By Henry Ridgwell
Prince Philip, the Greek-born consort to Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s longest sitting monarch, has died at the age of 99.
In a statement released to the media and posted on the gates of Buckingham Palace Friday morning, the royal family said, “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.”
“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.”
Prince Philip had spent several weeks in the hospital earlier this year for a pre-existing heart condition. He underwent surgery at London’s St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and was discharged in March.
The Duke of Edinburgh will be best remembered for his sense of duty to the queen, and also his sense of humor.
Philip Mountbatten was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921. His father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and his mother, Princess Alice, was a great-granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria.
Philip Mountbatten met Elizabeth in 1939 while he was a naval cadet and she a shy princess. Philip forged a distinguished naval career during World War II, receiving special mention for his role during the Battle of Cape Matapan off Greece, where he saved his ship from a night bomber attack.
Philip and Elizabeth married in 1947 in Westminster Abbey, the first royal wedding to be filmed.
When Elizabeth became queen on the death of her father, King George VI in 1952, Philip found it very difficult, says Philip Eade, author of the book “Young Prince Philip.”
“He had been an extremely successful, extremely highly regarded naval officer in the British navy, and he was tipped from the very top,” Eade told VOA. “He was tipped to become head of the navy and so to have to give that all up in order to become second fiddle to his wife. He was a very overtly masculine character and not one who is going to take easily to this sort of life of walking a couple of paces behind the queen.”
When asked in an interview what he thought of his royal role, Philip replied, “I don’t.”
“He grew up with a very strong sense of duty,” Eade says, “and he realized that his duty was first and foremost to support the queen in her work, and that was really by far and away his most important, how he saw his role, that was what was at the top of his list.”
Over seven decades, Prince Philip navigated the highs and lows of a Royal Family permanently in the public eye. He helped the family cope with difficult times in the 1990s, including the divorces of Prince Charles and Diana, and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. Diana was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997 alongside her fiancé Dodi Fayed.
Philip was known for his wry sense of humor, which came in handy whenever he had to brush aside any suggestion of his role as a secondary figure. He once said his best speech was in 1956, when he opened the Summer Olympics with eight words: “I declare open the Olympic games of Melbourne.”
His jokes on occasion caused offense but he had a serious and lasting effect on the monarchy, pushing it to change with the times, says Matthew Glencross, a royal historian at Kings College London.
“That is something Philip always saw for himself, is this idea that the monarchy must evolve. For example, he was very pro having the cameras in for Elizabeth the Second’s coronation in 1953. You’d think because of his reputation that he’d be one of the people who was quite conservative. Actually, no. He saw television as the future. People want to see more of their monarchy,” Glencross said.
Prince Philip retired from official royal duties in 2017. A year later, he was involved in a serious car accident while driving near the Royal Family’s country estate at Sandringham. His last public appearance was in July 2020 at Windsor Castle.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II had four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. They have eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Fulfilling his roles as consort and father, Prince Philip had a lasting effect on a 12-hundred-year-old institution, a monarchy that is more visible and relevant to its people as a legacy that he forged, effectively, from his place two steps behind.