Sermon at a Service of Morning Prayer in Thanksgiving for the Life of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
We make our remembrance in Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was formative for His Royal Highness.
The Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle Dean of Westminster
Sunday, 11th April 2021 at 11.15 AM
Here, on the 2nd June 1953, he knelt before our newly crowned Sovereign and, made homage:
I, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh do become your liege man of life and limb,
and of earthly worship; and faith and truth...
Your liege man… of faith and truth. That promise shaped the life and work of the Duke of Edinburgh. It was a promise so very well kept. He already knew the Abbey, of course. He had come here in 1947 for his wedding. He had already pledged life and love to the then Princess Elizabeth. Now he made promises to his Queen and ours. He was a man of his word. He was always a man of his word.
The images of Prince Philip keeping that Coronation promise are familiar to us. There are so many of them – pictures taken in a long life of duty and spirited service - beside Her Majesty at great moments of state, nearby in so many and such various settings. He offered advice to others - ‘talk about everything else, don’t talk about yourself’. It was the proper discipline of the liege man of life and limb. He had given his service to the Crown and always wanted our attention directed there. It has been widely observed that he did not much like being praised. I once congratulated him on the way he had done something and knew instantly that this was not the best place to start a conversation. I do know that he might not much approve of what I am saying now. Still, there are things that must be said.
He had great gifts. Resilient in youth, a distinguished naval service quickly proved his ability to lead. Other tributes will draw out the range of his interests. We know, of course, love of his family. We know of his commitment to conservation, of the time he gave to so many charities and we marvel at the success of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award he created in 1956. A little less well known perhaps is the effort Prince Philip put into the creation of St George’s House in Windsor. The clergy know it as a resource offered to those in ministry and as a place to think about those things he thought about so deeply, character, resilience in public life, service. You see, it really was the character of our humanity that fascinated Prince Philip. He quoted Shakespeare, ‘Men at some time are master of their fates…’ So, if we are to remember him as we should we must acknowledge that he thought deeply about human character and about human purpose. Life was not something that happened to him, it was an act of discipline and will.
He was not wrong. That he should now take his leave of us at Easter is remarkable. In this Abbey and in churches across the Commonwealth Paschal candles burn as witness to the resurrection of Christ, the one who lived our human life fully without trace of compromise or abuse. Prince Philip, a man of faith, understood that faith is not an airy commitment to doctrine, or a set of rules. He knew that we are called to live fully and die in hope.
We are the richer for the fact that this life, this energy and ability were put at the service of the Crown and our Commonwealth. There were so many different things that he could have achieved, but this was his achievement, to have kept his word and to have set this example of dignity and self-effacing service, that particular character, at the heart of our national life. What a character it was.
A gaze directed to the Crown. A refusal to talk of himself. A life lived in a spotlight which he never courted. He lived and died a man of his word. We remember the example he set and give thanks. And, as he would have us do, we turn away and look now to God who, remarkably, in this Easter season, directs our gaze back to human life as the theatre of divine action and purpose. At Easter, life is not lost it endures; witness, service and hope are not defeated, they are victorious. At Easter, faith turns into glory. To God’s mercy and protection we commit Philip, in thanksgiving and in a hope that we know will never be disappointed.