Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, has died aged 99

At just after midday on 9th April 2021, Buckingham Palace released the following statement:

It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. 

His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.

Further announcements will be made in due course.  

The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.

By the time he married the then Princess Elizabeth, his father had died, his mother Princess Alice of Battenberg, had withdrawn to the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary, and his sisters, having married Nazi’s were unwelcome at the post-war wedding. By then he had also lost his birth right, nationality, and home.

He had left Greece as an infant, evacuated aboard a Royal Navy vessel in a makeshift cot fastened from an orange box. He came to the United Kingdom some years later, following his headmaster (and fellow refugee, though from a different European nation) Kurt Hahn to Gordonstoun, a school who’s philosophy focused on invigorating the body as much as the mind. The young Philip thrived in the Spartan atmosphere.

Heading to Dartmouth Naval College at 18 he was the best cadet in his intake and graduated just months before the start of the Second World War in which he served with distinction, being mentioned in dispatches and emerging from the conflict as one of the youngest first lieutenants, by this point so used to shuffling between naval duties and his Uncle’s home in London he would regularly record his address in visitors books as being of ‘no fixed abode’. He would go on to take command of HMS Magpie in 1950 at the age of 29. His naval career was cut short by the obligations of his marriage, and when the Queen returned home to take the throne after her father’s death leaving this energetic young man with no set constitutional role… so he set about moulding his own.

He became a champion of – and well read expert in – causes close to his heart, forming the link between the Royal Family and charitable organisations we have become so accustomed to today. He became either president or patron of over 700 organisations, but his work on conservation and the environment appeared to place him particularly ahead of his time. Helping to found the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, he helped in beginning to bring the idea of a fragile ecosystem that required some sort of stewardship rather than domination in to the mainstream, when many still considered such thinking the preserve of eccentrics.

While considered an outsider by much of the institutional establishment upon his arrival, he became the Queen’s closest confidant to whom she turned to for advice on almost anything. That counsel was not limited to his wife, perhaps most notably demonstrated in the exchange of letters between himself and Princess Diana in which he acknowledged he had “no talent as a marriage counsellor!” but stressed his desire to help however he could, offering the Princess more empathy than she experienced elsewhere within the Royal Family. Even after his retirement from the public eye, the Duke is known to have offered such advice to senior royals when they needed it, perhaps most recently Princes Andrew and Harry. Though, his relationship with the latter is reported to have become strained by what he saw as a rejection of what he had devoted nearly seven decades of his adult life to.

Perhaps his greatest legacy (though he always despised the ‘L word’) was the founding of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award. Now existing in over 130 countries, the award has helped over six million 15-25 year olds from across the social spectrum challenge themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally while contributing to their local communities. “If you can get young people to succeed in any area of activity, that sensation of success will spread over into a lot of others”, was his mantra behind the award set up a the urging of his former headmaster who had instilled in him the self reliance that the Duke in turn passed on to the many young people who have undertaken his award. Many of them found it life changing, and at times, life saving.

Throughout an extraordinary, and at times troubled life, the majority of which was spent under the intense scrutiny that comes with public service, the importance of this “restless outsider’s” impact to national life can perhaps best be summarised by the woman who knew him best:

He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but 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.

HM Queen Elizabeth II, speaking in 1997 to mark her and the Duke’s golden wedding anniversary.

Image credit: Allan Warren, Wikimedia Commons