Britain bids farewell to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh on Saturday with a funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in a service paying homage to his seven decades of public service as consort to Queen Elizabeth II. FRANCE 24 takes a look back at images from his life.
In the Royal Navy
Upon leaving school in 1939, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, as he was known at that point, pursued his training in the Royal Navy on the advice of his uncle, King Constantine II of Greece. He served with bravery throughout the Second World War, principally in the Mediterranean theatre, where he was commended for his role alongside Greek forces in the 1941 Battle of Crete.
But Philip’s greatest moment of the war came during the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily, a year after he was made first lieutenant of HMS Wallace. A Luftwaffe bombing campaign mercilessly attacked the ship, determined to destroy it, until Philip hatched a plan to set off smoke flares – fooling the German bombers into thinking they had successfully sunk the boat. Without Philip’s quick-thinking subterfuge, those aboard would have had “little chance of survival”, one veteran recounted 60 years later.
Philip corresponded regularly during the war with then princess Elizabeth. They had met in 1939 when he escorted the future queen and her sister Margaret during their father King George VI’s visit to Britain’s Royal Naval College, where Philip was training. The 13-year-old Elizabeth fell in love with Philip, 18, and decided she wanted to marry him.
They were married in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947, months after Philip renounced his Greek and Danish royal titles and became a British subject. On the morning of the wedding, George VI made him the Duke of Edinburgh.
With Charles and Anne
Princess Elizabeth gave birth to the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, on November 14, 1948. Princess Anne, subsequently titled as the Princess Royal, was born on August 15, 1950.
The royal couple went on to have two additional children: Prince Andrew, born in 1960, and Prince Edward, born in 1964.
At King George VI’s funeral
Philip ended his naval career in 1951 to become a full-time consort to then princess Elizabeth, as King George VI’s health was failing after his six years of leadership during World War II. On February 6, 1952, George VI died and Elizabeth became queen.
Philip in Greece
As with many 19th- and 20th-century British royals, Philip’s family origins were a largely continental mix. He was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921, to Andrew, Prince of Greece and Denmark, and Princess Alice of Battenberg, a royal from the ancient German principality of Hesse and a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Philip considered himself Danish, first and foremost – but also showed pride in his Greek, German and Russian roots. As a descendant of the Romanov dynasty, Philip gave a DNA sample that identified the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife and five children in an unmarked Siberian grave – dispelling the myth that young Grand Duchess Anastasia had escaped the Bolshevik firing squad in the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Promoting the protection of the planet
Philip was renowned for his commitment to public service, having served as either president or patron of some 780 charities and organisations that promoted causes such as environmental conservation, science and technology, and participation in sport.
He played an instrumental role in founding the World Wildlife Fund in 1961, serving as the first president of its UK branch then serving as president of the global organisation from 1981 to 1996 – using the pomp and circumstance of British royalty to help make the WWF an influential environmentalist force across the globe.
Well-known for his gaffes and a blunt sense of humour, Philip famously displayed his softer side in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in 1997, one of the most difficult weeks of the Queen’s reign. The 15-year-old Prince William, who had grown very close to Philip during weekends spent at Windsor Castle, was reluctant to walk behind the coffin at the state funeral. But the Duke gently persuaded him: “If you don’t walk, I think you’ll regret it later. If I walk, will you walk with me?” he asked.
With the Queen
Six years before this photo was taken on a family holiday at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, the Queen paid tribute to Philip for the colossal support he had given her throughout their long marriage and her long reign: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”
Meeting the Obamas
Spending nearly 65 years as consort to the head of the British state, Philip developed rapports with giants of global politics across a huge timespan, from Britain’s Winston Churchill to John F. Kennedy to France’s Charles de Gaulle.
Upon Philip’s death, former US president Barack Obama paid him one of the most fulsome of the array of international tributes, hailing the late Duke’s “steady leadership and guiding wisdom”.
He recalled his nervousness ahead of a visit with then First Lady Michelle Obama to Buckingham Palace in 2011. “As two Americans unaccustomed to palaces and pomp, we didn’t know what to expect. We shouldn’t have worried. The Queen and Prince Philip immediately put us at ease with their grace and generosity, turning a ceremonial occasion into something far more natural, even comfortable.”
Obama continued: “Through his extraordinary example, he proved that true partnership has room for both ambition and selflessness – all in service of something greater.”
Retiring at 96
Philip conducted the last of his more than 22,000 solo public engagements on August 2, 2017, retiring from public life at age 96. When a member of the public told Philip, “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down”, he responded: “Well, I can’t stand up for much longer.”