Prince Harry during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey. Picture: CBS
Prince Harry during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey. Picture: CBS

Harry’s sneaky attack in Philip tribute

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Never has a Latin phrase gotten so much attention, well at least since Roman poet Horace first jotted down 'carpe diem', as in the past few hours.

Overnight both Prince William and Prince Harry put out statements honouring their grandfather Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh after he passed away last Friday at the age of 99 years old.

While William adopted the dignified tone and tenor of a future king, suitably reverential and restrained, Harry lent into his former cheeky chappy persona putting out a statement saluting the Duke as "master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right 'til the end".

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But during a week when the attention should have been relentlessly focused on remembering Philip and how lifelong dedication to service (and let's be home gaffedom), there was one particular, very loaded phrase at the end of Harry's statement.

"Per Mare, Per Terram."

Meaning "by sea, by land" the motto belongs to the Royal Marines, the unit of which Philip was the honorary head for 64 years.

In 2017, when the nonagenarian finally retired and hung up his plaque unveiling blazer, Harry was given the prestigious role. "Don't cock it up," Philip told his grandson on the day he handed over the reins, according to the BBC.

However, Harry only held onto the position for just over three years.

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Prince Philip entrusted his grandson Prince Harry with the prestigious role which he only held for three years. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Prince Philip entrusted his grandson Prince Harry with the prestigious role which he only held for three years. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

A quick recap here.

In February this year, as the 12-month Megxit review period drew to a close, the question of Harry's various honorary military roles, including with the Marines, needed to finally be answered. (The roles had been put in abeyance when he and Meghan officially quit in 2020.)

The California-based Duke let it be known he dearly wanted to hold onto the post, with a friend telling The Telegraph at the time, "His military work is one of the most important things to him. Of course he wants to keep them."

The logistics aside (Montecito being a good 8500km plus from the military bases in southern England where the Royal Marines are based) the biggest sticking problem that simply could not be overcome was that Harry wanted to pursue both his new glitzy Hollywood-meets-Silicon Valley career while holding onto these official, royal titles.

The Queen put her foot down and on February 19 the final decision was made.

Thus Harry and Megan were forced to relinquish their remaining official roles (which also included his positions as Honorary Air Commandant, RAF Honington and Commodore-in-Chief, Royal Navy Small Ships and Diving and her roles as Patron of the Royal National Theatre and Vice-President of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust) the most prominent of which was his Royal Marines post.

Harry and Meghan, in what some interpreted as a fit of pique, then put out a missive containing what amounted to a regal 'yeah but' rebuttal, saying "service is universal".

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Which is why Harry's decision to sign off his Philip tribute using the Royal Marines motto is a spectacularly loaded move.

While it could be seen as simply an affectionate nod to his grandfather's military career (the so-called Iron Duke also served 13 years in the British navy including during World War II) these recent tribulations over honorary military roles means the phrase was always going to take on a more freighted hue.

In the current context, the deployment of those four words can be read as him having a subtle go at the palace's ultimate decision in regards to his military roles.

(It's also worth keeping in mind here that, as The Telegraph's Defence and Security Correspondent, has pointed out, signing off letters with a unito motto is not a British military custom - but is very much an American one. If anyone needs a hint about where Harry's priorities and future lies, then look no further.)

Harry’s statement on Prince Philip shows how much he’s already been influenced by life in America. Picture: CBS
Harry’s statement on Prince Philip shows how much he’s already been influenced by life in America. Picture: CBS

It is also interesting that the Duke of Sussex chose to praise his grandfather for being a man who was "authentically himself". Having fought to get out from under the long shadow cast by the palace to live a life on his own terms, Harry's decision to single this quality out is particularly notable.

If there is one thing that has marked the Sussexes' post-royal life it is what looks like an ongoing dedication to attempting to subtly - and not so subtly - score points against the royal house, most notably during their recent explosive Oprah Winfrey TV interview last month.

It remains to be seen what the reaction to Harry's potentially eyebrow-raising testimonial might be.

Harry's statement came out around 30 minutes after brother William's version and was released by his LA-based team rather than any royal press office. According to The Telegraph, "Both princes wrote the statements themselves and, while the palace were made aware of the timing of Prince Harry's tribute, they were not involved in the wording."

Even the fact there were two statements is significant here given that previously, during simpler, less fraught times, the Wales men might have been expected to have put out a shared one. It would seem that their relationship has frayed such that what might once have been a given is now no longer even a remote possibility

Previously William and Harry may have released a joint statement. Picture: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images.
Previously William and Harry may have released a joint statement. Picture: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images.

What is sad is that even at a time when Britain has got behind the Queen, united in their support for her after the loss of her husband of more than 73 years, the same cannot be said for her family.

So here's a spot more Latin: Cui bono?

Or, if your dead language knowledge is a little rusty, who benefits? Who benefits when at a moment such as this family drama, for the umpteenth time, again threatens to overtake carefully wrought royal plans?

That's a question William and Harry, who is holed up in Frogmore Cottage having started the five-day isolation period he will need to complete to attend Philip's service, will have plenty of time to think about before Saturday.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.

 

 

Originally published as Harry's sneaky attack in Philip tribute