By Sonia Warder – International Contributor
As the husband of Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was the longest-serving consort of a reigning British monarch and the longest-lived male member of the British royal family. He died on 9 April 2021, two months before his 100th birthday.
Born on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921, he was the only son and fifth child of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, who were exiled from Greece when Philip was just eighteen months old. Educated in France, Germany and the UK, Philip joined the Royal Navy in 1939, serving with the British Mediterranean and Pacific fleets during World War II. It was also at this time that he began corresponding with the teenage Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of King George VI of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth.
After the war ended in 1945, Philip was permitted to marry Princess Elizabeth. They were engaged in July 1947 and married on 20 November 1947. Philip had now abandoned his Greek and Danish titles and became a naturalised British subject, also adopting his maternal grandparents’ surname of Mountbatten. When addressing the Duke of Edinburgh, the rules of etiquette were to address him the first time as ‘Your Royal Highness’, and thereafter as ‘Sir’.
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II are in fact both great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria – Elizabeth from Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII and Philip from Victoria’s second daughter, Princess Alice. Both are descended from King Christian IX of Denmark. And Philip was also related to the Russian House of Romanov through both of his parents and was a direct descendant of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia.
When Elizabeth became queen after the death of King George VI in 1952, Philip left active military service and, in 1957, was made a British prince. During the Queen’s Coronation, Philip wasn’t crowned but knelt before Elizabeth and swore to be her “liege man of life and limb”. As consort to the Queen, Philip supported his wife in her new duties as sovereign, accompanying her to official ceremonies, state dinners and international tours. The couple went on to have four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
A keen sportsman and Polo player, Philip helped develop the equestrian event of carriage driving. He also served as chairman of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, a self-improvement program for young people in the UK aged 14 to 24.
In April 2009, Philip became the longest-serving British royal consort and in 2013, he was the oldest-ever male British royal and the third-longest-lived member of the British royal family. Although Philip himself wasn’t keen on the prospect of a long life – in 2000 he was quoted as saying that he had “no desire whatsoever” to become a centenarian, adding jocosely that “bits of me are falling off already”. By 2017, he had completed 22,219 solo engagements when Prime Minister Theresa May thanked him for “a remarkable lifetime of service”.
Prince Philip finally retired from royal duties when he took part in his final solo public engagement, aged 96. In that same year (2017), the Queen and the Duke celebrated 70 years of marriage, which made Elizabeth the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum wedding anniversary.
Philip died of ‘old age’ on the morning of 9 April 2021 at Windsor Castle, aged 99. The Queen was reportedly at her husband’s side when he passed away peacefully and she later described her husband’s death as “having left a huge void in her life”.
When Prince Philip’s death was first announced to the British nation, flags were lowered to half-mast, where they remained for a period of mourning. The BBC suspended all non-children’s programming and replaced it with respectful broadcasts and special reports on the Duke’s life. On British radio, programmes were changed to the national anthem followed by the playing of sombre music. At 6pm, the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey was rung and was tolled every minute for 99 minutes, marking each year of the Duke’s life.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral took place on 17 April 2021 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he was interred into the Royal Vault. Representatives from around the world sent condolences to the Queen, the British people and members of the Commonwealth. The Duke was given a royal ceremonial funeral and not a state funeral, in accordance with his request for “minimal fuss”. Royal protocol was also relaxed, allowing family members to attend the service in formal day dress rather than military uniforms. The COVID-19 pandemic meant, however, that the number of guests was restricted to just thirty, in accordance with national legal regulations at the time.
The Queen and Duke’s oldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales has now inherited the title of Duke of Edinburgh after the death of his father, a title first created in 1726 by King George I.
“He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and 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.” HRH Queen Elizabeth II.