Day 6

How Prince Philip, like Prince Albert, was a pillar of support to his Queen and the monarchy

What the death of Prince Philip, known as Queen Elizabeth's "strength and stay," will mean for the Queen and the Royal Family has some historians and experts looking to the past to draw parallels to Queen Victoria, another long-serving British monarch widowed on the throne.

Albert and Philip stepped into unconventional roles at a time when society expected men to lead

Prince Albert, pictured left in 1860, the year before his death, was the beloved consort to Queen Victoria. Prince Philip, right, consort to Queen Elizabeth, died Friday at age 99. (Camille Silvy/Keystone/Getty Images, Yui Mok/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

With the death of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth has lost her "mainstay."

What that will mean for the Queen and the Royal Family has some historians and experts looking to the past to draw parallels to another long-serving British monarch who was widowed on the throne.

The last time a British queen lost her consort was in 1861 with the death of Prince Albert, leaving Queen Victoria "utterly bereft," said historian and author Lucinda Hawksley.

Both were 42 years old at the time and their marriage — one of love — was uncommon, she said.

Mourning shaped Victoria's reign

"When he died, she went into mourning for what was to be the last 40 years of her life and, indeed, her reign, and really expected the entire country, not just her family, to continue this extended mourning," Hawksley told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

"She became known as the widow of Windsor because she just dressed in black all the time."

Though the public felt sorrow for Queen Victoria as she grieved her husband, that eventually gave way to frustration. The public, Hawksley explained, felt her mourning had become self-indulgent in an era where many children didn't live past age five. 

Ultimately, it was Prince Albert's death that shaped her reign over the country, and her popularity declined.

Queen Victoria, right, and Prince Albert, the prince consort, are pictured at Buckingham Palace in 1860. (Keystone/Getty Images)

Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and consort to Queen Elizabeth, died Friday at age 99. He is the longest-serving royal consort in British history, having been married to the Queen for more than seven decades.

Philip was known as the Queen's "strength and stay," and his devotion to the Queen, alongside his public service, stand as a hallmark of his career. 

"The parallels are quite remarkable because both Prince Philip and Prince Albert were minor princes in other royal families, so they were not expected to play any great role in any country," said Sarika Bose, a lecturer of English language and literatures at the University of British Columbia.

LISTEN | Historian Lucinda Hawksley on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert:

Upending societal expectations

Raised in a time when society expected men to be the head of the family, both Albert and Philip stepped into unconventional roles.

It was their wives who ruled not only the home, but their country, yet both men played key roles within the monarchy.

"Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth gave their husbands a lot of power domestically in that they gave them a lot of power to organize things at home," said Bose.

Albert and Philip, she explained, were tasked with overseeing the palace and reimagining how it could be run. They overhauled inefficiencies and reworked old-fashioned practices.

The two men also served as a lifeline for the monarchy in times of discord, says John Fraser, an academic and the author of The Secret of the Crown: Canada's Affair with Royalty.

"In both cases, Albert and Philip did a huge amount to keep the monarchy alive during periods of questioning — under different circumstances — and they were both people who embraced the modern," he said.

Both men championed education, with Albert creating some of Britain's most well-regarded museums and art collections, and Philip founding his eponymous award for youth, The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.

Prince consort a 'difficult role'

Neither Albert nor Philip were ever named king, despite Queen Victoria's protestations during her reign. She pushed Parliament for her husband to be given the title, but the fear that he would have greater power than her prevented the change, says Hawksley.

He was named the prince consort instead — a title that would not be used again until Philip, decades later.

While the role of consort, with its privilege and fame, may seem like nothing more than a charmed life acting as second fiddle to the monarch, Hawksley argues it was hard work that the two men did admirably.

"Even if you've had a massive row, as couples will do ... if you're going to a state dinner that evening, you have to behave absolutely as that person's help-meet and consort, as the name implies, and that's a really difficult role," she said.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were married for 73 years. (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

To lose someone who played such a crucial role in their lives "must be utterly bewildering," said Hawksley.

Queen Elizabeth has yet to speak publicly about Prince Philip's death. A statement from Buckingham Palace released Friday acknowledged her "deep sorrow."

Royal duties already delegated

It's unclear what Prince Philip's death will mean to the future of Queen Elizabeth or the Royal Family, but Fraser noted that it comes during an "interesting time."

"He has died while it's the middle of COVID, and also when they're still trying to deal with the mess that Harry and Meghan left them," said Fraser, referring to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's interview with Oprah Winfrey last March.

The couple raised concerns about racism and mental health as members of the Royal Family.

LISTEN | A CBC Radio special tribute to Prince Philip:

Marcia Young and Matt Galloway bring you a one-hour special tribute for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth. He died Friday at 99. He was the longest-serving royal consort in British history. 59:59

In recent years, the Queen has relied more on her son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and her grandson, Prince William, in the monarchy's day-to-day operations.

Certain royal duties have also been delegated to other members of the family, said Bose, including The Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which is now overseen by his son, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex.

"All of those things mean that ... the machinery, if you will, of the family will continue in a sort of steady way, in an unbroken way," said Bose.

With files from Ashley Fraser, Padraig Moran and Jonathan Ore

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