10th April 2021
One of the more wonderful rabbit-holes on the internet is to start with one Wikipedia page and to then click and click and to see where it takes you.
And so yesterday, as an exercise, I started with the page of Prince Philip, whose death has been announced, and clicked to find out more about his royal and noble ancestors.
Going down the direct father-to-father line by itself takes you back to Elimar I, Count of Oldenburg (1040-1112), via such splendid fellows as these:
According to Wikipedia, at least, these are the direct forefathers of Philip and thereby of princes Charles, William, and George.
Of course, few will be certain that all this is the case as a matter of historical and biological fact – we are going on secondary historical sources at best.
And, of course, you can back click through the mothers instead, or a combination of fathers and mothers, and so on.
But two things become obvious, whichever way you click.
First, some of the noble and royal families of Europe have been around as noble and royal families for a very long time.
And second, those noble and royal families have often adapted and evolved, as has the nature of lordship and kingship – but sometimes those families do not adapt and do not survive, which is also in the nature of lordship and kingship.
When we get to Philip’s paternal grandfather we have a seventeen-year old second son of a king of Denmark who was somehow elected king of Greece in 1863.
Then Philip’s father – the fourth son of this almost-accidental king of Greece – was, in turn, exiled, court-martialled and then banished from Greece, and was to live in Vichy France and to die in Monaco.
Her grandfather – who was king when she was born – had been crowned king of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as emperor of India and the other dominions.
But as a child and teenager she saw her uncle forced to abdicate, the United Kingdom forced re-invent itself with Irish independence, and the forced conversion of the empire into a commonwealth.
One suspects that the Queen does not take the crown for granted.
The same, one suspects, was also true of Philip.
Within the previous two generations of his own family, crowns had almost-literally come and gone, and he spent his childhood being quickly moved from one place to another.
Elsewhere in Europe, royal reigns and noble privileges and monarchical systems were abruptly coming to an end, and overseas empires were collapsing.
When Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, there was no particular reason to think that the United Kingdom or the crown itself was especially stable or sustainable.
And it is perhaps only with hindsight that it now looks ‘inevitable’ that both the United Kingdom and crown have continued to the current day.
But against the history of the seventy years before 1952, such stability and continuity is unusual in European terms rather than the norm.
And a good part of that is because the slow and quiet reinvention of the crown under Elizabeth and Philip – which was not perfect, but it did mean that the crown and the royal family continued generally to have high public support and largely avoided partisan political controversy.
The next generation of the royal family, as with the politicians currently with the charge of governing the United Kingdom, do not – and cannot – have this same sense of anxious fragility as the generation of the Queen and her late husband.
And as such, things will be taken for – and as – granted.
For them, turmoil and reversals are the exception – rather than the norm.
But history is often not like that for more than one or two generations in succession.
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