The Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s “strength and stay” for 73 years, has died aged 99.
Flags on landmark buildings in Britain were being lowered to half-mast as a period of mourning was announced.
Prince Philip’s health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He announced he was stepping down from royal engagements in May 2017, joking that he could no longer stand up. He made a final official public appearance later that year during a Royal Marines parade on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.
Since then, he was rarely seen in public, spending most of his time on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, though moving to be with her at Windsor Castle during the lockdown periods throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and where the couple quietly celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in November 2020. He also celebrated his 99th birthday in lockdown at Windsor Castle.
The duke spent four nights at King Edward VII hospital in London before Christmas 2019 for observation and treatment in relation to a “pre-existing condition”.
Though never officially given the title of prince consort, he lived a life of relentless royal duty, relinquishing his promising naval career, which some believed could have seen him rise to become First Sea Lord, for a role requiring him to walk several feet behind his wife.
Having made this choice, he immersed himself wholeheartedly in national life, carving out a unique public role. He was the most energetic member of the royal family with, for many decades, the busiest engagements diary.
Even when well-advanced in years, he could be seen on walkabouts hoisting small children over security barriers to enable them to present their posies to his wife.
Often he received little public recognition for his endeavours. In part this was due to his uncomfortable relationship with the press, whom he labelled “bloody reptiles” and whose coverage often focused on his gaffes. He once told the former Conservative MP and biographer Gyles Brandreth: “I have become a caricature. There we are. I’ve just got to accept it.”
The duke could be blunt and outspoken to the point of offensiveness. He claimed to have coined the word “dontopedalogy”: a talent for putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. Prone to bad-tempered outbursts, he never suffered fools gladly. Equally, he could be charming, engaging and witty – and displayed such genuine curiosity on his official visits that his hosts were flattered.
The bishop of London, Richard Chartres, once told the unauthorised biographer Graham Turner: “If one of the standard English aristocrats had married the Queen it would have bored everyone out of their minds.”
The Duke of Edinburgh was many things, but one thing he was not was boring.
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