Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II has died, Buckingham Palace said today. The Prince spent more than 70 years supporting his wife in a role that both defined and limited his life. He was 99 years old.
Prince Philip was born into the Greek and Danish royal families on June 10, 1921. He ended his life as Britain’s longest serving consort (royal spouse).
Philip went to school in Britain and entered Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth as a cadet in 1939. During World War II, he wasn’t allowed near the main war zone because he was a foreign prince of a neutral nation. But when Italy invaded Greece, he joined the war, serving on battleships in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific.
By war’s end, it was clear Philip was courting Princess Elizabeth, eldest child and heir of King George VI. Their engagement was announced July 10, 1947. They married on November 20 of that year.
At first, folks disapproved of Elizabeth marrying a foreigner. But Philip’s athletic skills, good looks, and straight talk lent glamour to the royal family. Elizabeth beamed in his presence.
When Elizabeth became queen in 1952, Philip had to give up his naval career. The Prince saw his role as providing support for his wife. In the 1970s, Michael Parker, an old navy friend and former private secretary of the prince, said: “He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job—first, second and last—was never to let her down.”
Philip’s position was challenging. There is no official role for the husband of a sovereign queen. He always walked three paces behind his wife in public, in a show of deference to the monarch. His son Charles, as heir to the throne, had a larger income. Charles also had access to high-level government papers Philip was not permitted to see.
Philip struggled to find his place. “There was no precedent,” he said in a rare interview to mark his 90th birthday. “If I asked somebody, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ they all looked blank.”
He found plenty to do. He fulfilled 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 outdoor adventures, and played a prominent part in raising his four children. He painted, collected modern art, was interested in industrial design, and planned a garden at Windsor Castle.
The queen, a very private person not given to extravagant displays of affection, once called him “her rock” in public. In private, Philip called his wife Lilibet. In conversation with others, he referred to her as “The Queen.”
Over the decades, Philip’s image changed from that of handsome, dashing athlete to arrogant curmudgeon. In his later years, the image finally settled into that of droll and philosophical observer of the times.
Philip spent a month in the hospital earlier this year before being released on March 16.
Upon his passing, condolences poured in Friday from around the globe. British politics paused. The main parties suspended campaigning for next month’s local and Scottish elections.
Philip is survived by the queen and their four children—Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward—as well as eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
(Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip arrive by horse drawn carriage in the parade ring at the Royal Ascot horse race meeting at Ascot, England, on June, 16, 2011. AP/Alastair Grant)