Prince Philip Dead — the Love of Queen Elizabeth's Life Was 99
"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," Buckingham Palace said in a statement Friday.
"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."
Prince Philip — who retired from his public duties in August 2017 — is survived by his wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth, their daughter Princess Anne and their three sons: next-in-line-to-the-throne Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. He also leaves behind eight grandchildren, including Prince William and Prince Harry and nine great-grandchildren, including Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, Archie and Princess Eugenie's new baby boy, August, whose middle name is Philip.
The Duke of Edinburgh was hospitalized on Feb. 16 after being taken to King Edward VII hospital in London on the advice of his doctor after "feeling unwell," Buckingham Palace said in a previous statement. He was released a month later following treatment for an infection and a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition. He returned to Windsor Castle, where he and the Queen have been staying amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philip, who would have turned 100 in June, has been plagued by health issues in recent years. He was hospitalized in December 2019 in relation to a "pre-existing condition," according to the palace at the time.
He abruptly canceled his appearance at the traditional Maundy church service that he was scheduled to attend with the monarch in March 2018. Philip also skipped Easter Sunday services that year ahead of the announcement that he underwent hip replacement surgery.
Philip made a rare appearance in public last July at a brief ceremony at Windsor Castle.
Steadfast companions for seven decades, the Queen and Philip had the longest royal marriage in history — one that withstood war, family upheaval and a lifetime on the world stage.
On their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, Queen Elizabeth offered a rare glimpse of her tightly-held heart. “He has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years,” she said. “I owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim.”
For the Queen, who faced early opposition to their union before she became monarch, “It was one of her greatest achievements, being allowed to marry the love of her life,” says Suzanne Mackie, executive producer of the hit Netflix series The Crown, which shed new light on their enduring romance.
Speaking to PEOPLE in April 2016 for the Queen’s landmark 90th birthday, Lady Pamela Hicks — a bridesmaid at the couple’s historic 1947 wedding — said, “I can think of very few couples as united as they are.”
In the tough, occasionally crass, flinty and dashing Philip, Elizabeth “saw in him a freshness. He’s very bright, he’s complex and she knew he might not be easy, but he wouldn’t be boring,” Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch, told PEOPLE in 2015.
“Someone who works with them has said, ‘She lights up when he walks into the room,’ ” added Bedell Smith. “She becomes softer and lighter and happier.”
A Teenage Romance
Born into royal lineage on June 10, 1921, Philip was the son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice of Battenberg, and a descendant of England’s Queen Victoria. Though born in Greece, he was raised primarily in England and joined the British Royal Navy, where he served during World War II.
It was while at the Royal Naval College in 1939 that an 18-year-old Philip met his 13-year-old distant cousin, Princess Elizabeth. The young daughter of the King of England was smitten and struck up a correspondence with Philip that blossomed into love.
Many observers say the first signal that the two were destined for a future together came when a picture emerged of them at the wedding of their mutual cousin, Lady Patricia Mountbatten, in October 1946. They were spotted in the doorway of the Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, and as Elizabeth removed her coat, Philip looked on smiling, with his eyes locked on hers.
Watch Elizabeth & Philip: A Royal Romance – The True Story Behind the Crown on PeopleTV.com or on the PeopleTV app.
While he was a handsome prince five years her senior, Elizabeth was a fresh-faced beauty. “Patricia Mountbatten said, ‘She has such beautiful skin,’ ” Bedell Smith adds. “And Philip said, ‘She’s like that all over.’ There was a physical attraction!”
As their relationship grew, the two started spending more time together, especially when Philip accepted a job at an officers’ school in England and was able to visit more.
“He’d spend weekends with us, and when the school was closed he spent six weeks at Balmoral,” Elizabeth wrote in a 1947 letter to author Betty Shew that went up for auction in April 2016. “It was great luck his getting a short job first them!”
Further into their relationship — but before their engagement — they’d drive out in his sports car together.
“Philip enjoys driving and does it fast!” she wrote. “He has his own tiny M.G. which he is very proud of – he has taken me about in it, once up to London, which was great fun, only it was like sitting on the road, and the wheels are almost as high as one’s head.”
Philip gave up his Greek and Danish titles — and any claim to foreign thrones — and became a British citizen, adopting the surname Mountbatten from his mother’s family.
A Wedding for the Ages
And just like Will and Kate, a young, pretty Princess Elizabeth and a tall, handsome Prince Philip brought smiles and celebrations to the nation — something that was certainly needed in November 1947, just two years after the end of WWII.
At the time of their wedding, millions of Britons were living in the aftermath of the bomb-damaged cities and coping with food rations. The November 20 service was the first major event since the end of the war.
