Fri, 07 May 2021

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 racist and sexist 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.

Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year before being released on 16 March to return to Windsor Castle.

"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."

International reactions

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Prince Philip had "earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world."

"Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the Royal Family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life."

Former U.S. president George W. Bush said in a statement, "Laura and I are saddened to learn the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout his long and remarkable life, he devoted himself to worthy causes and to others. He represented the United Kingdom with dignity and brought boundless strength and support to the sovereign. Laura and I are fortunate to enjoyed the charm and wit of his company and we know how much he will be missed. We join those around the world offering heartfelt condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the entire Royal Family."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also released a statement looking back at Philip's service to Australia, a Commonwealth nation.

Naval career cut short

Philip saw his sole role as providing support for his wife Elizabeth, who began her reign as Britain retreated from empire and steered the monarchy through decades of declining social deference and U.K. power into a modern world where people demand intimacy from their icons.

Born on 10 June, 1921 in Corfu, Greece, Philip was a member of the Greek royal family, though the country's constitution does not recognise royal titles. His other titles include Prince of Greece and Denmark, the Earl of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich.

Although he held a number of foreign titles, he attended school in Germany in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler became chancellor. He was exempted from being a part of the Hitler Youth because he was a foreigner.

Later educated at Gordonstoun School in Scotland and the Royal Navy College in Devon, he seemed destined for an illustrious navy career, serving with the Royal Navy from 1940 until the end of the war, fighting in Allied invasion of Sicily.

Nazi connections

Philip because a naturalised British subject in 1947, the year he married Princess Elizabeth. This move meant he gave up rights to the Danish and Greek thrones. He also anglicised his mother's last name, Battenberg, becoming Philip Mountbatten.

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In an effort to maintain distance from Germany, especially as it was only two years after the war, he did not invite his three surviving sisters to the wedding - they had all married German princes with alleged Nazi leanings.

Philip and Princess Elizabeth had four children: Charles, born in 1948, Anne, born in 1950, Andrew, born in 1960, and Edward, born in 1964.

Backseat to the queen

As a navy man, Philip continued active duty, as commander of the frigate Magpie, a position he thought he would retain until the death of his father-in-law King George VI. But the king died at the relatively young age of 57, which immediately pushed his daughter, Elizabeth, onto the throne.

She became Queen Elizabeth II on 6 February, 1952, with Philip accompanying her, attending an average of 350 official engagements a year, nearly one a day, on behalf of the queen.

In 1957, he became prince of the United Kingdom, and in 1960 his last name was combined with hers, making the hyphenated Mountbatten-Windsor as the surname for the royal family.

Gift of the gaffe

Philip was known as making cringeworthy comments and racist remarks, including, "Deaf? If you are near there, no wonder you are deaf," he said to a group of young deaf people standing near a steel band.

While visiting a hospital in the UK, he told a Filipino nurse there, "The Philippines must be half empty as you're all here running the NHS."

He asked then-Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie while pointing to tartan fabric in Edinburgh, "Do you have a pair of knickers made out of this?"

Family members weren't spared his acid tongue, either.

While looking at plans for their new home, told his son, Prince Andrew and his then-wife Sarah Ferguson: "It looks like a tart's bedroom."

In addition to his frequent appearances on behalf of the family, he also worked with a number of philanthropies, including serving as the president of the World Wildlife Fund from 1981 to 1996.

He also created a special Duke of Edinburgh Award program that helps young people aged 14-24 from disadvantaged backgrounds to work in community service, leadership and physical fitness.

After logging more than 22,000 solo appearances as one of the busiest royals, he stopped carrying out public engagements after marking his 96th birthday in 2017.

That did not diminish his activities, however. In 2018, while out driving, he crashed his car with another vehicle, flipping his Land Rover 4x4. He was unhurt, but the driver of the other car cut her legs and the passenger broke her wrist. No charges were brought as he gave up his driver's license after the accident, although he was spotted driving again a few months later.

Prince Philip will be buried in the 35-acre Frogmore Gardens on the grounds of the Windsor Castle. He will not have a public viewing, which in the past would mean that his body would lie in state at Westminster Hall.

According to protocol Queen Elizabeth will enter an eight-day period of mourning, where she will not be fulfilling her duties during that time. All state affairs and laws that need her approval, also called Royal Assent, will be put on hold until she returns to her duties.

Originally published on RFI

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