It is quite extraordinary to reflect on the fact that between them, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen have given nearly 150 years of unstinting public service.
It is therefore, perhaps not so extraordinary, that the Duke of Edinburgh’s death has profoundly touched the hearts of the nation which is now in mourning following his death today. But while the passing of Prince Philip, a man whose health, energy and wit defied his 99 years, has left a void in the heart of the country and the commonwealth, no one will feel the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh more acutely than Her Majesty the Queen who once described him as ‘my strength and stay.’
Married for 73 years, theirs has been an enduring love affair. While in public, their relationship was ruled by protocol, with the Duke having to walk a step behind his wife. But their love in private was clear, and they loved to lighten the burden of public life with laughter.
The marriage grew to become a reassuring beacon of home for the country on many occasions. In 2017 the couple celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary at Windsor Castle for their closest family and friends. It was an historic celebration of the longest lasting royal marriage in history (Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage eclipsed King George III and Queen Charlotte's 53 years) yet there was no great fanfare or firing of cannons to salute the event.
The Queen, who Philip privately and affectionately referred to as ‘Lilibet’ and ‘sausage’ bestowed the greatest honour in her gift appointing her beloved husband with the Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) for services to the sovereign. It was her way of publicly acknowledging everything that he has done for her over the years. From Jubilees, to official birthday parades to state occasions, overseas trips and family milestones, Prince Philip was always by the Queen’s side and for more than seven decades, they were inseparable.
It was love at first sight when a blushing young Princess Elizabeth met Prince Philip of Greece, a dashing 18 year old naval officer just before the outbreak of World War II. He was 18, she a girl of 13. Several years later they courted and were married at Westminster Abbey in November 1947, their joyful wedding day lifted the spirits of a depressed and battered post war Britain.
They had four children, Anne, Charles, Andrew and Edward, and when he died Prince Philip had nine great grandchildren, who he adored.
The loss of the Iron Duke will of course be a huge loss to the royal family, who, courtiers say, the Queen depended on to help bring the family together, and make difficult decisions in times of crisis. Indeed, in the coming weeks, months and years, The Queen will be relying on her family for support and comfort.
‘The Queen is a person who has faith and that will be a comfort to her,’ says her former press secretary Charles Anson. ‘Her family will drop everything to be with her but it will be hard. Her grief won’t be on show to everyone, but of course she will feel it. She’s bound to.’
While the Duke’s death is of course a great loss to the Queen, it is a moment she has had time to prepare for. Since the Duke’s retirement in May 2017, the monarch has cut a more solitary figure as she continued public engagements while Philip enjoyed a quiet retirement dividing his time between Sandringham and Windsor where he would fill his days walking, painting and drawing and seeing old friends.
For the most part he was blessed with good health, save for a hip replacement in early 2018. In the past, he suffered more serious health problems. In 2008 he was hospitalised with a chest infection, then during the Royals’ Christmas celebrations in 2011 Philip was rushed to hospital with chest pains. He was given a stent to repair a blocked coronary artery but was soon back on his feet.
Then in June 2012 he was admitted to hospital with a bladder infection after standing in the rain for hours during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The Queen apparently pleaded with Philip, with humour but also heart felt seriousness, not to die on her at such a crucial moment in her reign. After all, she lost her mother in the year of her Golden Jubilee. Thankfully Philip pulled through, but the spectacle of her Majesty, without the Duke on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony at the close of the national celebrations was a poignant image. When she walked herself down the aisle at St Paul’s cathedral for a solemn service of thanksgiving it was one of the loneliest moments of her remarkable reign.
For during her 65 plus years on the throne Philip has always been by her side, through the good times and the bad times. ‘They were a brilliant team and I saw endless examples of how they worked so well together,’ comments Charles Anson. ‘The Duke was always there for her and flew straight back from Canada where he was on an official trip when Windsor Castle caught fire.
I observed their closeness many times, particularly on walkabouts. Philip was wonderful with the crowds and would often lift small children up over railings so that they could meet the Queen.’
Being naturally shy, the Queen depended on Philip on official engagements. ‘He was always very good at walking into a room, greeting the first in the reception and breaking the silence, by making a quip. He had a real ice breaking quality,’ remembers Mr Anson.
The Duke’s remarkable life story became one of the most fascinating parts of the hit TV show The Crown. The programme captured the duke as a dashing naval lieutenant who gave everything up to marry the future Queen. It brought him to a new generation, although reports stated that he did not watch it personally.
When the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary the Duke conceded marriage was not always easy and spoke of the importance of tolerance especially "when the going gets difficult.’’ He credited his wife for having ‘the quality of tolerance in abundance.’
Over the years and with the Queen’s support Philip found his own way and his own role. Up until his retirement he was an active patron of more than 800 charities. He loved to play polo and until arthritis got the better of him, the Queen enjoyed supporting him from the side lines. She was also supportive of his passion for carriage driving and would watch the duke compete come rain or shine.
When he announced his retirement in May 2017, it was with the Queen’s blessing.
