Britain’s Prince Philip, a stalwart supporter of his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, for over seven decades, died Friday. He was 99.
“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement Friday. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”
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The Duke of Edinburgh was known as one of the hardest-working members of the royal family during his tenure alongside the country’s longest-reigning monarch. Philip married then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and fulfilled thousands of royal duties.
“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but 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,” Queen Elizabeth said in 1997, paying tribute to her husband on their golden wedding anniversary, celebrating 50 years together.
At age 96 in August 2017, Prince Philip retired from official royal duties with the “full support of the queen,” according to Buckingham Palace.
He completed 22,219 solo engagements since 1952, gave 5,496 speeches in his travels to more than 76 countries, authored 14 books, served as patron to 785 organizations and made 637 solo overseas visits, Buckingham Palace said.
In his customary good humor, Philip joked to a well-wisher who said he was sorry the Duke of Edinburgh was standing down shortly after the retirement announcement, saying, “Standing down? I can barely stand up these days.”
Even after his official retirement, Prince Philip still appeared at Queen Elizabeth’s side for events like Remembrance Sunday, but took a step back and spent more time at Windsor Castle and Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate to enjoy painting, carriage riding and his other hobbies.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth married in 1947 and marked their 73rd wedding anniversary on Nov. 20, 2020.
A traveling prince
Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was born June 10, 1921, in a villa on the Greek island of Corfu. His parents were Prince Andrew of Greece and Princess Alice of Battenberg.
Philip was their youngest child and only son.
His father, Prince Andrew, was a younger son of a Danish prince who had been chosen to become King George I of Greece and Queen Olga, a Russian princess. Princess Alice, a minor German princess, was a great-granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
Despite their notable backgrounds, one year after Philip’s birth, Andrew and Alice found themselves refugees after a coup in Greece that chased out the royal family.
Philip first grew up in Paris and was later sent to prep school in England. He then attended Gordonstoun, a Scottish boarding school where he would send his own sons.
When Philip’s parents separated during his childhood, his father spent most of his time in the South of France; his mother, after suffering from bouts of mental illness, was committed to a sanatorium for several years before returning to Greece.
With his four older sisters all married into the German aristocracy, Philip no longer had a family home.
He began spending more time with his mother’s brother, George, Marquis of Milford Haven. When the marquis died of cancer in 1938, Philip found a new mentor in his mother’s other brother, Louis Mountbatten, the future Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Mountbatten was the younger son of Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had married a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and joined the British Royal Navy, rising to become admiral of the fleet and first sea lord. He lost that position during World War I when Britons became suspicious of anyone with German blood and the Battenbergs found it prudent to anglicize their name to Mountbatten.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, the young Prince Philip was sent to the Royal Naval Academy at Dartmouth and joined the British navy. While Philip served with distinction in an illustrious naval career, including service during World War II, his Mountbatten uncle devised plans for an introduction to then-Princess Elizabeth.
Love and marriage
Philip met Princess Elizabeth for the first time in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, the Duke of Kent. Elizabeth was not the heir apparent at the time but became so two years later after her uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated so that he could marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, the two met several times. A very young Princess Elizabeth became smitten with the blond, blue-eyed Philip. Her governess recorded that Philip’s “Viking good looks” made quite an impression on the princess.
The couple exchanged letters and, in 1946, Philip, then in his mid-20s, was given permission by King George VI to marry his daughter, on the condition that they wait until Elizabeth was 21.
Her father’s courtiers, however, were less impressed. There were reservations about Prince Philip’s lack of financial resources and foreign roots. King George VI was also reportedly concerned about his daughter’s young age and whether Philip would remain faithful to his daughter. But Elizabeth was determined and, on Nov. 20, 1947, she married Philip in Westminster Abbey.
Philip renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the anglicized surname of his mother’s family, calling himself Lt. Philip Mountbatten. His new father-in-law granted him the titles of Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.
For a while, Philip and Elizabeth lived a relatively normal life. He continued to serve in the navy, and the couple soon had two children, Charles, the future Prince of Wales, and Anne.
Then, everything changed. King George VI died on Feb. 6, 1952, and Philip’s wife became Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 26 while touring Kenya.
‘Nothing but a bloody amoeba’
Philip had risen to the rank of commander in the Royal Navy, but he gave up his career on his wife’s accession. He eventually became patron or president of about 800 organizations, with particular emphasis on the areas of scientific and technical research and sports.
Elizabeth did not give her husband the formal title of “prince consort,” as Victoria had done for her beloved Albert, but in 1957 the Duke of Edinburgh was declared a prince of the United Kingdom.
For Prince Philip’s 90th birthday in 2011, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Lord High Admiral.
On their 70th wedding anniversary in November 2017, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Philip to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order for his services to the sovereign.
Philip and Elizabeth had two more children, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.
But Philip had reportedly been angry to learn, after his wife’s accession, that his children would never bear his last name, according to a 2012 biography of the queen by author Sally Bedell Smith.
“I’m nothing but a bloody amoeba,” a resentful Philip reportedly said. “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children.”
Although they didn’t bear his surname, Philip took a very active role in his children’s upbringing. At his insistence, all three of his sons went to Gordonstoun, his old boarding school, which Charles is said to have loathed.
Philip was very protective of both his family and the family business into which he married. He reportedly wrote stern letters to his daughters-in-law, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, when he felt their actions embarrassed the monarchy.
He also had the reputation for being particularly candid with members of his own family. His eldest son, Prince Charles, said in a biography that his father pushed him into marriage. Philip also sent Diana letters as her marriage to Prince Charles fell apart, hoping to calm tensions and mediate the differences between them.
