That would be Prince Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, the gaffe-prone but grumpily endearing and loyal husband of Queen Elizabeth II for almost 70 years — the longest royal union in British history — who has served the country for nearly as long.
“His royal highness the Duke of Edinburgh has decided that he will no longer carry out public engagements from the autumn of this year. In taking this decision, the duke has the full support of the queen,” read the terse statement from the palace, which gave no reason for the retirement.
It added that the queen’s role would be unchanged, and that while Prince Philip would retreat from public view, he might occasionally attend public events.
Minutes earlier, outside the palace, more than a dozen television crews and assembled journalists from Britain, the United States, France, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia had been watching for even the slightest clue about what was happening. Speculation was rife — unfounded, as it turned out — that Prince Philip or the queen might be dead.
The flag atop Buckingham Palace was at full staff, signaling that the queen was fine and at home. Beyond the possibility that there would be an announcement of a royal death — an event that would be carefully choreographed after years of preparation — various other possibilities were discussed in whispers. Could it be an abdication crisis? Some sort of security threat at one of the queen’s many lavish homes? A palace decoration emergency?
At one point, a group of royal-looking horses trotted by, galvanizing a flock of photographers into action. False alarm.
“This is more exciting than the election,” said Rachael Venables, a reporter for LBC, a London-based talk radio station, alluding to Britain’s somewhat lackluster coming general election, which Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party are widely expected to win handily.
The news media scrum was touched off by a report in The Daily Mail, a British tabloid, that all members of the queen’s staff had been ordered to a meeting in London, and that employees from royal residences across the country would be in attendance.
The Daily Mail described the meeting as “highly unusual,” and Buckingham Palace’s silence on the matter early in the morning allowed rumors to flourish. A palace official said that such gatherings happened every now and then, and that there was “no reason for alarm.”
The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid, erroneously published an unfinished obituary of Prince Philip on its website for a few minutes Thursday morning. The headline read: “Prince Philip dead at 95, how did the Duke of Edinburgh die, etc etc.”
“We are mortified this happened,” a Sun executive later said.
An announcement was rumored to be coming at 8 a.m., and when it failed to arrive, BBC television news said its top story of the morning was the sharp rise in eating disorders among men. Palace gardeners could be seen jovially going about their chores. Tourists near the palace asked what all the fuss was about.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that the queen and Prince Philip had performed duties on Wednesday: The queen met with Mrs. May, and the prince cut a ribbon to open a new stand of seats at a cricket ground. If a royal personage had died, the palace was behaving with remarkable stoicism.
Members of the royal family are beloved fixtures in Britain, and speculation about royal health has been simmering for months. The prince was ill over the holidays, while the queen, who is 91, was not seen in public for nearly a month after missing church services on Christmas and New Year’s Day because of what Buckingham Palace described as a persistent cold.
A former naval officer, Prince Philip has earned a reputation as a royal workhorse and a steadfast spouse to the queen, even as he has sometimes come under criticism for making rude and occasionally out-of-place remarks.
During a trip to Canada in 1976, he had this to say: “We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
In 1986, while on an official visit to China, he told a group of British exchange students living in the city of Xi’an that if they stayed much longer, “you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”
In 1995 on a visit to Scotland, he met a driving instructor. “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?” he asked.
Yet despite his propensity for political incorrectness, on Thursday he came in for praise, the memory of earlier embarrassments perhaps blunted by the sheer stamina and longevity of the foreign-born prince as he gets closer to 100. Mrs. May offered him “our deepest gratitude and good wishes.”
Prince Philip’s essentially diplomatic role as royal consort did not come naturally, even as he has served as a patron, a president or a member of more than 780 organizations.
When interviewed by The Independent in 1992, he reflected with characteristic bluntness on his various honorary functions, including roles on a committee on coinage and at the wildlife charity WWF.
“It was not my ambition to be president of the Mint Advisory Committee. I didn’t want to be president of WWF. I was asked to do it,” he said, before adding, “I’d much rather have stayed in the navy, frankly.”
