By Rabbi Shawn Zell
Gossip and rumors aside about Prince Philip’s interest in commoners of the opposite gender, there were a handful of women who proved indispensable, as far as contributing to the life he led. While I very much doubt that mention will be made of those of the fairer sex, save one, permit me to share with you, the debt owed by the gentleman, who served as the royal consort to Queen of England, to this handful of women.
A man should stand in awe of his mother and father (Leviticus 19:3). I honestly do not know whether Prince Philip stood in awe of his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, but he had good reason to. During World War II, Princess Alice, who had been assisting the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross to help care for refugees, heard of the plight of Rachel Cohen, whose husband Haim had been a member of the Greek Parliament. After the family fled to the north of Greece to avoid deportation by the Nazis, Haim suddenly died. At first, his wife Ruth and her children were hidden by a nun on the outskirts of Athens but soon had to flee. They feared neighbors would turn them over to the Nazis. Princess Alice sheltered Rachel Cohen and her daughter Tilde in a third-floor apartment in the palace. The Cohens remained in the palace for 13 months, with the princess regularly visiting and talking at length with Rachel, also assigning the family two Greeks, who helped the family keep in contact with the outside world. In her will, Princess Alice asked that she be laid to rest in Israel. She is buried at the Church of Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.
Because of his mother’s humanitarian efforts, Philip was the first British royal to visit Israel, when in 1994, he accepted Yad Vashem’s recognition of his mother as a righteous Gentile and visited her burial site. In doing so, he was the first member of the Royal Family to set foot on Israeli soil. Those who destroy and those who devastate will go from you (Isaiah 49:17). Prince Philip aside, the proverb “the apple does not far from the tree” did not hold true when it came to Princess Alice’s four daughters. Sophie, Philip’s youngest sister, married Prince Christoph von Hessen, who became a director for Third Reich’s Ministry of Air Forces. Theodora married Berthold, Military Governor of Baden, Germany. Philip’s sister Cecilie and her husband George Donatous joined the Nazi party just prior to their untimely death in an airplane disaster. Another sister Margarita married Gottfried, Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a commander in the German army. Because of their German connections, not one of the sisters was invited to the wedding, when Prince Philip joined hands in holy matrimony with Princess Elizabeth.
A woman of virtue is the crown of her husband (Proverbs 12:4) However true it is that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, we, the public, have been led to believe, that Her Royal Highness was one incredible wife. From the moment Elizabeth ascended the throne upon her father’s death, she realized that the love of her life would be pushed to the sidelines. But the adoring and devoted wife of Philip would have none of that, regardless of her royal status. As far as Queen Elizabeth was concerned, loyalty would supersede royalty. And so, Queen Elizabeth ordained that her husband be referred to as “first gentleman in the land”, thereby ensuring that her son Charles, Duke of Cornwall not outrank his father. Additionally, Philip was appointed to the highest ranks in the British armed services: Admiral of the fleet, Field Marshal, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force. Aside from all the titles bestowed upon him, Prince Philip received his wife’s esteem and respect. Story has it that during a visit to the United States, the American hosts thought it would be a novelty for the royal couple if dining arrangements were made at the finest restaurant the city had to offer. When these dinner arrangements were suggested to Her Royal Highness, the Queen’s immediate response was “I’ll have to ask my husband”.
In judging Prince Philip’s life, let us leave the term Tzaddik to those expected to exemplify
G-d’s teachings. Thanks to his mother, Prince Philip learned the value of human life. Because of his sisters, Prince Philip learned the value of avoiding strife. Thanks to being the husband of Elizabeth II, Prince Philip learned the value of a loving and loyal wife.