Philip and the Tiger
One of the funniest claims in the last few days was that Prince Philip had coped well with the “hand he’d been dealt”. The hand he’d been dealt, to avoid any confusion, was being married to the richest woman in the world. It’s an example of how grievance culture has saturated even the aristocracy and been swallowed whole by a pliant and largely dutiful media churning out banal sycophancy at an astonishing rate.
A close competitor to this fallacy was the argument (which has quickly become widely accepted) that Prince Philip was an ardent and early environmentalist based on his helping to found the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. Four months before he did this he was in India where the photograph above was taken. Here he is with the Queen posing next to an eight-foot tiger he’d shot with the Maharaja and Maharani of Jaipur. He also killed a crocodile and six mountain sheep on the three-day hunt.
Prince Philip had gone ahead with the hunt, despite strident protests from British and Indian politicians. He also defended his decision to shoot a tiger following the incident, which caused even more backlash. In his book “Queen of the World,” royal author Robert Hardman detailed the incident:
“The Maharajah was very clear about the main purpose of the visit: The Duke of Edinburgh was going to shoot a tiger. At the very moment the Duke was in the process of establishing the World Wildlife Fund, which would be founded four months later,” he wrote.
In his tribute on Friday the Prime Minister called him a “champion of the natural world”.
I have questions.
Of course Royalty – and this family in particular – is saturated in blood sports. It’s in the DNA of their “Highland Retreat”, their Empire and their entire worldview. If colonialism is at the heart of the British condition – then domination of nature – extractivism and exploitation are central to this. Sandringham is like a Taxidermy tribute to the British Empire’s contribution to species-loss.
Prince Philip’s late rehabilitation as a champion of the natural world has precedent though. His son inherited the bizarre aristocratic world of organics which he witters on about to no particular affect other than some heavily-endorsed biscuits. I say this as a champion of organics but its origins (and much of its ethos) lies in the concern of people who own the land.
Philip’s own narrative about the intimate connection between domination and colonialism is explicit. As the India Times reported:
“During Prince Philip’s last visit to India to mark the 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, he joined the Queen on a visit to Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, where the royals laid a commemorative wreath at the site associated with General Dyer’s orders to open fire on a large Baisakhi gathering in April 1919. As someone known for his gaffes, among his many infamous ones includes his query of the death toll at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
“Two thousand? It wasn’t, was it,” he questioned, as he passed by a plaque at the memorial, which read “This place is saturated with the blood of about two thousand Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were martyred in a non-violent struggle”.”That’s wrong. I was in the Navy with Dyer’s son. That’s a bit exaggerated… it must include the wounded,” he said.
“… to argue that Big Game Hunting is part of a sustainable future is a spiral of stupidity that ignores our role in imperialism and unfolding omnicide. A natural world so despoiled and distorted out of equilibrium needs a far deeper response than either ‘Get the Dentist’ or ‘hunting brings lots of money to conservation’. Time reports: “The problem does not stop with lions. Poachers killed between 15 and 20 rhinos in the country in 2014, 60 rhinos in 2013 and 84 (the peak) in 2008. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 60% of the rhino population in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed between 2003 and 2005″ (Prepare to get angrier). The freak culture of hunting is a celebration of a world that is out of control, a hyper-commercialised blood-lust that thrives on destroying the natural. We are dangerously out of kilter with the real world and our collection of our online trophy-killer-selfies are just the apex of that crisis.”
And here we are again retro-fitting Philip as an environmentalist and confusing both the history of this massacre and the challenge ahead.
This colonial history of environmentalism is richly entwined with White Saviour Complex and a revisionist notion that Britain had a progressive role in India, and elsewhere. Like so much today we are hurtling backwards.
Even in 1961 this was thought awful.
At the time, royal biographer Robert Hardman wrote in his book Queen of the World, that the Maharajah was very clear about the main purpose of the visit: The Duke of Edinburgh was going to shoot a tiger.
“At the very moment the Duke was in the process of establishing the World Wildlife Fund,” Hardman wrote. “Yet in the India of 1961, the tiger was still seen as a desirable pest and very desirable trophy. There was certainly no secrecy about the exercise. Day and night the Queen, the Duke and their hosts waited in a tree platform while 200 beaters scoured the jungle.”