Prince Philip, the irascible and tough-minded husband of Queen Elizabeth II who spent more than seven decades supporting his wife in a role that both defined and constricted his life, has died, Buckingham Palace said Friday. He was 99.
His life spanned nearly a century of European history, starting with his birth as a member of the Greek royal family and ending as Britain’s longest serving consort during a turbulent reign in which the thousand-year-old monarchy was forced to reinvent itself for the 21st century.
He was known for his occasionally deeply offensive remarks — and for gamely fulfilling more than 20,000 royal engagements to boost British interests at home and abroad. He headed hundreds of charities, founded programs that helped British schoolchildren participate in challenging outdoor adventures, and played a prominent part in raising his four children, including his eldest son, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
“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.”
A Controversial Prince
The popular Netflix series “The Crown” gave Philip a central role, with a slightly racy, swashbuckling image. He never commented on it in public, but the portrayal struck a chord with many Britons, including younger viewers who had only known him as an elderly man.
Philip’s position was a challenging one — there is no official role for the husband of a sovereign queen — and his life was marked by extraordinary contradictions between his public and private duties. He always walked three paces behind his wife in public, in a show of deference to the monarch, but he played a significant role at home. “Constitutionally, I don’t exist,” said Philip, who in 2009 became the longest-serving consort in British history.
Passing the Torch
He frequently struggled to find his place — a friction that would later be echoed in Prince Harry’s decision to give up royal duties.
At the start of 2020, Prince Harry and his wife, the American former actress Meghan Markle, announced they were quitting royal duties and moving to North America to escape intense media scrutiny that they found unbearable.
Last month, they gave an explosive interview to Oprah Winfrey, saying that Meghan had suffered neglect and racist attitudes while a working member of the family, though Winfrey said Harry told her one particularly hurtful remark did not come from either of his grandparents. The palace called the issues “concerning” and said they would be “addressed by the family privately.” England’s tradition of deference is now a notion that seems to have escaped both Harry and Meghan.
In the aftermath of the bombshell interview, their website Archwell.com went static this morning but for the landing page which read “Thank you for your service. You will be greatly missed.”
Steady and Calm
Queen Elizabeth is coping with the death of her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip.
Charles Anson, former press secretary to the Queen, observes the 94-year-old monarch was prepared for Philip's death after years of health troubles. "She would have thought about this moment several times, and her way would be to remain as steady and as calm as possible," Anson says, which comes naturally to her through her temperament and experience.
The Queen’s reign will be marked by “steady and calm,” observed her first Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Her legacy was as well, due, at least in part, to a companion she referred to as her “strength and stay.”