Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s irascible and tough husband who spent more than seven decades helping his wife play a role that shifted both her and her life, died. He was nine hundred and nine.
It began his life as a member of Greek royal family and ended as the longest serving companion in Britain during a turbulent reign, when the thousand years old monarchy had to be reinvented for the 21st century. He lived for almost one hundred years in the history of Europe.
Foundedr of programs that helped British schoolchildren
He was known for his racist and sexist comments occasionally — and his wide range of responsibilities to promote British interests at home and abroad. He had over 20.000 Royal commitments. He has led many hundreds of charities, founded programs that have helped Britons participate in tough outdoor activities and has played a significant role in the education of his four children, including Prince Charles, his eldest son, the throne heir.
Before his release on 16 March, he spent a month in the hospital earlier this year returning to Castle Windsor.
“It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” the palace said. “His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.”
Philip, who on his wedding day received the title of Duke of Edinburgh, saw his only role as support for his wife, who began her rule as England withdrew from the empire and led the monarchy into a modern world with decades of declining social deference and British power, demanding intimacy from her icons.
In the 1970s, an old navy friend and the Prince’s previous private secretary, Michael Parker told about him: “He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job — first, second and last — was never to let her down.”
The Queen has once called him “her rock” in public, a private person who has no extravagant displays of affection.
Philip called his wife Lilibet privately, but he called her “the Queen” in conversation with others.
Philip’s public image changed over time
Over the decades, the image of Philip changed from that of a beautiful, arrogant and unfriendly curmudgeon. In his latter years, the picture finally became that of an elderly, craggy-faced man who, in spite of his distress, kept his military wear.
Philip with a slightly racial, swashbuckling image was central to the popular Netflix “The Crown.” He never made any public comment on it, but the picture hit a chord with many Britons, including younger spectators, who only knew him as an older man.
The position of Philip was challenging — the husband of a sovereign queen has no official role to play — and his life was marked by extraordinary contradictions between private and public duties. In a show of deference to the monarch, he always walked three paces publicly behind his wife, but he was head of the family in his private life. Still, as the heir to the throne, his son Charles had a greater income and he was not allowed to see Philip’s high-level papers.
Philip often approached the royal table wryly with his unusual place.
“Constitutionally, I don’t exist,” said Philip, who in 2009 became the longest-serving consort in British history, surpassing Queen Charlotte, who married King George III in the18th century.
He was often struggling to find his place — a friction which later would echo his grandson’s decision to abandon the royal offices of Prince Harry.
“There was no precedent,” he said in a rare interview with the BBC to mark his 90th birthday. “If I asked somebody, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ they all looked blank.”
But Philipp was not content to stand on one side and live a life of easiness and wealth, having given up a promising naval career to consort when Elizabeth was reigning Queen at the age of 25. He promoted British industry, promoted environmental conservation and travelled a lot and frequently to support his many charities long before it became trendy.
Philip developed a reputation for being impatient and demanding in those frequent public appearances and was sometimes blunt to a gross point.
Most Britons appreciated what they considered to be his willingness to say what he thought, while others criticised offensive and out of touch behaviour.
He asked a Scottish driving instructor, for example, in 1995: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?” Seven years later, when he visited Aboriginals with the queen in Australia, he asked, “Do you still throw spears at each other?”
Many believe his inclination to speak meant that he gave the queen a necessary, unpacked advice.
“The way that he survived in the British monarchy system was to be his own man, and that was a source of support to the queen,” said royal historian Robert Lacey. “All her life she was surrounded by men who said, ‘yes ma’am’ and he was one man who always told her how it really was, or at least how he saw it.”
Lacey said that during the difficult relations with Princess Diana of the royal family following her marry with Charles, Philip talked with authority for the family, showing that he did not defer to the queen automatically.
Philip’s relationship with daughter-in-law Diana was complicated…
Diana was complicated by Philip when her separation from Charles and her eventual divorce took place in a series of public battles that damaged the position of the monarchy.
It was widely thought that he criticised Diana for using broadcast interviews, including one in which Charles was accused of unfaithfulness. But letters released after her death between Philip and Diana show that sometimes the older man supported his bondwoman.
Philip was forced to accept allegations by former Harrod owner Mohamed Al Fayed after Diana’s death in a car crash in Paris, in 1997, that he had planted the death of the princess. The son of Fayed, Dodi, died in the accident too.
A senior judge acting as coroner instructed the jury during the course of a long investigation into their deaths that the allegation of Philip, not responding publicly to Al Fayed’s charges, had no evidence to support.
Philip’s final years
The final years of Philip have been clouded in controversy in the royal family with fissures.
His third child, Prince Andrew, has been scandalised about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, an American financial figure who died of sex trafficking in a New York prison in 2019.