A 21-year-old Elizabeth, who was brought to the famous Abbey by her father, King George VI, wore an elegant Norman Hartnell gown. And Philip, then 26, was every bit an officer and a gentleman in his ceremonial naval uniform (he had served in WWII).
“With her bridal dress and tiara on her wedding day, she was a knockout,” one of her bridesmaids, Lady Pamela Hicks, previously told PEOPLE. “And, of course, Philip was every girl’s dream Viking prince.”
Blissful Newlywed Years Overseas
After their wedding, Elizabeth and Philip spent around two years from 1949-1951 living in Malta while he was based there in the Navy.
The time the couple spent there was, biographer Ben Pimlott has noted, the “most ‘normal’ of her entire life.” Their then-private secretary Mike Parker said it was a “fabulous period.”
It was, Pimlott wrote in The Queen, a “haven of comparative privacy and freedom from official duties.” She was happy being a service wife (albeit one with a retinue of servants) while she left her son, Prince Charles, then 1, in the charge of the royal nursery and his maternal grandparents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, back in Sandringham at Christmas time.
She announced she was pregnant with daughter Princess Anne while there, in April 1950, and headed home to Clarence House in order to give birth in August that year.
A History-Making Death
But tragedy struck the young couple less than two years later, when King George VI died of lung cancer at just 56 years old on February 6, 1952.
The death would become known as Accession Day for Elizabeth, marking the beginning of her reign — and thrusting her new husband into the role he would play for the rest of his life: the consort to the Queen of England. (In 1957 Elizabeth granted him the title of prince that he had given up to marry her.)
His Way with Words
Although he always knew his place — specifically, several public steps behind the Queen — the outspoken Philip seemed to chafe at the confines of royal duty at times, famously putting his foot in his mouth on numerous occasions.
His (often apparently unintentional) targets included the Chinese, Scots, Madonna, female military personnel, Canadians, the unemployed, democracies, aboriginal Australians, Americans, gun-control advocates, disaster victims, British women, wives in general, koala bears and French cooks, among many others. Even his own son Charles was not immune.
“Dontopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it, which I’ve practiced for many years,” Prince Philip jokingly told a group of dentists in 1960.
In 1981, according to a biography of Prince Charles written by Jonathan Dimbleby with Charles’s cooperation, it was Philip who pushed Charles into marriage with Lady Diana Spencer, initiating one of the most tortured and ultimately tragic public relationships in recent history.
“I’ve never discussed private matters, and I don’t think the Queen has either,” Philip told a reporter in 1994 after the book’s publication.
The Queen’s Rock
A health-conscious, passionate conservationist who was ahead of his time on issues like overpopulation and endangered species, he spent his later years focused primarily on supporting the Queen. Their relationship was the main focus of the first season of the hit Netflix series The Crown.
“Regardless of whether my grandfather seems to be doing his own thing, sort of wandering off like a fish down the river, the fact that he’s there — personally, I don’t think that she could do it without him,” Prince Harry told the BBC in 2012.
In 2011, Prince Philip, who’d recently celebrated his 90th birthday with the newly married Prince William and Princess Kate, was hospitalized with chest pains and had an emergency coronary angioplasty. The prince, who had already lightened his work schedule that year because of his advancing age, made a full recovery and emerged in good spirits.
Asked if Philip had been watching the events unfold, his youngest son Edward said, “Yes, inevitably. He has been watching it.” And he added that his mother, Queen Elizabeth, “is bearing up. She’s missing him, obviously.”
He announced his retirement from royal duties in April 2017. And he was hospitalized with an infection arising from a pre-existing condition in June 2017, but was in good spirits after his release two days later. He and the Queen were rarely apart, with Philip by her side throughout her record-breaking reign.
“They are probably doing more stuff together now than they’ve ever done. She looks incredibly happy these days,” Robert Hardman, writer of the 2016 documentary Queen at 90, previously told PEOPLE.
“She’s a lot more smiley,” he continued. “It’s no doubt partly because the whole family and the institution is strong and contented, but a lot of it is down to him.”
“When we filmed the Queen getting on the night train to Birmingham, what you didn’t see on the film was [Philip] arrived in black tie as he’d come direct from an event,” Hardman said. “But he obviously wanted to be alongside the Queen on an away day. On those occasions, she really does like having him around. She’s always happiest at an engagement with him. If there’s a big walkabout or reception every now and then she’ll look where’s he got to, what he’s up to and he’ll be doing the same.”
In their golden years, both continued their interest in wildlife paintings, which they enjoyed collecting together, horse racing, gardening and their many dogs..
“He makes her laugh,” Hardman said. “He is the only person who can tell her how things really are. As she has broken all these records and become a more revered figure that makes that all the more important. He’s someone who can be frank and someone she can have a laugh with.”