Congratulations to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh who have celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary today. It is a significant achievement. I don’t mean the longevity aspect which is out of their hands, a mixture of luck and good genes; I mean the example they have set the country of a faithful and enduring marriage, based on mutual affection and respect. According to the Telegraph report, Prince Philip wrote to the Queen Mother on his honeymoon, saying that his wife was “the only ‘thing’ in the world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will also have a positive existence for the good”.
They have certainly had shocks, public and private: the general carping and sniping of republican sentiment over the decades, directed at a seemingly privileged family, out of touch with ordinary life; the collapse of three of their children’s marriages; the extraordinary – and critical – response to the death of their troubled daughter-in-law, Diana; relentless and inquisitive publicity at all times. And yet it is still obvious that, as a couple, they have not only endured but triumphed. I once tried to get my brother, who had served as an equerry to the Duke of Edinburgh for two years in his youth, to give me some inside information on “The Firm”. Quite rightly he refused; he would only vouchsafe that “they are a great team”.
Such teamwork is what a solid marriage is all about and the Duke of Edinburgh must be given credit for the part he has played. A natural leader, yet unable because of his position as consort to be the public head of his family, it is clear he has led it in private. The Queen’s words at her Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2007 say it all: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
The Telegraph report strikes one ominous note, stating: “The average age for people getting married is now in their 30s. Coupled with that is the fact that divorce has become much easier and more commonplace since the 1960 and 70s, so the chance of anyone surpassing the Queen’s record becomes ever more unlikely.” This record might seem an anachronism in today’s society, when we have a Tory prime minister who has pledged to change the definition of marriage for good, and when marriage as it stands is disadvantaged in our tax system. However, I prefer to think it is a splendid and royal rebuke to our times, as well as a challenge to aspire to the example this good couple have shown us.