Prince Philip, the 96-year-old husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, has been admitted to the hospital with an infection and will miss the formal opening of parliament, but he remains in good spirits, Buckingham Palace said on Wednesday.
Philip, whose official title is Duke of Edinburgh and has sometimes drawn attention with headline-grabbing gaffes, has been by the queen’s side throughout her 65 years on the throne and she has described him as “my strength and stay”.
“The Duke of Edinburgh was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London last night, as a precautionary measure, for treatment of an infection arising from a pre-existing condition,” a spokesman for the Palace said.
“Prince Philip is in good spirits and is disappointed to be missing the State Opening of Parliament and Royal Ascot,” the spokesman said.
The queen, the world’s longest-reigning living monarch, celebrated her 91st birthday in April. She will be accompanied in parliament by her son, Prince Charles, who is heir to the throne, When Philip announced in May that he would retire later this year from active public life, he quipped about not being able to “stand up much”.
Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s feisty consort, has been a pivotal figure in the British royal family for almost seven decades. Despite the ambiguities of his position the blunt-talking prince brought acerbic wit and unflagging energy to his role as consort while helping to strip away court ritual and nurse the monarchy into the 20th century.
Philippos Schleswig-Holstein Soenderburg-Glucksburg was born on the Greek island of Corfu on June 10, 1921, the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece.
Philip’s parents went into exile when he was 18 months old. They sailed from Corfu with the little boy sleeping in a cot made hurriedly from orange boxes.
Philip had British and German blood through his mother, a great grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. She was born Princess Alice of Battenberg and became a nun after drifting apart from her husband, who died virtually penniless in 1944.
Philip’s early life was spent on the move around Europe until he was sent to Gordonstoun, a tough school in Scotland, where his first son Prince Charles later became an unwilling pupil. Under the tutelage of his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Philip renounced his Greek titles and Orthodoxy and was formally naturalised as a British subject.
In 1939 he joined Britain’s Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, southern England, as a cadet and graduated top of his class. It was here that he first met Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the British throne, when at the age of 13 she visited Dartmouth with her parents.
During World War Two Philip served on battleships, cruisers and destroyers. He was mentioned in dispatches, took part in the Allied landings in Sicily and was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.
The engagement of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, as he was then known, to Princess Elizabeth was announced in July 1947. They were married in Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947 in a sumptuous ceremony attended by statesmen and royalty from around the world. Philip’s titles – His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth, Baron of Greenwich — were bestowed on him by King George VI just prior to the marriage.
Princess Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, Charles, Prince of Wales, in November 1948. The royal couple had three more children, Princess Anne born in 1950, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964.
Prince Philip continued his naval career until 1951, then took indefinite leave following the death of King George and devoted himself full-time to public duties when Elizabeth became queen a year later.
The prince had no official power and no clear-cut constitutional role. Protocol obliged the man dubbed “the second handshake” to spend his public life literally one step behind his wife.
Rumours of extra-marital activities and a rift with the Queen were firmly denied in the 1950s but speculation continued and Prince Philip failed to win the hearts of the people. He was attacked for his views on subjects as varied as nuclear power, individual freedom and nature conservation.
Critics called him a hypocrite for heading the conservation group the World Wide Fund for Nature while continuing to indulge in blood sports such as pheasant shooting.
His tactless gaffes were legendary. During a state visit to China he told British students: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll be slitty-eyed.” The remarks were symbolic of his gruff and unguarded manner, which contrasted sharply with the sweetly smiling image of the Queen.
He was popular with some royalists for his urbane wit, devotion to his family, love of sport and unsentimental dedication to the business of being royal. But he was criticised for his reportedly stern brand of fatherhood, linked by some to his children’s broken marriages.
As Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew suffered marital breakdown, royal-watchers pointed the finger at their doughty father, calling him overbearing and cold, particularly with his sons.
The popularity of the royals reached a low ebb following the death of Prince Charles’ wife Princess Diana in a Paris car crash in August 1997. Two months later, on the eve of the Queen and Prince Philip’s golden wedding anniversary, a poll showed overall backing for the royals had plunged to 32 percent.
At a banquet to celebrate the anniversary, Prince Philip alluded to the difficulties of recent years, paying tribute to his children and asking to be forgiven for feeling proud of them. “I am, naturally, somewhat biased, but I think our children have all done rather well under very difficult and demanding circumstances” he said.
After a tumultuous 35-year affair Prince Charles finally married the love of his life, Camilla Parker-Bowles, in April 2005. The Queen and Prince Philip attended the service of blessing in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, along with 750 guests, including other members of the royal family.
Prince Philip was again the subject of unwelcome headlines during the six month inquest into the death of Princess Diana and her lover Dodi al-Fayed which opened in London in October 2007. Dodi’s father, luxury
Dodi’s father, luxury store owner Mohamed al-Fayed, alleged that his son and Diana were killed by British security services on the orders of Prince Philip. The jury finally returned a verdict of unlawful killing due to the grossly negligent driving of Henri Paul, Dodi and Diana’s chauffeur, and the paparazzi photographers pursuing them.
Credited with carrying out more public engagements than any other royal except his daughter, Princess Anne, Prince Philip continued throughout his eighties to support a wide range of charities and accompany the Queen on her royal duties.
In June 2011, as a 90th birthday present, the Queen awarded her husband the office of Lord High Admiral, the titular head of the Royal Navy. By now the longest serving consort and oldest-serving spouse of any British monarch, Prince Philip announced he would be winding down his activities and stepping back from his official duties.
In recent years the prince’s health has become a cause for concern as he received hospital treatment for a number of ailments. In December 2011 he underwent a successful procedure to unblock a coronary artery and spent Christmas in the hospital.
In June 2012 he was taken to hospital suffering from a bladder infection a day after spending hours on the River Thames in driving rain and a cold wind as part of a flotilla of 1,000 boats taking part in the spectacular highlight of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations, and returned to hospital for further treatment two months later.
In June 2013, the Palace announced Prince Philip had been admitted to hospital for exploratory abdominal surgery, prompting fresh concerns for his health. He was able to walk unaided when he left the clinic following an 11-day stay, and by the autumn had resumed his royal engagements, including attending the christening of his second great-grandson, Prince George, the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Named after the Queen’s father, Prince George is third in line to the throne, after his father, and grandfather.
Despite his recent illnesses, Prince Philip fulfilled more than 200 engagements in 2014. He has earned a reputation as a loyal and hard-working consort with a brusque sense of humour and a tendency to make politically incorrect gaffes.