On April 9th, 2021, Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II died peacefully at Windsor Castle in England. He was 99 years old.
His death comes after a series of hospitalizations in recent years, including a month-long stay back in February, according to ABC News. At 99, Prince Philip was married to Queen Elizabeth for over seven decades, serving as her consort for 69 years, making him the longest serving consort of the British monarch. His death comes as a shock to a nation still reeling from the explosive Oprah interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and many fear that his death will be another blow to the increasingly scrutinized and tumultuous British monarchy.
However, Prince Philip (named the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947), is no stranger to tumult. In fact, his life has been marked by the difficulties of the monarchy in the 20th, and the 21st century. Prince Philip was born in 1921 to Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and was 6th in line to the Greek throne. However, his childhood was turbulent, and when he was one, his family exiled to Paris to escape an anti-monarchist movement— smuggling the young prince out of the country in an orange crate.
The exile ultimately caused Prince Philip’s family unit to break up. His mother, Princess Alice, suffered a mental breakdown and was confined to an asylum in Switzerland. After her breakdown, his father more or less abandoned his family, and the young prince spent the rest of his childhood bouncing around between different family members and boarding schools.
When he was 18, Prince Philip joined the Royal Navy, enrolling in the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. It was there that his uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, famously arranged for Princess Elizabeth to visit the young cadet. And although Princess Elizabeth was only 13 at the time, it is rumored that this was the visit in which she fell in love with him, according to the BBC.
The couple began a romantic relationship at the end of World War II, although many people in the British Royal family disapproved of it. Regardless, the couple eventually married in 1947, when he was 26 and the princess was 21.
After the untimely death of King George VI, Princess Elizabeth acceded to the throne in 1952, and was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. As the consort to the Queen, Prince Philip was eager to take on royal responsibilities, and used his own traumatic childhood to help the British monarchy reinvent itself in the 20th century. Prince Philip felt as though it was essential for the British monarch to feel accessible to the public, and that following World War II, monarchies were the exception— not the rule. He felt as though the monarchy must modernize if it were to survive, and spent the 50’s fighting to innovate the institution.
One of his most important innovations was his eagerness to engage the public using television, and he fought tirelessly for his wife’s coronation to be televised to the public. This event became a huge success for the monarchy, and millions of people in the UK bought televisions in anticipation of the event. Prince Philip also became the first royal family member to participate in a televised interview in 1961, according to Insider.
As the royal family continued to try and navigate the fast paced world of the 20th century, Prince Philip stood by the queen’s side, urging her to humanize the royal family and adapt to new technologies. Throughout the next 60 years, Prince Philip remained a staple of the royal family, attending speaking arrangements, conducting interviews, and remaining an outspoken defender of the environment, criticizing the use of greenhouse gases long before it was fashionable to do so, according to the New York Times.
However, Prince Philip also had a habit of making inappropriate, unscripted comments in public, some of which have gotten him in trouble over the years. While Philip may have embraced the technology that emerged with modernity, he had trouble adapting to the language of the new era, and was criticized throughout the years for his casual racism. It seems unfair to mourn the man without also acknowledging his problematic remarks, and it seems as though these outbursts will likely tarnish his lasting legacy.
Regardless though, Prince Philip’s death marks the end of an era. He was one of the last living bridges to the old British monarchy. His mother, Princess Alice, was born in 1885 in the presence of Queen Victoria herself. He grew up around the royal names that defined the 19th century, and his ancestry spanned all across Europe. Prince Philip was even related to the Romanovs, the last Russian Czars who were famously executed in 1918. His life began during a time that is unrecognizable now. He was born in the dusk of World War I, during the era of silent movies and Model Ts. In his death, the world mourns not just the man he was, but everything that he represented— one of our last living ties to the distant past.