Prince Philip is Dead: You Can Mourn Someone Without Excusing Their Bad Behaviour
“No shit, really?” That was my first reaction when I read that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was dead at 99 this morning. I honestly didn’t think he would die yet. I thought he would make it to 100-years-old at least. Twitter confirmed it. National news confirmed it. All the fanfare on Tumblr proceeded, and it became too real, as did the emotions surging through me.
Prince Philip was a household name growing up. My dad is from the Commonwealth and my mom has always been a royal watcher. The Duke of Edinburgh is generations apart from me — as I more identify with the ‘Prince William/Harry cohort’ — but I knew of him by association to the Queen herself. He wasn’t the biggest deal, and while I am no particular fan of the royal family, it was impossible not to wonder if he’d ever get out of his wife’s shadow. The Pampered Prince. The Royal Necromancer, waiting for his moment to shine.
One person online said, “I hope princess diana is waiting for Philip at the gates with a double-barrel shotgun, get him girl”.
I didn’t know whether to engage or not. I chose not to, but one part of me wanted to laugh. Could the late Princess be enjoying the news of his death wherever she is? Actually, what could his own family be feeling right now?
I also thought about his children, how they must be feeling about how their own deaths to come would be received, coupled with the transgressions of their family’s history. Prince Philip was a proud father of four and married for over 70 years to Queen Elizabeth II, and gave up a promising naval career to stand behind his wife’s succession. I would like to believe that his crippled family life growing up taught him to become self-reliant and self-sacrificing to survive. And that his detached, low-punching sarcasm was just the result of awkward confidence and hereditary blindness to race and classism.
Mind you, I haven’t forgotten about all his terrible comments — documented over the years — about other cultures and views on women. Nor his silence on his own children’s lives.
Does Prince Philip's death absolve him of all the wrongs he’s done in the past? No — why should it? But does it mean that people shouldn’t be allowed to say goodbye to him as they see fit? We’re all made up of light and darkness. And I don’t think it’s right or fair to make anyone live on either of those polarities. His story is a fairytale for most people who grew up with nothing. His struggles with abandonment and mental illness in his family still resonate with certain people. But he was still pompous and out-of-touch, especially in his older years. I am somewhere in between feeling unsettled and ashamed and also relieved for lessons this shrinking monarch dynasty has signalled.
I am nostalgic for an era of elegance and magic that the European monarchy left on this world and the Commonwealth. However, I have a visceral reaction to the British monarchy’s legacy on my ancestors and those of my closest non-European friends. I am also still painfully aware of how they treat their own even in the current day — you know who I’m talking about, even without saying names. Thus, there exists a major struggle to compartmentalize the range of emotions around these topics myself.
What do we do with survivors who forgive one’s painful legacy? Do we shame them and call them hypocrites? Do we accuse them of buying into this loyalist culture and white supremacy? What do we do with decriers who choose not to forgive one’s complicated existence and celebrate their death as a meme? Do we pity them and call them heartless? What if we have a soft spot for the monarchs and carry rage towards everything they stand for?
It is a complicated existence when it comes to the cluster of human emotions and history. It is a juxtaposition to hold both immense anger and complicated compassion. We can listen to admissions of guilt and accept apologies, yet still have nightmares and not trust in the future.
As Prince Philip’s death passes over the world today, it reminds us that we can mourn men and women who have done terrible things without feeling guilty for doing so. Feelings don’t live in a vacuum, and it’s not as if we feel a singular thing about a topic. Every emotion exists on a spectrum and we lean into our own personal truths and experiences without letting society dictate how we must feel.
Whether you’re a loyalist or an anti-monarchist, somewhere or nowhere in between, let Prince Philip’s death be a refreshing admonition of how you view the death of a complicated person.