The American authorities accused Andrew of having rejected their application to interview him as a witness, and Andrew was condemned by a woman who said that on the orders of Epstein she had various sexual meetings with the Prince. He refused the claim but in the midst of the scandal retired from public royal duties.
Philip’s grandson Harry and his wife, the former American actress Meghan Markle, announced at the beginning of 2020 they were giving up their royal responsibilities and moving to North America to escape from the heavy media controls they found intolerable.
Philip was the 5th child, only son of Prince Andrew, younger brother of king of Greece
Philip was the fifth child and the sole son of Prince Andrew, the younger brother of the King of Greece, and was born on the dinning-table on his parents’ house on the Greek island of Corfu, June 10, 1921. During the 1860’s his grandfather came from Denmark and became the monarch of Greece.
Princess Alice Battenberg, the offspring of German princes, had Philip’s mother. Philip was also a grandchild of Queen Victoria, like his future wife Elizabeth.
His parents fled to France when Philip was 18 months old. After a devastating Turkish military default his father, a commander of the army, was trialled. The Greek junta agreed not to put Andrew to death if he left the country following British intervention.
The family was not exactly poor but, Philip said: “We weren’t well off” — and they got by with help from relatives. He later brought only his navy pay to a marriage with one of the world’s richest women.
When he was a child, Philip’s parents drowned apart, and in Monte Carlo Andrew died in 1944. In Buckingham Palace, Alice founded a religious order that did not succeed. She was not seen by the British public, a reclusive figure, often dressed in the habit of the nun. She died in 1969 and was posthumously honoured to be a Jew in Nazi-occupied Athens by Britain and Israel during the war.
Philip studied in the UK and joined British Royal Naval College as a cadet in 1939. In 1940, however, he was not permitted to go near the main war zone because he was a neutral foreign prince.
When this neutrality was over by the Italian invasion of Greece, he joined the war serving on battleships in the Indian, the Mediterranean and the Pacific.
On his departure from Britain he was visiting his royal cousins and it became obvious by the end of the war that he was courting Princess Elizabeth. They were announced on 10 July 1947 and on 20 November married.
After a first bustle of disapproval that Elizabeth married a foreigner, the athletic talents of Philip, his good looks and his direct conversation gave the Royal Family a distinct glamour.
In his presence Elizabeth beamed, and while she still had no duties to function as monarch, they had a son and daughter. But in 1952, at the age of 56, King George VI died from cancer.
Philip had to abandon his naval career, and when he knelt before his wife and pledged to be subjected to coronation his servant status was formally sealed, “her liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship.”
Philip’s life change was dramatic
The change in Philip’s life was dramatic.
“Within the house, and whatever we did, it was together,” Philip told biographer Basil Boothroyd of the years before Elizabeth became queen. “People used to come to me and ask me what to do. In 1952, the whole thing changed, very, very considerably.”
Said Boothroyd: “He had a choice between just tagging along, the second handshake in the receiving line, or finding other outlets for his bursting energies.”
Philip therefore took control of the Royal Property and expanded his journeys around the world to himself.
He has been patron of the Duke of Edinburgh, a programme for practical, cultural and adventurous youth activities in more than 100 countries since 1956 and president of the Trustees for the UK’s biggest youth activities programme. The Award and its famous campsite expeditions have been made known by millions of British child.
He was interested in industrial design, he painted, gathered modern art and planned a garden at Castle Windsor. Once, however, he said, “the arts world thinks of me like a polo-playing, uncultured clot.”
Over time, the famous blonde hair dissolves and the long, smooth face takes on several lines. He abandoned polo but remained vigorous and clever.
The prince replies to a friend’s suggestion to ease him a bit, “Well, what’d I do? Sit and knit around?”
But Philip told the BBC that he was “winding down” his job load when he turned 90 in 2011 and he thought he had “done my bit.”
In the coming years, Philip’s health flagged occasionally as hospital stays.
In May 2017 he said he intended, and after approximately 22,000 royal commitments since the coronation of his wife, to step back from royal duties, and stopped planning new engagements. In 2019, following a serious car crash, he gave up his driver’s licence.
The Queen, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, survived Philip with their four children, and eight grandsons, and nine grandchildren.
The grandchildren of Charles are Prince William and Prince Harry; the children of Anne, Peter and Zara Phillips; the children of Andrew, princess Beatrice and princess Eugene; the children of Edward, Lady Louise and Viscount Severn. They were the children of Charles and Prince Harry.
The great-grandchildren include William and Kate’s children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis; Archie; Savannah and Isla, Daughters of Peter and his wife, Autumn; Zara Phillip’s daughters and her husband, Mike Tindall, Mia, and Lena, and Jack Brooksbank, Eugenie’s son, August.