“We never dreamed he might feel like leaving you for her. I cannot imagine anyone in their right mind leaving you for Camilla. Such a prospect never even entered our heads,” wrote Philip in one letter.
The sympathetic letters to Diana were often signed “with fondest love, Pa,” and also expressed exasperation at how the couple’s problems had been made public and embarrassed the monarchy.
When Diana was killed in a 1997 car crash, Philip took the reins of the family and was a stalwart force for Queen Elizabeth. She was criticized for remaining at Balmoral with Diana and Charles’s children, Prince William and Prince Harry.
Philip’s only concern was protecting his grandsons from the intense scrutiny by the press and allowing them to grieve for their mother in the aftermath of her tragic death.
When Downing Street officials suggested that William and Harry might walk behind their mother’s coffin, an anguished Philip reportedly bellowed into the phone, “F— off. We are talking about two boys who have just lost their mother.”
Philip ultimately put aside his personal feelings and told young William and Harry, “I’ll walk if you walk.”
Over the years, Prince Philip has also seen his share of controversy.
In January 2019, the 97-year-old prince made headlines after he was involved in a serious car crash near the queen’s Sandringham estate.
Prince Philip collided with another car carrying two women and a 9-month-old baby. No one was seriously injured but questions were raised as to whether the prince should still be driving at his age. The matter was compounded when two days after the accident, Philip was back behind the wheel without a seat belt on the Queen’s private estate, an offense punishable by a fine under UK law. The prince was criticized for his lack of sensitivity and apparent disregard for the law.
He was also well known for his royal gaffes. The British and Canadian press equally denounced him for a blunt comment in Canada in 1976, where he said, “We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
Prince Philip has been hospitalized a number of times over the last few decades.
In October 2007, it was revealed that the prince had been suffering from a heart condition since 1992. In April 2008, he was hospitalized for a chest infection but recovered quickly.
In December 2011, the prince suffered chest pains and had minor surgery to open a blocked artery.
During Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June 2012, he was hospitalized for a bladder infection just before his 91st birthday, and Buckingham Palace announced in August he was readmitted to the hospital while on his annual Scottish summer at Balmoral.
A year later, the royal household said Prince Philip had once again been admitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery after his doctors revealed that it was necessary following “abdominal investigations.” The surgery was conducted under general anesthesia and the palace later said he was progressing satisfactorily, but would remain in the hospital for approximately two weeks.
In June 2017, Buckingham Palace was forced to announce Prince Philip had been hospitalized again as the reason he was going to miss the state opening of Parliament, which he attended annually with Queen Elizabeth.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London last night, as a precautionary measure, for treatment of an infection arising from a pre-existing condition.”
In April 2018, Buckingham Palace announced Prince Philip was to be hospitalized again, this time for hip surgery at the age of 96, after missing a number of events due to discomfort.
“His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London this afternoon, for planned surgery on his hip, which will take place tomorrow,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
Queen Elizabeth’s mother, the Queen Mother, also underwent hip surgery at the age of 97, so although the surgery carried risks due to his advanced age, doctors wanted to ensure Philip would be in less pain. His beloved grandson, Harry, was set to marry American-born Meghan Markle in May 2018 and Philip wanted to recover in time for his grandson’s wedding.
Prince Philip was seen carriage driving on the grounds of Windsor Castle shortly after his 97th birthday in June 2018, just months after his hip replacement surgery.
Philip was later hospitalized in December 2019, when he was taken to King Edward VII Hospital for “observation and treatment in relation to a pre-existing condition,” the palace said in a statement at the time.
He was admitted again to King Edward VII Hospital in February 2021 as “a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness’s Doctor, after feeling unwell,” according to a Buckingham Palace statement.
The duke later underwent a “successful procedure” at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London for a pre-existing heart condition, according to Buckingham Palace.
Philip was transferred back to King Edward VII Hospital and then discharged from the hospital on March, 16, 2021, after “treatment for an infection and a successful procedure for a pre-existing condition,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.
Both the duke and Queen Elizabeth received COVID-19 vaccinations in January 2021, soon after the vaccines became available in the United Kingdom.
The outspoken prince was an avid sportsman, and he played polo regularly until 1971 and helped develop the country’s interest in carriage driving.
Despite his somewhat prickly nature, Prince Philip could also be very supportive, especially toward his wife and family. He was particularly proud of his daughter, Anne.
Rarely missing any royal occasions, the prince has always been by his wife’s side. The British public revered Prince Philip for his no-nonsense style, his unwavering public service and devotion to Queen Elizabeth. The Queen acknowledged Prince Philip’s commitment in front of Parliament in 2012.
“During these years as your queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure,” the queen said. “Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind. But throughout he has been a constant strength and guide.”
Later, during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, with Philip once again in the hospital, Prince Charles paid tribute to his father: “As a nation, this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us, for inspiring us with your selfless duty and service and for making us proud to be British.”
In addition to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip is survived by his three sons: Charles, the Prince of Wales; Andrew, the Duke of York; and Edward, the Earl of Wessex; one daughter, Princess Anne; and eight grandchildren, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry of Wales; Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York; Peter and Zara Phillips, as well as Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.
He also has 10 great-grandchildren: Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, the children of Prince William and Duchess Kate; Archie, the son of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan; along with a great-grandson from Prince Andrew’s daughter Eugenie, two great-grandchildren from Princess Anne’s son, Peter Phillips, and three great-grandchildren from Anne’s daughter, Zara Tindall, an Olympic equestrian.
Philip’s title is expected to pass to his youngest son, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
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