London — Prince Philip, husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, has died, the royal family announced Friday. He was 99.
Prince Philip “passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle,” the family said in a statement.
He had been hospitalized in February and underwent surgery for a heart condition. He and the queen were married for over 73 years.
His role in life was to walk one step behind the queen, but even there, Prince Philip was able to carve out his own reputation and role in history.
“Essentially, the queen has always worn the crown,” said Giles Brandreth, who ran one of Philip’s charities for years, while “Prince Philip was always allowed to wear the trousers. That’s the way it worked.”
Philip was born into the Greek royal family in 1921, but was educated and had a naval career in Britain.
And by luck or — many think — by royal design, he was chosen to escort the young Princess Elizabeth on a tour. The queen’s cousin and close friend until she died in 2016, Margaret Rhodes, remembered well the impression that Philip made in that first encounter.
In an interview with CBS News, Rhodes once said Philip had the immediate advantage of good looks when he met the young princess, describing him as an “utterly good looking, Viking god.”
They wed at Westminster Abbey in 1947 in a televised ceremony that transfixed millions of viewers around the world. It was the beginning of a long-lasting and successful royal marriage. He and the queen have four children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
After Elizabeth became queen in 1953, Philip provided support and, from time to time, controversy. Some thought he was a gaffe-prone fountain of political incorrectness.
He once asked aboriginal people in Australia whether they still threw spears at each other. Closer to home, he once asked Scottish driving instructors how they kept their students “off the sauce” long enough to pass the test.
“He just said what he felt,” Brandreth told CBS News. “He was very funny. Prince Philip was the man who said if ever you see a man opening the car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife. He was a shrewd observer of people.”
In 1997, with Britain in mourning following the death of Princess Diana, he stepped in to defuse a moment of crisis at her funeral. It was Philip who convinced the young Princes William and Harry to walk behind their mother’s coffin when they didn’t want to. “I’ll walk with you,” he said.
Philip remained healthy and active well into old age, but suffered a number of setbacks in recent years. He was treated for a blocked coronary artery in 2011, and then spent several nights in the hospital in December 2019. A month later, he was forced to give up driving at the age of 97 after striking a car with his Land Rover near the royal family’s Sandringham estate.
Philip retired from official royal duties in 2017 and public appearances became rare. He spent the recent coronavirus lockdown at Windsor Castle with the queen.
Royals very rarely gush, and we don’t know what Philip thought of the queen’s glowing tribute to him on their golden wedding anniversary, but some of her words could well serve as his epitaph:
“He has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years,” said the monarch. “I and his whole family, and this and many other countries owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”