A nephew of King Constantine I of Greece, Prince Philip was born in 1921 on the dining room table of a villa on the Greek island of Corfu.
Known for his passion for the rugged outdoors, he represents an era when Britain ruled large parts of the world and gentlemen wore their lack of visible emotion like a badge of honor. That style has been blamed for making him a distant figure in the lives of his children, particularly Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
There has also been speculation about his marriage to the queen.
When asked by The Independent about rumors of infidelity, he replied wryly: “Have you ever stopped to think that for the last 40 years, I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”
|Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II in Ireland in 2011. Credit Aidan Crawley/European Pressphoto Agency|
Prince Philip to step down from carrying out royal engagements
The Duke of Edinburgh is retiring from royal duties this autumn, Buckingham Palace has announced.
Prince Philip, who turns 96 in June, made the decision himself and the Queen supported him, a spokesman said.
"I'm sorry to hear you're standing down", one man told him at a royal lunch on Thursday. "Well, I can't stand up much," the duke quipped.
The duke will attend already scheduled engagements between now and August but will not accept new invitations.
The Queen "will continue to carry out a full programme of official engagements", the palace said.
The duke carried out 110 days of engagements in 2016, making him the fifth busiest member of the royal family, according to Court Circular listings.
He is patron, president or a member of more than 780 organisations and will continue to be associated with them, but "will no longer play an active role by attending engagements", Buckingham Palace said.
In the statement, the spokesman said the duke "may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time".
Hours after the announcement, Prince Philip was at his 26th public engagement of 2017: a service and lunch for members of the Order of Merit at St James's Palace.
At the reception, the duke quipped to mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah that he "can't stand up much".
This is Prince Philip acting on his own advice, nearly six years later.
When he turned 90 he told the BBC it was "better to get out before you reach your sell-by date".
From the autumn, he will follow a path into retirement which is trod by many non-royals once they are in their sixties.
Today's announcement is a significant moment in the recent history of the British Royal Family.
A prince of Greece - with Danish, German and Russian blood - he has served the ancient institution, very publicly, for seven decades.
As an outsider - who was viewed with suspicion by the aristocracy - he struggled at first.
To his critics, he is a gaffe-prone prince.
His many supporters argue that this nonagenarian senior royal has played a crucial role sustaining the monarchy.
It's little wonder then that the Queen once called him her strength and stay.
Broadcaster and writer Gyles Brandreth, a friend of the duke, told the BBC he had seen Prince Philip on Tuesday and could confirm his retirement was not on health grounds.
"I think he is retiring now in order to have a few years of retirement and I think the timing is thought through," he said.
"It's 70 years this autumn since he became the consort of Princess Elizabeth and then the Queen - so, after 70 years, I think he feels probably he has done his stuff."
BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the duke - the longest-serving consort in British history - "clearly feels he now wishes to curtail" his "familiar role" in support of his wife.
The duke attended Lord's Cricket Ground to open a new stand on Wednesday and was heard joking at the event that he is the "world's most experienced plaque unveiler".
He is famed for off-the-cuff remarks he has made at royal engagements over the years.
Prime Minister Theresa May said she offered the country's "deepest gratitude and good wishes" to the duke and praised his "steadfast support" for the Queen.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wished the duke "all the best in his well-earned retirement", saying: "His Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme has inspired young people for more than 60 years in over 140 nations."
Prince Philip set up the awards in 1956 and they have become one of the UK's best-known youth programmes, with young people carrying out challenges to earn bronze, silver or gold awards.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said it was a moment to "celebrate and take stock" of the duke's "enormous achievements".
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the "steadfast support" the duke had given the Queen was "hugely admirable".
