passenger of the other car were injured and taken to hospital. Philip attended hospital the next morning as a precaution. He apologised, and three weeks later voluntarily surrendered his driving licence. On 14 February, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that prosecuting Philip would not be in the public interest. The Duke was still allowed to drive around private estates, and was seen behind the wheel in the grounds of Windsor Castle in April 2019.
From 20 to 24 December 2019, Philip stayed at King Edward VII’s Hospital and received treatment for a “pre-existing condition”, in a visit described by Buckingham Palace as a “precautionary measure”. He had not been seen in public since attending Lady Gabriella Kingston’s wedding in May 2019. A photo of Philip with the Queen as they isolated at Windsor Castle during the COVID-19 pandemic was released ahead of his 99th birthday in June 2020. In July 2020, he stepped down as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles, a position he had held since 2007. He was succeeded by the Duchess of Cornwall.
On 9 January 2021, Philip and the Queen were vaccinated against COVID-19 by a household doctor at Windsor Castle. On 16 February 2021, Philip was admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital as a “precautionary measure” after feeling unwell. He was visited by Prince Charles on 20 February. On 23 February, it was confirmed by Buckingham Palace that Philip was “responding to treatment” for an infection. On 1 March 2021, Philip was transferred by ambulance to St Bartholomew’s Hospital to continue treatment for an infection, and additionally to undergo “testing and observation” relating to a pre-existing heart condition. He underwent a successful procedure for his heart condition on 3 March, and was transferred back to King Edward VII’s Hospital on 5 March. He was discharged on 16 March.
Personality and Image
Philip played polo until 1971, when he started to compete in carriage driving, a sport which he helped to expand; the early rule book was drafted under his supervision. He was also a keen yachtsman and struck up a friendship in 1949 with Uffa Fox, in Cowes. Philip and the Queen regularly attended Cowes Week in HMY Britannia.
Philip’s first airborne flying lesson took place in 1952; by his 70th birthday he had accrued 5,150 pilot hours. He was presented with Royal Air Force wings in 1953. In April 2014, it was reported that an old British Pathe newsreel film had been discovered of Philip’s 1962 two-month flying tour of South America. Filmed sitting alongside Philip at the aircraft’s controls was his co-pilot Captain Peter Middleton, the grandfather of the Duke’s granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
He painted with oils, and collected artworks, including contemporary cartoons, which hang at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sandringham House, and Balmoral Castle. Hugh Casson described Philip’s own artwork as “exactly what you’d expect … totally direct, no hanging about. Strong colours, vigorous brushstrokes.”
Philip’s down-to-earth manner was attested to by a White House butler who recalled that, on a visit in 1979, Philip engaged him and a fellow butler in a conversation and poured them drinks. As well as a reputation for bluntness and plain speaking, Philip was noted for occasionally making observations and jokes that have been construed as either funny, or as gaffes: awkward, politically incorrect, or even offensive, but sometimes perceived as stereotypical of someone of his age and background. In an address to the General Dental Council in 1960, he jokingly coined a new word for his blunders: “Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, a science which I have practised for a good many years.” Later in life, he suggested his comments may have contributed to the perception that he was “a cantankerous old sod”.
The historian David Starkey described him as a kind of “HRH Victor Meldrew“. For example, in May 1999, British newspapers accused Philip of insulting deaf children at a pop concert in Wales by saying, “No wonder you are deaf listening to this row.” Later, Philip wrote, “The story is largely invention. It so happens that my mother was quite seriously deaf and I have been Patron of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf for ages, so it’s hardly likely that I would do any such thing.” When he and the Queen met Stephen Menary, an army cadet blinded by an IRA bomb, and the Queen enquired how much sight he retained, Philip quipped: “Not a lot, judging by the tie he’s wearing.” Menary later said: “I think he just tries to put people at ease by trying to make a joke. I certainly didn’t take any offence.”
An American Anglophile’s In Memoriam
So, whatever you glean from his life, or whatever you think of the “cantankerous old sod” (as he called himself), he has spent a life of service to the Crown. Most of what we know, I mean ordinary folk like me, we know from newspapers, news reports, movies, and TV series like “The Crown”, so we don’t really know those intimate moments of just sitting together as husband and wife, as just humans. But we can empathize because, after all, we are all human with frailties and faults, humans who love and who make mistakes. If we can be so fortunate to have a marriage that lasts as long as the Queen of England and her Prince, we should be so fortunate.
My deepest sympathies on this sad day for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, and to the rest of the Royal Family.
How I would have loved to talk with Virginia Woolf!! She is one of my favourite authors!! A few years ago I wrote a short story involving an imaginary conversation between the two of us at Monk House. This is the story, I hope you enjoy it!