Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth, died today at 99. He was the longest-serving royal consort in British history.
His death, announced by Buckingham Palace, came more than three-and-a-half years after Philip formally stepped back from public life, a retreat that had been happening gradually for several years.
In an interview in June 2011 with the BBC, the no-nonsense Philip spoke about “winding down” and reducing his workload as a member of the Royal Family.
“I reckon I’ve done my bit so I want to enjoy myself a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say,” he said.
His final official public engagement came on Aug, 2, 2017, when he attended a parade of Royal Marines at Buckingham Palace and met servicemen who had taken part in a charity race.
Through the Queen’s 68 years on the throne, the man whom she had called her “strength and stay” carried out more than 22,000 solo engagements and made nearly 5,500 speeches. He attended events periodically with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family after stepping back from official duties.
Often viewed as a gruff curmudgeon prone to gaffes that grabbed the headlines, the 99-year-old royal was also a guiding force for the House of Windsor and sought to introduce more modern practices into an institution steeped in tradition.
He had been in hospital several times in recent years, including for hip replacement surgery in April 2018 and for treatment of a pre-existing condition in December 2019. He was in hospital again this year, returning to Windsor Castle in mid-March.
While he had retired from public duties, Philip found himself back in the public eye and at the centre of controversy in early 2019 after a Land Rover he was driving collided with a car near Sandringham, the royal estate in eastern England.
Philip wasn’t hurt, but his vehicle rolled over, and a woman in the car suffered a broken wrist. He eventually apologized to her and said he had been dazzled by the sun while turning onto a main road. He also gave up his driver’s licence.
Pictures of him with the Queen were released occasionally over the past year, including at the time of his 99th birthday last June and for their 73rd wedding anniversary in November. During the pandemic lockdown, he and the Queen had been staying at Windsor Castle.
Philip was born a prince of both Greece and Denmark on June 10, 1921, on the dining room table at his parents’ home in Mon Repos, on the Greek island of Corfu.
Despite his birthplace, he had no Greek ancestry. His family tree includes members of the royal families of Denmark, Germany, Russia and Britain.
The Greek royal family was forced into exile in 1922 when Philip was 18 months old.
His father was Prince Andrew of Greece, whose own father was the grandson of King Christian IX of Denmark. Philip’s mother was Princess Alice of Battenberg, the eldest child of Prince Louis of Battenberg and the sister of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
For Philip, it was an unstable, unsettled childhood. The family broke down, with his mother ill periodically and in a sanitarium. His father went off to Monte Carlo with his mistress.
As a boy, Philip attended schools in England, Germany and Scotland before joining the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, England, as a cadet, in 1939.
Through his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the 18-year-old Philip was introduced to British royal circles. At that point, he met a 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth, his third cousin: both had Queen Victoria as a great-great-grandmother.
When the Second World War broke out, he focused on his naval career and quickly rose through the ranks. At just 21, he was appointed first lieutenant (second in command) of the destroyer HMS Wallace, which took part in the Allied landings at Sicily.
When he returned home in January 1946, Philip, who had kept in touch with Elizabeth, began courting the young princess. Their engagement was announced 18 months later.
Although most of the public embraced the union, some were unhappy with Philip’s un-British origins, and many began referring to him as “Phil the Greek.” He silenced those critics when he became a British citizen in 1947 and renounced his Greek royal titles. He became Lt. Philip Mountbatten.
He and Elizabeth were married on Nov. 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey in a wedding that helped boost British spirits still recovering from the war. He was designated a royal highness, created a knight of the Garter and awarded the title Duke of Edinburgh.
Assuming his new royal role, Philip continued to be appointed and promoted to different positions in the navy. By 1952, he had reached the rank of commander.
His naval career came to an end that year when, on a trip to Kenya, Princess Elizabeth received news that her father, King George VI, had died and that she had become Queen.
As husband of the sovereign, Philip was not crowned at the coronation ceremony in 1953.
Although his active role with the navy was finished, he continued his involvement in the armed forces. He was appointed admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, colonel-in-chief of the Army Cadet Force and air commodore-in-chief of the Air Training Corps. In 1953, he also had the duties of admiral of the fleet, field marshal and marshal of the Royal Air Force.