Still on the diary
Buckingham Palace publishes details of official engagements up to eight weeks in advance. For the Duke of Edinburgh, these include:
- Visiting Pangbourne College, Berkshire, for its centenary - 9 May
- Presenting prizes at the Royal Windsor Horse Show - 14 May
- Attending a dinner marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Pakistan - 18 May
- Visiting the Chelsea Flower Show - 22 May
- Holding receptions for young people who have achieved a gold Duke of Edinburgh award - 24 May
- Attending evensong to celebrate the centenary of the Companions of Honour - 13 June
- Presenting the Prince Philip Award at ZSL London Zoo - 27 June
- Hosting King Felipe of Spain during his state visit - from 12 July
US President Donald Trump is also due to make a state visit to the UK later this year, but no date has been announced for his trip.
The duke and the Queen celebrate their platinum wedding anniversary - their 70th - in November.
They have called a halt to long-haul travel in recent years, with younger royals carrying out those duties.
Royal commentator Dickie Arbiter said the duke is in "robust health", adding: "He is not giving up on life, just stepping [down] from full-time public engagements".
To date, the duke has:
- Carried out 22,191 solo engagements
- Taken part in 637 solo overseas visits
- Given 5,493 speeches
- Authored 14 books
"He's slowing down and I'm sure we will still hear and see of him from time to time."
Prince Philip, husband of UK's Queen Elizabeth II, to retire from public life
Prince Philip, 95-year-old husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, is to step down from public life, Buckingham Palace has announced.
The prince, who has been at the Queen's side for her 65-year reign, will stop accepting invitations for public engagements from September, the palace said.
The Queen, who is 91 and has gradually scaled back her public appearances in recent years, will continue to carry out her duties supported by other members of the royal family.
"His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh has decided that he will no longer carry out public engagements from the autumn of this year. In taking this decision, The Duke has the full support of The Queen," the Buckingham Palace statement said, referring to the prince by one of this other titles.
"Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August, both individually and accompanying The Queen," the statement added. "Thereafter, The Duke will not be accepting new invitations for visits and engagements, although he may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time."
The Queen, who is the world's longest-serving living monarch, will "continue to carry out a full programme of official engagements," supported by other members of the royal family.
In a statement, British Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to the prince, offering him the country's "deepest gratitude and good wishes" following the announcement.
"From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come," the statement said.
The Queen and Prince Philip are due to celebrate 70 years of marriage in November. Prince Philip is 96 next month.
Royal staff summoned
Senior royal staff members were called to London by the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior member of Queen Elizabeth II's household staff, to be told of the announcement before the public statement. News of the meeting leaked out, causing a flurry of speculation over the nature of the announcement.
The two senior royals have carried out a number of engagements in recent days. The Queen met the Prime Minister at the palace Wednesday as a formality to mark the dissolution of parliament, ahead of a general election in June.
Also on Wednesday, Prince Philip was photographed during an event at Lord's cricket ground in London.
It is over five years since Buckingham Palace announced that Philip would gradually "wind down" his workload, though he remained keen to perform many of his duties.
In 2016, he attended 200 events as he continued to represent the royal family with his own distinctive style.
In an interview with the BBC to mark of his 90th birthday in 2011, Philip said it was time to take a step back from his responsibilities.
"I reckon I've done my bit, I want to enjoy myself now ... have less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say," he said.
Royal commentator Kate Williams described Philip's decision to step away from public life as "very sad."
"He's the longest-serving royal consort in our history," she told CNN from outside Buckingham Palace.
"It is very sad to see Prince Philip stepping down from royal engagements but I think we can all agree he deserves a rest.
"He has been an incredible consort to Her Majesty — a man of great achievement and great intelligence. To him, his great role, his great job in life was to support the Queen, to support the monarchy."
The royal family says Philip will continue to be associated with more than 780 organizations.
In recent years, the burden of public engagements has increasingly fallen to younger members of the British royal family.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are due to move back to London from Norfolk in eastern England later this year to carry out more duties. They will take up residence in Kensington Palace, the former home of Princess Diana.
The Duke, Prince William, recently announced that he would leave up his job as a helicopter pilot with the East Anglia Air Ambulance service.
Both William and Catherine have also been promoting mental health awareness, along with Prince Harry.
Harry has carried out a number of engagements on behalf of the queen and has visited countries on all seven continents.
All three are likely to step up their public appearances in the wake of the latest developments.