Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the occasionally irascible but always stalwart husband of Queen Elizabeth II and Britain’s oldest and longest-serving royal spouse in 10 centuries, has died. He was 99.
Buckingham Palace announced he died Friday morning at Windsor Castle.
“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,” the statement read. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”
His death is a personal loss to the monarch and to his family, and a substantial one: Most British historians and commentators believe Philip was one of the keys to the queen’s enduring (69 years and counting) success as a monarch. The queen herself famously described him as her “strength and stay.”
“Irreplaceable,” as one of his admirers summed up in a recent film documentary, “The Real Prince Philip.”
But as royal consort, Philip’s passing does not affect the royal succession nor the British government. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced but royal funerals are routinely planned years in advance. Philip’s funeral plan is known as Operation Forth Bridge.
As husband of the sovereign, the duke is entitled to a state funeral, but he has expressed his preference for a private, military-style funeral at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle and burial nearby at Frogmore Gardens, where his great-great grandparents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, are interred.
Philip, who turned 99 in June 2020, had been in isolation with the queen at Windsor Castle, at Balmoral Castle in Scotland or at Wood Farm at Sandringham since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he was photographed in public twice in July 2020: He appeared with the queen at the private wedding of their granddaughter, Princess Beatrice, on July 17 on the Windsor Castle estate, and he appeared on the castle Quadrangle for a ceremonial hand over of his role as Colonel in Chief of The Rifles military regiment.
Both he and the Queen received their COVID-19 vaccines in January 2021.
Married to the queen for more than 70 years, Philip was a steady presence behind her at thousands of public events, becoming as familiar to the British people as the queen if not always as beloved.
He gave an estimated 5,000 speeches, according to Buckingham Palace, and carried out about 32,000 solo engagements between 1952 and 2017. But he also became famous, and infamous, for making funny, sharp, insensitive or even racially offensive remarks in public.
The royal household had been planning celebrations to mark Philip’s 100th birthday on June 10, assuming coronavirus lockdown restrictions allowed it.
Philip’s death comes as the royal family is in the midst of another damaging crisis, after his grandson, Prince Harry, and Harry’s wife, Duchess Meghan of Sussex, spoke to Oprah Winfrey for an interview aired on CBS on March 7, 2021. The couple shocked the world when they said they gave up their royal roles in 2020 and fled to America because of racism in the family and the media, and because the palace refused to help Meghan, a biracial American, deal with suicidal thoughts when she became depressed by the pressure.
Winfrey later clarified that Harry said that neither the queen nor Philip were the close relative they described as expressing concerns when she was pregnant about how dark her baby’s skin color would be. But they have declined to say who it was.
The queen issued a statement two days later saying the family would deal with the uproar privately within the family, and that “some recollections may vary” about who said what to whom.
The signs of an approaching end were already visible for Prince Philip.
The prince was admitted to London’s King Edward VII Hospital on Feb. 16 after feeling unwell. Buckingham Palace said it was a precautionary measure and noted he was expected to remain there for a few days of observation, rest and treatment of an infection. He was transferred to another hospital, St Bartholomew’s, for a successful heart procedure, and then returned to King Edward VII’s hospital. He was released and returned to Windsor Castle on March 16, 2021. It was the longest hospitalization of his life.
The last time he was hospitalized, in December 2019, it was for “observation and treatment” as a “precautionary measure” to treat a pre-existing condition.
On Jan. 17, 2019 he emerged unscathed from a car wreck near the royal Sandringham estate. He decided to give up his license after the crash, in which two women in the other car were injured, but not seriously.
Retired from public life, he attended the wedding of his grandson Prince Harry to the former American actress Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle in May 2018, about a month after he was hospitalized for successful hip replacement surgery. He also was seen at the wedding of granddaughter Princess Eugenie in October 2018.
Philip departs the royal stage at a time when his family is in another paroxysm over the role of one of its most beloved members, Prince Harry, younger son of the late Princess Diana, the last royal at the center of national controversy, who died in 1997.
Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced in January 2020 they were giving up their royal roles and moving with their baby son Archie to North America in search of more freedom, privacy and financial independence. They now live in Santa Barbara County, California, where they have signed lucrative deals with Netflix and Spotify to produce entertainment, documentaries and podcasts.
They are not returning anytime soon, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic and because Meghan is pregnant with their second child. But also because this is the life they have chosen for themselves, to the regret of Harry’s royal relatives and the fury of the British tabloids.
For the first time in history, a member of the family, relatively close to the throne, will have a permanent foothold in America, including an American citizen descendant. It is not clear what Philip would have thought of this twist on the “special relationship” between Britain and America, because he has not been speaking in public for some years.
In May 2017, he announced that he would retire for good, though he also said he might choose to attend certain public events from time to time. In fact, he had cut back on his public duties after reaching his ninth decade, but up until his retirement he still carried out scores of engagements annually, alone or with the queen, despite ups and downs in his health.
In June 2017, when he was supposed to accompany the queen to the annual State Opening of Parliament ritual, Buckingham Palace announced that Philip had been hospitalized as a “precautionary measure” for an infection stemming from an existing condition. (Prince Charles instead accompanied the monarch to the ceremony.)
On May 3, 2017, he carried out one of his last engagements at one of his favorite places, Lord’s Cricket Ground, where he cut the ribbon and unveiled a plaque for a new viewing stand. “You’re about to see the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler,” he joked to those watching.
