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My latest Netflix obsession has been The Crown, with the second season premiering this past weekend. There is an intense and unique dynamic between Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip due to the vast disparity of power in their relationship. The Queen is considered to be the highest ranking official in the Church of England, whereas Prince Philip was not granted his full title until years after marrying into the royal family. He is also outranked by his son Prince Charles, heir to the throne, a detail that irks him throughout the duration of the series. The show begins at the start of the Queen’s reign, at a time when traditional marriages were the only kind. Prince Philip’s relative lack of power in the relationship becomes the crux of their relational difficulties as he grows further insecure. In an era where men were the undisputed leaders of the family, this unconventional relationship continues to draw conflict in many different circumstances.
Philip appears to alternate between being supportive of the young monarch and displaying bitter resentment. There were various aspects of protocol that continued to urk the Prince, such as having to walk behind the Queen as opposed to beside her, and the fact that the English government prevented him from passing on his last name to his children. It is later revealed that Prince Philip had a very harsh upbringing and appears to cling to his ideals of masculinity to help define himself. His father was exiled from his homeland when Philip was only a year old, while his mother was institutionalized in Germany. He has made himself into the man he is and his lack of influence in the relationship causes him to feel restless and unempowered. One of the greatest conflicts early on in their marriage was the matter of whether or not he would kneel before the Queen at her coronation. He was adamantly opposed to the idea, yet he still had to bend the knee before his wife on live television broadcast across the country. Time and time again, it was thrown in Prince Philip’s face just how little power he truly held.
Power refers to an individual’s ability to exert control over others and influence their actions. A core concept of this power is dominance, which is the expression of power by the act of maintaining influence over your relational partner. Guerrero, Andersen, & Afifi contend that people who are considered to be “interpersonally dominant tend to possess at least some combination of the following characteristics: poise, panache, self-assurance, and the ability to control conversation.” (GAA, pg. 316). Self-assurance is related to an individual’s focus, drive, and leadership qualities, all of which the Queen possesses. As the reigning sovereign of England, Queen Elizabeth has gone through extensive training to exert poise under the duress of all sorts of situations. From the time she was ten years old she has received formal training in maintaining her composure, as well as learning how to control conversations. The Queen of England is a powerful figure who needs to be seen as perfectly disciplined at all times, else the illusion be shattered for the British people. Conversation control “refers to an individual’s ability to manage a conversation by doing things such as regulating who talks and how long the interaction will last” (GAA, pg. 317). There is one specific example that is particularly apposite: the buzzer that the Queen uses for her meetings. Most of the Queen’s meetings with important social and political figures, such as the Prime Minister or another member of the royal family, were held in the same room. First, she would hold out her hand and they would bow their head and kiss the back of her hand as a display of deference. Then, everyone else in the room would wait until the Queen had been seated in order to sit down themselves. Thus, Queen Elizabeth starts every interaction in complete control of the situation. When she has decided that the meeting is over, she would press the buzzer on the table next to her, which alerts the doorman that the next person should be sent it. They open the doors and the Queen stands up, a crystal clear message that the meeting has ended.
Queen Elizabeth’s royal status gives her clear objective power over the citizens of her country, including Prince Philip. While people with objective power may fail to influence others if they aren’t perceived as powerful, the Queen asserts her dominance quite thoroughly. “People who employ power cues and act powerfully tend to be perceived as powerful,” (GAA, pg. 317) and Queen Elizabeth does just that. Using her buzzer to end a meeting is a distinct power cue, but she also displays other power cues in her relationship with the Prince. Unfortunately, “excessive power or frequent power plays often cripple close relationship,” (GAA, pg. 322) due to the fact that “few people like being dominated or manipulated and often respond to power plays with resistance, stubbornness, and defiance” (GAA, pg. 322). Prince Philip displayed all of these qualities since the beginning of the marriage, with his resistance towards showing deference to his wife, as well as directly defying her orders by going out on lavish excursions with members of a gentleman’s lunch club. Stubbornness seems to be a rather integral part of his personality already, but the imbalance of power in the relationship surely did not help. Queen Elizabeth was always ready to fall back on the crown as a form of power play, citing it as the ultimate reason behind many of her decisions. Later in the second season, they have a ferocious argument over which school Prince Charles should attend. Prince Philip thinks that his son should go to the same boarding school that he went to as a boy, whereas the Queen knows her son is too sensitive to thrive in such a harsh environment. However, the two of them had come to a compromise a few years before as to who would decide where the children were educated. Since the Queen already has so much power in the relationship, she conceded to letting Philip decide where the royal children went to school. When she tried renege on this contract while using her authority as a power play, Philip became absolutely furious and negative reciprocity ensued. The couple traditionally used the competitive fighting style of communication, where each of them tried “to control the interaction so they [had] more power than their partner,” (GAA, pg. 291) which resulted in an even more intense argument due to negative reciprocity. When “one person uses competitive or indirect fighting, the other person is likely to follow suit” (GAA, pg. 291). That is exactly what occurred in this scenario.
A defining trait of the relationship between the Queen and the Prince is contempt. Showing contempt towards your partner “is one of the most destructive forms of communication that can occur in a relationship,” (GAA, pg. 304) and “is often the byproduct of long-standing problems in a relationship” (GAA, pg. 304). The royal couple feels that they cannot solve their relational issues, and each of them perceives their partner to be the problem. Contempt is easy to identify in speech, and “involves any insult, mockery, or sarcasm or derision, of the person” (GAA, pg. 304) in the relationship. Prince Philip shows considerable contempt towards the Queen, frequently using sarcasm in a negative manner to mock her decisions and persona. At the height of their relational tension, the Queen begins stonewalling her partner. She begins to avoid the Prince, a somewhat easy task due to the fact that he is always out cavorting with his friends from the lunch club. The conflict reaches its peak when Queen Elizabeth leaves Buckingham Palace without informing the Prince, due to a doctor’s recommendation that she rest while pregnant to prevent complications. She retreats to Balmoral Castle, even going so far as to live in the separate mansion deeper in the Highlands. When Philip finally realizes that he must try to fix the relationship, he flies out to Scotland and confronts the Queen. Only then do they reach a true, collaborative understanding on how to keep their marriage alive and learn to trust each other again.
I do not envy either individual in the relationship, but I think that Prince Philip had a particularly hard time due to the cultural expectations that he was raised with. He always assumed that he was going to be head of the household, passing on his name to his wife and children and making all of the decisions as dictated by a traditional marriage. Even though he knew that he was marrying the Queen, I doubt he fully realized what a shift it would be. Going by the relative timeline of The Crown, I’d say it took over a decade for the two of them to finally reconcile their differences and collaborate to find a solution, not just compromise.
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