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Death of Prince Philip: From devotion to the Queen to Naval service - how the Duke of Edinburgh will be remembered



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As well as his unwavering devotion to the Queen, Prince Philip also set up The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and modernised the royal estates.

The duke attending the Captain General’s Parade – his final solo public engagement – on the day of his retirement. Picture: Yui Mok/PA
The duke attending the Captain General’s Parade – his final solo public engagement – on the day of his retirement. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

The Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away peacefully this morning at the age of 99, was the Queen’s husband and the royal family’s patriarch, but will be remembered for so much more.

His Royal Highness spent more than 70 years as the Queen’s companion, making him the longest-serving consort in British history – supporting the nation’s longest-reigning monarch.

Their compatibility led to a long and successful marriage – despite their contrasting personalities – with Philip seen as adventurous and tempestuous, and the Queen as more passive, cautious and conventional.

Always one step behind Elizabeth, the duke – tall, blond and athletic in his youth – let the monarch take centre stage, but accompanied her throughout the triumphs and trials of her role as head of state.

Following his distinguished service in World War II – he could have been First Sea Lord, the professional head of the Navy – and his marriage to Her Majesty the Queen in 1947, which put paid to that possibility, Prince Philip’s life was devoted to public duty.

He carried out thousands of engagements in the UK and around the world during his lifetime – from entertaining visiting presidents and hosting charity receptions to holding private dinners for military organisations.

Prince Philip was chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1977-2011. Picture: Sir Cam
Prince Philip was chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1977-2011. Picture: Sir Cam

Sprightly even in his 90s, he was steadfastly committed to serving the nation without complaint. His retirement from public duties in August 2017 came at the age of 96.

Despite being accused of making controversial comments over the years, the duke never curbed his off-the-cuff remarks and, even at the age of 94, he was caught on camera swearing at an RAF photographer for taking too long to take a picture.

Although he faced criticism for his ‘gaffes’, the colourful character will be forever remembered for spicing up even the dullest of royal engagements.

The duke set up The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme – a youth achievement awards programme – in 1956 and it became one of the best-known self-development and adventure schemes for 14 to 24-year-olds.

Millions have signed up to work towards their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards and the scheme has been praised for challenging young people and broadening their horizons.

The duke was a no-nonsense man who could not bear a fuss. He was not interested in what legacy he would leave behind. Illness did not require sympathy and his birthdays were kept as low-key as possible.

Although the Queen was head of state, it was Philip who was head of the royal family. A firm father, the duke took the lead behind closed doors, and was also in charge of family barbecues when the royals holidayed at Balmoral and took pride in his culinary skills.

The Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen. Picture: Adam Davy/PA
The Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Philip was synonymous with carriage driving and loved nothing more than to go haring through the countryside at high speed, whip in hand, in a horse-drawn, wheeled carriage.

“I am getting old, my reactions are getting slower, and my memory is unreliable, but I have never lost the sheer pleasure of driving a team through the British countryside,” he explained in the book he wrote about the sport. The duke was also a keen oil painter.

Although his life at sea was put aside for royal duty, he always maintained close connections to the armed forces and their organisations. For Philip’s 90th birthday, the Queen, who is well aware of what he sacrificed, poignantly bestowed upon him the title of Lord High Admiral, titular head of the Royal Navy.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle ahead of his 99th birthday. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle ahead of his 99th birthday. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Known for his charity work, the duke was patron of countless organisations and charities. When he turned 90, he stepped down as president or patron of more than a dozen organisations, but was still involved with nearly 800 charities or bodies ahead of his retirement.

He was particularly interested in scientific and technological research, industry, the conservation of the environment and the encouragement of sport.

The duke was a moderniser, so much so that when the Queen first became monarch, she gave him the task of reorganising her Balmoral and Sandringham estates, which he did with ruthless efficiency.

He set about modernising Buckingham Palace after being told by aides to keep out of the Queen’s official duties. “I tried to find useful things to do,” he said about starting a footman training programme at the palace.

Princess Elizabeth and the duke on their honeymoon. Picture: PA
Princess Elizabeth and the duke on their honeymoon. Picture: PA

He was also Ranger of Windsor Great Park and fundamental to the upkeep of the vast parkland, from designing gardens to introducing deer.

Queen Victoria’s Prince Albert was Prince Consort, but Philip, despite his longevity as a royal consort, was never given the title. Politicians suggested he be offered it, but the duke – unconcerned with his own standing – was simply not interested.

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