In February 1957, he was awarded the titular dignity of Prince of the United Kingdom and became known as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
While carving out an independent role from the Queen, he also established a reputation for blunt and controversial quips.
In 1966, he sparked outrage when he said, “British women can’t cook.” During a visit to China in 1986, he described Beijing as “ghastly” and told British students: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
He told a Briton he met in Hungary in 1993: “You can’t have been here that long, you haven’t got a pot-belly.”
In Australia in 2002, the prince asked an Aborigine if “you still throw spears at each other.”
He also dismissed stress counselling for servicemen in a TV documentary on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, saying, “It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun, asking, ‘Are you all right? Are you sure you don’t have a ghastly problem?’ You just got on with it.”
While his quips would sometimes offend, Philip was praised for his honesty.
Prince William told the BBC in November 2004 that he admired his grandfather’s occasional bluntness.
“He will tell me something I don’t want to hear and doesn’t care if I get upset about it. He knows it’s the right thing to say.”
Philip came under intense scrutiny after Diana, Princess of Wales, the ex-wife of Philip and Elizabeth’s eldest son, Prince Charles, died following a Paris car crash with her companion, Dodi Fayed, in 1997.
Philip and the rest of the Royal Family went into seclusion after the accident, but Philip later made a strong statement at Diana’s funeral, walking with his family behind her casket as it was carried on a carriage through the streets of London.
After the funeral, Fayed’s father, the powerful Egyptian businessman Mohammed Al-Fayed, blamed Philip for the crash. He accused Philip of ordering British secret service agents to kill Diana and Fayed because Philip didn’t want Diana to marry a Muslim.
An inquest into the accident cleared Philip of any wrongdoing, blaming the crash instead on the negligent driving of Diana and Fayed’s chauffeur and the paparazzi who were chasing them.
Although Philip reportedly had a heart condition, he maintained a busy pace and in recent years enjoyed relatively good health, punctuated by some trips to hospital. In June 2010, he underwent surgery on his left hand for carpal tunnel syndrome. He was treated in 2008 for a chest infection.
Philip spent four nights in hospital over Christmas in 2011 recovering from a successful coronary stent procedure. Nearly six months later, he missed half the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations after he was taken to hospital with a bladder infection. He later spent five days in a Scottish hospital for the same problem.
On June 2, 2013, he was admitted to a London hospital for exploratory abdominal surgery. Returning to his duties two months later, he declared it was a “great pleasure to be back in circulation.”
Philip served as president or patron of nearly 800 organizations, and he attended an average of 370 official engagements annually.
For recreation, he enjoyed sailing, cricket and carriage-driving. When he was younger he also played polo, but said age forced him to take up carriage-driving, which he jokingly called a “geriatric sport.”
Despite his busy schedule, he accompanied the Queen on her Commonwealth tours and state visits overseas, as well as on tours and visits to all parts of the United Kingdom. He visited Canada with the Queen on several occasions, their last trip together coming in the summer of 2010.
In April 2013, Philip made an unexpected solo visit to Toronto, where he presented a new ceremonial flag to the Royal Canadian Regiment’s 3rd Battalion. He had served as the regiment’s colonel-in-chief since 1953. During that brief visit, he was also awarded the highest level of the Order of Canada by Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
He was steadfast in his support of the Queen, spending his public life two paces behind her, but always ready to help when needed. Those who knew the royal couple well say the Queen often deferred to Philip in private.
During celebrations for her Golden Jubilee on the throne in 2002, the Queen offered a tribute to the royal consort.
“He has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years,” she told the crowds.
“And I and his whole family and this and many other countries owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we should ever know.”
In 2011, the Royal Mint, to mark Prince Philip’s 90th birthday, issued a commemorative £5 coin featuring a portrait of Prince Philip on one side and the Queen on the other. It was the first time a reigning monarch and consort appeared on opposite sides of a U.K. coin.
Prince Philip leaves three sons and a daughter, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.