The duke had been hospitalized multiple times since the end of 2011, when the state of his health became a more pressing concern in Britain. In December of that year, he was rushed to the hospital when he suffered chest pains during the royal family’s annual Christmas holiday at Sandringham, the queen’s Norfolk estate.
He underwent an emergency stent procedure to correct a blocked artery and was released four days later, joining the family for New Year’s Day church services.
He also was hospitalized in 2012, during his wife’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, for what was described as a sudden bladder infection. The queen carried on. For a morning church service, she walked alone up the aisle when ordinarily she would have been accompanied by Philip, a few steps behind her. It gave the British a stark picture of what the future held without Prince Philip by their queen’s side.
In November 1997, when they celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary, the queen gave a speech in which she described the debt she and the country owe Philip.
“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,” she said in a poignant tribute.
Philip Eade, one of the prince’s biographers, wrote in The Telegraph that “a great deal of the credit for her achievement as probably the finest constitutional monarch in British history should go to her husband, Britain’s longest-serving royal consort.”
A distant cousin to the queen (both are great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria), Philip knew when he married her that his job was to support her, father her heirs (four children, eight grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one more on the way), stay out of politics, manage her palaces and always walk a few paces behind her in public.
This he did, quite splendidly according to his biographers, but it wasn’t easy for a prickly, proud, take-charge alpha male like Philip to tamp down his natural instincts and personality.
Modern viewers of Netflix’s popular “The Crown” got a glimpse of that personality when the series premiered in 2016, with actor Matt Smith in the role of the prince. The series examines how the queen learned to be a monarch, sort of on the job, and how she couldn’t have done it without Philip.
When he turned 90 in 2011, Philip was both lauded and lampooned in the British press, reflecting the ambivalence with which he was viewed. The Telegraph, a fan, said Philip had helped make the queen’s reign a success. The Independent, not as much a fan, published a list of 90 of his notorious gaffes.
He once asked a woman in a wheelchair, “Do people trip over you?” Another time he remarked, “It’s a vast waste of space,” after the queen opened a $29.5 million British Embassy in Berlin. “If you stay here too long you will become slitty-eyed,” he was once heard to remark to a British student in China.
Now that he’s gone, “there will be an opportunity to look at his life as a whole and people will be surprised at the multitude of things he achieved in different fields. Posthumously, he will be treated better than in life. All the press talks about is gaffes but it’s not the whole story,” said royals biographer Hugo Vickers, in an 2012 interview.
The whole story was filled with drama, tragedy and calamity. Philip lost his home, his name and identity, father, siblings and many close relatives by the time he was a young man. And when his wife became queen in 1953, he lost his job in the Royal Navy, which he loved.
Philip was born in 1921 on the Greek island of Corfu, son of a prince of the Greek royal family. Ethnically, however, he was mostly a Danish royal (the Greeks recruited his grandfather, a Danish prince, to be their king in the 19th century), with big doses of German and English royalty in his heritage.
When he was a baby, the Greeks got fed up with his family and ran them out of Greece. Later, his mother, Princess Alice, had a nervous breakdown and ended up in an asylum for years. His father, Prince Andrew, drifted to Monaco, where he died at 62.
Shuttled around to various relatives and boarding schools in Germany and Britain, Philip grew into a tough young man mostly raised by his English royal relations and marinated in the Navy. His maternal uncle, the endlessly ambitious Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, helped him get cozy with the British royal family, especially Elizabeth, five years his junior, who met him when she was 13 and never looked at another man again, according to their biographers.
“He got very cross, still does, at the idea that it was an arranged marriage,” says another of his biographers, Tim Heald. “She was in love with him. And he made a tremendous difference to her. He made it possible for her to succeed. Without him I think there might not be a monarchy.”
When he married Elizabeth in 1947, he renounced his Greek citizenship and church and became British, Anglican and a royal duke.
Philip sometimes seemed all wrong for the part of royal consort — thus, the crankiness. For instance, he lost an early battle over what surname his children and the family dynasty would bear — Windsor or Mountbatten.
Philip couldn’t bear fools and usually said so. He couldn’t bear clucking about the terrible things that had happened to him, and usually said so.
“You are where you are in life so get on with it, is his philosophy,” according to Eade, author of “Prince Philip: The Turbulent Early Life of the Man Who Married Queen Elizabeth II.”
“He never let misfortune cloud his life.”
He is said to have had a tense relationship over the years with his eldest child and the next king, 71-year-old Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. Don’t believe it, says Heald.
“The frostiness is grossly exaggerated,” he says. “Charles wants us all to know how sensitive he is and how he enjoys painting and Philip wants us all to believe he’s just a bluff naval officer. But he’s actually a quite good painter. They want you to think they’re completely different but they’re much more similar than they’re prepared to admit publicly.”
Philip’s death comes as the latest of recent blows to the queen and the royal family. Their second son, Prince Andrew the Duke of York, had to step away from royal duties in late 2019 after a disastrous interview with the BBC exacerbated longstanding criticism for his former friendship with the late convicted American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Then, in January 2020, grandson Prince Harry and his wife, Duchess Meghan of Sussex, announced to widespread shock that they no longer wanted to be “senior royals,” and left Britain for California.
By the time of his 90th birthday, Philip was still doing public events, including on his actual birthday, but he told the country that he would cut back. He acknowledged in a television interview that he was nearing his “sell-by date” and that his memory for names was fading.
“I reckon I’ve done my bit. I want to enjoy myself for a bit now. With less responsibility, less rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say,” he said. “Yes, I’m just sort of winding down.”
Original posted at www.usatoday.com