Prince Philip and Cambridge: A connection that spanned more than 60 years
The connection between His Royal Highness Prince Philip and the city of Cambridge spanned decades.
As chancellor of the University of Cambridge for 35 years from December 1976 to June 2011, the Duke of Edinburgh brought to his role “the same insight, energy, and practical good sense that characterised all his public and private work on behalf of the monarchy”.
Prince Philip passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle aged 99, Buckingham Palace announced in a statement just after midday today (Friday, April 9).
In a tribute to His Royal Highness, the University of Cambridge said: “The chancellor’s principal public function, the conferment of honorary degrees in a grand annual ceremony, was only a small part of the duke’s engagement with the university. He would visit Cambridge several times a year, and always found time to talk to students and researchers, as well as discussing university business with the vice-chancellor.
“At a 2007 event celebrating 30 years of his chancellorship, the duke explained he was prevented from attending university by the Second World War. with the result that he began his university career ‘at the wrong end’, becoming a chancellor without ever having been a student. He also told listeners that his connection with Cambridge had been ‘fascinating, and the greatest pleasure for me ever since [my election]’.”
His Royal Highness, who was an honorary fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, and of Trinity College, Cambridge, was a particularly strong supporter of engineering, visiting the university’s Department of Engineering regularly both before and during his time as chancellor.
He opened the current Department of Engineering building on the Trumpington Road site in the early 1950s.
The duke was also a strong advocate for the establishment of the Regius Professorship in Engineering at Cambridge in 2011.
Students and staff at the Department of Engineering have shared their recollections of his lively interest in discussing their work.
Dame Ann Dowling, former head of the department and current chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering said in the University of Cambridge tribute that the duke “had much to contribute to conversations on aircraft noise, my own area of research, not only because he was a pilot, but because Windsor Castle is right under the approach to Heathrow!”.
The university created the Prince Philip professorship of ecology and evolutionary biology to mark the 30th anniversary of the duke’s chancellorship in 2007.
Professor Tim Clutton-Brock, the first Prince Philip professor, said: “Prince Philip had a countryman’s love of nature and an intuitive understanding of animals and their habitats. His extensive involvement in the conservation of animal populations led to an acute interest in the ecological principles on which management and conservation practices needed to be based and he played an active and perceptive role in encouraging scholarship on these issues.
“No-one who was quizzed by the duke is likely to forget the experience. He had a keen intellect that rapidly focused on the kernel of important issues, paring away unnecessary details, and his probing questions quickly identified the strengths and weaknesses of arguments that interested him.”
Prince Philip also visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in his capacity as chancellor of the university to inspect work in progress on the courtyard development.
In February 2004, the duke visited the Hamilton Kerr Institute for the first time, where he took a keen interest in the conservation of paintings including several from the Royal Collection.
The Fitzwilliam Museum will fly the flag at half-mast.
Former vice-chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said: “The university was fortunate beyond measure to have the Duke of Edinburgh as our chancellor for three and a half decades. Prince Philip was held in the greatest respect and affection here: there is hardly a corner of the university and its colleges that he had not visited, always showing the keenest interest in our students, our teaching and our research across all disciplines.”
Dame Alison Richard, who was vice-chancellor from 2003 to 2010 and worked closely with the duke during that time, described him as “a chancellor of vision and perspicacity,” and remembered his “insatiable, passionate interest in the work of the university”.
His final duty as chancellor was the conferring of honorary degrees on eight distinguished individuals at a special congregation in the Senate House on June 22, 2011.
In addition to the duke’s close connection to Cambridge as chancellor of the University of Cambridge, he was a council guest at the Guildhall several times over the years, beginning with the royal visit to Cambridge in 1954.
Cllr Russ McPherson, mayor of Cambridge, said: “The city and Cambridge University have strong connections with His Royal Highness and the royal family and we join people around the country, and the world, in remembering with affection his life and contribution to the nation.
“On behalf of the residents of Cambridge, I extend our city’s condolences to Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and all members of the royal family.”
Prince Philip had a stent had a stent fitted in 2011 at Papworth Hospital (now Royal Papworth), after being flown there via helicopter from Sandringham before Christmas, having suffered chest pains, which were caused by a blocked coronary artery.
In 2016, he joined the Queen to visit the East Anglian Air Ambulance to open its new headquarters along with the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William.
After completing more than 22,000 solo appearances, Prince Philip retired from public life in August 2017.
Flags are flying at half-mast across the county as Cambridgeshire following the duke’s death.
Julie Spence, Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, paid tribute: “I would like to convey to Her Majesty The Queen, the deep sympathy felt by the whole of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on hearing the sad news of the death of HRH Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh.
“While the whole country mourns, this can be as nothing to the feelings of The Queen who has lost not just her husband of 73 years, but also her most steadfast support throughout the whole of her reign, as the longest serving British Consort. And of course, to his family who have lost a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“We will remember him with love and affection for the frequent visits he has made to this county, which included the period he served as Chancellor of Cambridge University. We also reflect on how he was a man ahead of his time, in particular for his interest in, and promotion of, the natural world - particularly through his work as President of the World Wildlife Fund. This is a passion he has handed down to his children and grandchildren - most notably HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duke of Cambridge - where his legacy will undoubtedly continue.
“We will also remember him for the contribution he has made to so many people’s lives through initiatives such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. This scheme has given so much to so many generations of young people bequeathing to them his own love of outdoor activity, adventure, and service to others - setting many on their path for life.”
Cambridgeshire Constabulary Chief Constable Nick Dean added: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness was a naval war hero who bravely served this country through the military and then for more than 70 years as the husband of our monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“Prince Philip was an example of how to conduct your life in service of the public and showed huge dedication to both Queen and country. His contribution to this country will never be forgotten.
“Our thoughts are with Her Majesty the Queen at this time and also Prince Philip’s family and friends.”