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Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II's Husband, Dies at 99

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4/9/2021 Max Colchester, Jeanne Whalen
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera © EPA/Shutterstock

LONDON—Prince Philip, a constant presence at the side of Queen Elizabeth II and the longest-serving consort to a monarch in British history, has died. He was 99.

“The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss,” the family said in a statement.

Prince Philip had recently been hospitalized for treatment on a pre-existing heart condition. He was discharged in March after staying in hospital for a month following an operation.

Born a prince of Greece and Denmark on the island of Corfu in 1921, he married the queen—then still Princess Elizabeth—in 1947, when he was 26 and she was 21. They were third cousins, both descended from Queen Victoria.

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, spent much of his adult life walking a step or two behind his wife, accompanying her to state dinners, garden parties and charitable events. Behind the scenes, he was credited with working to push the monarchy to be more open and accessible to the British public. He was also affiliated with some 800 organizations, including numerous charities.

Prince Philip carried out his public duties until August 2017, when he made his final official appearance at a Royal Marine parade at Buckingham Palace. Known for his sometimes outspoken remarks, Prince Philip treated his role as consort as an act of duty above anything else.

“It’s the customer that needs to be satisfied, not me,” he said during a documentary of his life, aired around his 90th birthday. “I don’t do it for my own amusement.”

His passing marks the start of a generational transition for Britain’s royal family, which has been a bastion of stability for the nation since Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952. Queen Elizabeth, now 94, is increasingly stepping back from royal duties, with their eldest son, Prince Charles, and grandson, Prince William, taking up the mantle.

Though he was born into a royal family, Prince Philip had a relatively rough childhood. While he was still an infant, a Greek revolutionary court sentenced his father, Prince Andrew, to banishment for life for disobeying a military order during a battle with Turkey. That forced the family of seven to flee the country, according to “Young Prince Philip,” a biography by Philip Eade.

They lived an “impoverished” life in exile in a house provided by a relative on the outskirts of Paris, according to “The Queen: Elizabeth II and the Monarchy,” a biography by Ben Pimlott.

Prince Philip’s father effectively abandoned the family when the prince was 9, and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown and spent many years in mental-health clinics. Prince Philip eventually went to live with relatives in England. He was sent to boarding school at Gordonstoun, a private institution in Scotland with a reputation for strict discipline.

After his school years he attended the Royal Naval College in the seaside town of Dartmouth. It was there that he met the future queen, during a visit by the royal family in 1939. Philip, then 18, was taken in to see the 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her sister, “who were playing with a clockwork train,” according to Mr. Pimlott’s biography. “Allegedly, the new friendship was sealed with ginger crackers and lemonade, and by a game of tennis.”

In 1940 Prince Philip joined the Royal Navy, serving with distinction in World War II in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. During a 1941 battle off the coast of Greece, his skillful manning of his ship’s searchlight helped his crew sink two Italian cruisers in five minutes, Mr. Pimlott writes. In 1942, at the age of 21, he was one of the youngest officers ever named first lieutenant and second-in-command of a destroyer.

He began wooing Princess Elizabeth in earnest toward the end of the war, reportedly at the encouragement of his ambitious uncle, Louis Mountbatten, who became a sort of father figure to him in his teenage years (and who was killed by a bomb on his boat in Ireland in 1979). Around the time of his marriage to Elizabeth in 1947, Prince Philip became a naturalized British citizen and was named Duke of Edinburgh.

When Elizabeth became queen in 1952, Prince Philip gave up his active naval career for full-time royal duties, serving as his wife’s consort and as patron to charitable organizations. Asked about his life in a 1992 interview, he betrayed some regret about the trade-offs. “I didn’t want to be president of the World Wildlife Fund,” he said. “I’d much rather have stayed in the navy, frankly.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Prince Philip and highlighted his work on behalf of numerous charities and his advocacy of the environment.

“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth and around the world,” Mr. Johnson said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Prince Philip was “a man of great purpose and conviction. He will be fondly remembered as a constant in the life of our Queen.”

Prince Philip rarely opened his mouth in public but when he did he became famous for controversial and offensive remarks, including some that earned him accusations of racism. In one of the most infamous, while meeting a group of British students studying in China in 1986, he joked that if they stayed too long, they would “come home slitty-eyed.” At one of the queen’s summer garden parties, he remarked to a woman in a wheelchair, “At least you get to sit down through the whole thing.”

Shortly after being made president of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.K. in 1961, he attended a tiger hunt in India.

Hugo Vickers, a biographer and expert on the royal family, remembers having tea with Prince Philip in his library at Buckingham Palace in the late 1990s. In the middle of the grand room with large windows overlooking the garden was a collection of “IKEA-esque furniture” that the prince used for meetings, Mr. Vickers said. “It didn’t look very good, but he was very practical.”

In private, Philip and Elizabeth were like any elderly couple, biographer Sarah Bradford said. “If the queen wanted to give the corgis tea and biscuits and they were roaming around the floor being a nuisance, he would shout and she would pay no attention,” Ms. Bradford said. “He was the only man in the world who could treat her as an ordinary woman.”

During her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Queen Elizabeth called Prince Philip her “constant strength and guide.” He died the oldest-ever male member of the British royal family.

Write to Max Colchester at and Jeanne Whalen at


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