Britain's Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, dies aged 99

Elizabeth is the sovereign, but in family matters it was Philip who was viewed as the head of the family.

Britain's Prince Philip takes part in the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifles at Windsor Castle in Britain July 22, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Britain's Prince Philip takes part in the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of the Rifles at Windsor Castle in Britain July 22, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth and a leading figure in the British royal family for almost seven decades, has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace said on Friday.
The Duke of Edinburgh, as he was officially known, had been by his wife's side throughout her 69-year reign, the longest in British history, during which time he earned a reputation for a tough, no-nonsense attitude and a propensity for occasional gaffes.
"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," the palace said in a statement.
"His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss."
A Greek prince, he married Elizabeth in 1947, playing a key role in modernizing the monarchy in the post-World War II period, being the one key figure the queen could turn to and trust behind the walls of Buckingham Palace.
"He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years," Elizabeth said in a rare personal tribute to Philip made in a speech marking their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997. 
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Philip, who died on Friday, saying the country would mourn with the royal family and Queen Elizabeth, who had lost her "strength and stay of more than 70 years."
"We remember the duke... above all for his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen – not just as her consort, by her side, every day of her reign, but as her husband, her strength and stay of more than 70 years," Johnson said.
"And it is to Her Majesty, and her family, that our nation's thoughts must turn today." 
Philip spent four weeks in hospital earlier this year for treatment of an infection to have a heart procedure, but returned to Windsor in early March. He was admitted to the King Edward VII's Hospital on February 16 after he felt unwell, to receive treatment for an unspecified, but not COVID-19-related, infection.
His charm and disinclination to tolerate those he regarded as foolish or sycophantic earned him a position of respect among some Britons. But to others, his sometimes brusque demeanor made him appear rude, aloof and a delight to newspaper editors, who were keen to pick up on any stray remark at official events.
The former naval officer admitted he found it hard to give up the military career he loved and to take on the job as the monarch's consort, for which there was no clear-cut constitutional role.
In private, he was regarded as the unquestioned head of his family, but protocol obliged the man dubbed "the second handshake" to spend his public life literally one step behind his wife.
"There was no precedent. If I asked somebody 'what do you expect me to do?' they all looked blank. They had no idea, nobody had much idea," he said in an interview to mark his 90th birthday.
After completing more than 22,000 solo appearances, Philip retired from public life in August 2017, although he occasional appeared at official engagements afterwards.
His last appearance came last July at a military ceremony at Windsor Castle, the royal palace to the west of London where he and the monarch have resided during COVID-19 lockdowns.
The queen and prince, who were third cousins, married at Westminster Abbey on November 20, 1947. The queen, who is 94, ascended to the throne in 1952. They had four children, Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, Princess Anne, and princes Andrew and Edward.
They celebrated their 72nd anniversary on the same day that Andrew stepped down from public duties over the controversy surrounding his association with the disgraced late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein, one of a number of recent crises the family has faced.
The death of the queen's husband and closest confidant will raise questions over whether she might consider abdicating the throne, but royal commentators say there is little or no chance that this will happen.
In recent years, while she has cut many official engagements and passed many royal duties and patronages onto her son Charles, his son William and other senior royals, she still carries out the most symbolic of the monarchy's state duties, such as the opening of parliament.
Some royal watchers have argued that his absence from the role as family head in recent years due to declining health has played a role in some of the monarchy's recent travails, such as the crisis of Charles's younger son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, and the decision which saw them give up their royal roles.
"The main lesson that we have learned is that tolerance is the one essential ingredient of any happy marriage," Philip said in a speech in 1997. "It may not be quite so important when things are going well, but it is absolutely vital when things get difficult. You can take it from me that the queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance."