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Watch the full Episode 17 of Yahoo U.K’.s show The Royal Box here.
The Duke of Edinburgh isn’t someone who immediately springs to mind when it comes to being an advocate for feminism within the royal family. When Prince Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, the world was a very different place.
When she acceded the throne in 1952, the queen was surrounded by men in positions of power — in government, her staff and her advisers. While the country has changed beyond recognition, Her Majesty has remained a constant, and she was a world leader before any women were leading in the world. To many she is seen as a feminist icon because of that.
The fact that the duke has walked a few steps behind one of the most famous monarchs in history for nearly seven decades has made him somewhat of an “accidental feminist,” as the Times of London once described him.
The sudden death of King George VI in 1952 meant Elizabeth ascended the throne much earlier than expected. She and Philip were only five years into their marriage with two young children, Charles and Anne.
Everything changed for not only the then 25-year-old Elizabeth, but Philip too, who had worked his way up the ranks through the Navy, serving in the Second World War. While he was promoted to commander of the Royal Navy in 1952, his active naval career ended in 1951.
As well as giving up his career, Philip also wasn’t able to pass his surname to his children. He had hoped that when his wife took the throne, his adopted last name, Mountbatten, would become double-barreled with Windsor.
But Winston Churchill insisted the royal family should remain the House of Windsor, although this was to be amended later. Philip reportedly said: “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.”
After the queen’s coronation in 1953, Philip supported his wife in her duties as sovereign and did so until his retirement at the age of 96 in August 2017. Since 1952, he has completed 22,219 solo engagements. Because of the duke’s steadfast devotion, some royal watchers now regard him as an unlikely early adopter of feminism.
Speaking on Yahoo U.K.’s The Royal Box, Roya Nikkhah, royal correspondent for the Sunday Times, says: “I have to say, a man who in the early 1950s, who was soaring up to the top of the Navy and would have gone all the way to the top of the Navy, had he not had to give up his naval career, who wasn’t even able to give his own surname to his children, who has literally stood behind his wife for pushing 70 years.
“But who, as the queen will say herself, is her bedrock, who is still very much the head of the family.
“A man who has supported his wife in a way, to a very successful reign, I think is an amazing achievement for him, and he has supported, probably the most famous woman in the world for seven decades. If that’s not being a feminist role model, I don’t know what is.”
Historian Anna Whitelock adds: “I think history will look back on Prince Philip and commend him in a way that perhaps contemporaries don’t.
“Perhaps we sneer at some of his indiscretions, but he was huge modernizer of monarchy; I mean, he’s had a huge impact on the monarchy in a way that is just not often credited.
“He’s impressive, is kind of an understatement in terms of what he’s done, what he’s achieved and simply by being with the queen for all those years, in such periods of political and social change is absolutely remarkable and unprecedented.”
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