She had been worried about how much he was still doing and felt very strongly that after more than 70 years of public service, he deserved a well-earned break. It was a significant moment for the royals and for the people of the United Kingdom. Royal engagements suddenly seemed quieter and less spontaneous without the gaffe prone prince who has always spoken his mind and been one of the Royal Family’s most colourful characters.
The duke and controversy came hand in hand and he was never allowed to forget some of his most famous faux pas such as the time he declared; ‘British women can't cook’. His off the cuff and blunt remarks often landed him in hot water. When asked back in the 60s if he would like to visit the Soviet Union he replied: "I would like to go to Russia very much, although the bastards murdered half my family." This hinted at his tendency to walk the line in his figures of speech.
Courtiers often despaired at his bluntness and his dogged determination. Less than two days after a serious car crash in January 2019, the Duke, who miraculously walked away from the wreckage, was back behind the wheel without a seat belt. There were few people who could tell the Duke what to do, and as courtiers discovered, the only person he would every take instruction from was the Queen.
While he had a reputation for being to the point and sometimes brash, the Duke mellowed with age.
In later life, what had been a sometimes strained relationship with his eldest son the Prince of Wales became a close one. When Philip was hospitalised over the Diamond Jubilee Charles asked the crowds outside Buckingham Palace to cheer for his sick father so that he might hear them. And cheer they did. For despite his many public faux pas, Philip was much loved and respected the world over.
A pioneer and modernist (he encouraged the Queen to allow her coronation to be televised back in 1953) he was always a forward thinker. Passionate about nature and the environment he established the royal family’s legacy with preserving wildlife, something Charles William and Harry continue today.
A former officer, he was also committed to the Armed Forces and helping young people which prompted him to launch his highly successful Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
The Queen was hugely proud of Philip and to this day still keeps a picture of her husband as a bearded naval lieutenant in her private rooms.
Their love for one another became a symbol of hope for the nation. A symbol that still shines bright today.
Look back at vintage photos from the early stages of the Queen and Prince Philip's 73-year marriage in the gallery below...
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip - Grazia
Waving from Buckingham Palace, July 1947
The couple officially announce their engagement at Buckingham Palace, July 1947
After the engagement announcement, November 1947
Elizabeth and Philip after announcing their engagement, July 1947
Princess Elizabeth poses with her family and fiancé ahead of her marriage, 1947
Photographed at Buckingham Palace shortly before their wedding, 1947
Arriving at the Royal Variety Performance, November 1947
Arriving at the Armistice Day service, November 1947
The couple were married at Westminster Abbey on 20th November 1947
Posing for official photos at the Palace after their wedding, November 1947
Waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the wedding, November 1947
Honeymooning at Broadlands House, home to Philip's Uncle, November 1947
Playing with a corgi while on honeymoon, November 1947
Admiring wedding photos while honeymooning, November 1947
Enjoying a walk on their honeymoon at Broadlands House in Hampshire, November 1947
Arriving in Malta (where Philip was stationed with the Royal Navy) for the second part of their honeymoon, 1947
Attending a charity ball at the Dorchester Hotel, 1948
On board the 'Pamir,' March 1948
Prince Philip receives the Freedom of the City of London, 1948
Visiting the Arc de Triomphe, May 1948
Attending the Royal Horse Show at Windsor, May 1949
Arriving at the wedding of the Earl of Harewood and Marion Stein, 1949
Posing with newborn Charles, July 1949
After Princess Anne's christening, 1950
Walking in the grounds of Clarence House, August 1951
A family portrait session with the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne at Clarence House, 1951
A photoshoot with the family, August 1951
Visiting the Festival of Britain, 1951
Royal tour of Quebec, 1951
Enjoying a barn dance in Ottowa, 1951
Photographed outside Balmoral, September 1952
A candid shot with Princess Anne and Prince Charles, 1951
Photographed with the children at Balmoral, September 1952
Leaving Westminster Abbey in an ornate carriage following Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953
Waving to the crowds from the balcony of Buckingham Palace following Elizabeth's coronation, June 1953
Elizabeth poses for official photos with Philip following her coronation
Visiting Northern Ireland on the Coronation Tour, 1953
Photographing the arrival of an escort ship while en route to Fiji during the Coronation Tour, 1953
Visiting Bermuda, November 1953
Overseeing the children and two ponies in the grounds of Balmoral, August 1955
Playing with corgis in the grounds of Balmoral, August 1955
A trip to Nigeria, 1956
Posing for photographs at Buckingham Palace, December 1958
Posing for photographs at Buckingham Palace, December 1958
The Queen and Prince Philip with corgis at Windsor Castle, 1959
John and Jackie Kennedy visit Buckingham Palace, 1960
John and Jackie Kennedy visit Buckingham Palace, 1960
Leaving Manchester by train, May 1961
Presenting Bobby Moore with the World Cup trophy, 1966
Flying back from Yorkshire, filmed for a BBC and ITV documentary