Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died at Windsor Castle Friday at 99.
Philip was the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch. The queen ascended the throne following the 1952 death of her father King George VI.
He served as royal patron, president or member of more than 780 organizations focused on industry, wildlife preservation, sports and education and chaired The Duke of Edinburgh's Award, one of Britain’s most prestigious youth activity programs.
A Tumultuous Youth: Philip was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921, the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and his British wife Princess Alice of Battenberg
His birth was far from the trappings of royalty — he was delivered while his mother was lying on a kitchen table in a house that had no electricity, hot water or indoor plumbing.
Philip’s father was an officer in the Greek Army, but when Turkey invaded Greece in 1922 Prince Andrew’s life was imperiled. His mother appealed to Britain’s King George V for help, and the monarch arranged to have the family removed from Greece and relocated to France.
Philip spent the next eight years in Paris and become multilingual in French, English and German, as well as sign language because Princess Alice was deaf.
Philip’s family unit frayed during his years in France.
An uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, saw promise in the youth and became his protector and mentor, arranging to have him enlisted as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, although Philip was not yet a British citizen.
For Queen And Country: In 1939, 18-year-old Philip first met 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth when the royal family toured Dartmouth Naval College.
The future queen would acknowledge she was immediately smitten with Philip, and the two maintained a pen pal correspondence over the next six years.
Philip served with distinction during World War II, seeing action in the Battle of Crete and the invasion of Sicily and being among the British delegation at the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.
In 1947, King George announced the engagement of Philip and Elizabeth and granted him the title of Duke of Edinburgh.
The royal wedding brought a charge of optimism and joy to a country seeking to move beyond the stress of the wartime years and the struggles of the postwar recovery. Five years later, Elizabeth was named queen following the death of her father.
As consort, Philip redefined the role of the monarch’s spouse during an era when the monarchy itself was reshaped by global shifts and the changing nature of the British nation. Philip accompanied the queen to the opening of Parliament and on state visits — albeit by keeping protocol in walking at least three paces behind her — but he made his presence known as an articulate advocate of business, science, technology, environmental protection and wellness.
A Family Affair: Within the monarchy, Philip sought to modernize the connection between the crown and the public. He is credited with abolishing the practice of presenting debutantes at court in 1958 and initiating informal palace lunches including guests from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award program, which launched in 1956, encouraged youth to pursue both self-improvement and community participation, with a focus on science and education. The program has been adapted in more than 100 countries.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth saw a greater focus on tabloid fascination and scandal-sniffing at the salacious elements of the House of Windsor. Philip sought to present a more human element to the public perception of the royals and was crucial in arranging for the 1969 BBC television documentary “The Royal Family,” which gave Britons a view of the royals’ private life.
Still, Philip was never entirely comfortable with members of the British media, once referring to them as “reptiles,” and he took umbrage that a great deal of press attention focused on gaffes he would sometimes make while trying to be humorous.
One rather tactless comment came in a 1995 conversation with a Scottish driving instructor when he asked: "How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?"
But one comment that particularly irked him was about a supposed flippant remark related to deafness. He pointed out his sensitivity to the subject of hearing impairment, as his mother was deaf and he was the patron of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Nonetheless, he was able to maintain a sense of humor at his imperfections, once remarking, “I know all about freedom of speech because I get kicked in the teeth often enough for saying things.”
Elizabeth's 'Rock': The queen was quoted as referring to her husband as her "rock," providing emotional support during crises that impacted the nation and the royal family.
Philip retired from his official royal duties in 2017. Poor health kept him mostly out of the public eye in the following years, but in April 2020 he issued a public statement praising the British response to the coronavirus crisis.
“I wanted to recognize the vital and urgent work being done by so many to tackle the pandemic; by those in the medical and scientific professions, at universities and research institutions, all united in working to protect us from COVID-19,” his statement said.
“On behalf of those of us who remain safe and at home, I also wanted to thank all key workers who ensure the infrastructure of our life continues; the staff and volunteers working in food production and distribution, those keeping postal and delivery services going, and those ensuring the rubbish continues to be collected.”
Photo courtesy Humberpike/Flickr Creative Commons.
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