There was a bit of a furor last night when news came out that staff had been summoned to Buckingham Palace for an unexpected meeting. Speculation ran the gamut of a death to an abdication notice to the decision that the Queen and Prince Philip would decamp to Windsor or Balmoral Castles full-time. A few international news outlets even went so far as to publish news of Prince Philip’s death, posts which have been subsequently taken down since the truth is that he will be retiring from royal duties this fall.
The announcement from BP reads:
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh has decided that he will no longer carry out public engagements from the autumn of this year. In taking this decision, The Duke has the full support of The Queen.
Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August, both individually and accompanying The Queen. Thereafter, The Duke will not be accepting new invitations for visits and engagements, although he may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time.
The Duke of Edinburgh is Patron, President or a member of over 780 organisations, with which he will continue to be associated, although he will no longer play an active role by attending engagements.
Her Majesty will continue to carry out a full programme of official engagements with the support of members of the Royal Family.
The autumn, mind you, coincides with when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced earlier this year that they would be returning to London and William would be taking on royal duties full-time. I would say that the move had been pre-planned, except that it seems odd that Kensington Palace would announce the Cambridges’ news in January and BP would wait until May. Also, the alarm bells that went off last night couldn’t have been that surprising, making me think either news leaked that shouldn’t have or a final decision on this front was made fairly recently.
The announcement also comes on the heels of news that the Queen won’t be partaking in Garter Day next month because the event coincides with the Opening of Parliament on June 19th. The decision may have been made so as to downplay the likely re-election of Prime Minister Theresa May (and make it all seem less like a coronation), or it may have had more to do with the fact that the Trooping of the Colour is happening two days before. The Palace has denied that one of the ceremonies has been dropped to accommodate the Queen’s age, but then again, that’s exactly what they would do, isn’t it?
The simple fact is, the Queen is 91 and the Duke will turn 96 next month. That they are mobile, alert and working full-time is slightly astonishing. The small concessions of responsibility that the Queen has passed along to the Prince of Wales are relatively minor in the grand scheme of her duties, including only recently relying on her family to carry out overseas travel.
This, much like concern over the Queen’s cold this past winter or the traction of The Guardian’s reporting on the details of her some-day death announcement, is indicative that we’re in the dusk of a certain era and there’s a building angst over what that means for the public and for the rest of the Royal Family.
Even so, Prince Philip’s career should be noted for not only its extraordinary length, but its consistency. Much is made of his verbal “gaffes” and off-color jokes, but he has also unfailingly stood by the Queen for the last 70 years in a role that isn’t defined, provides little glory and holds you up for near-constant judgment. He has spent his life in a supporting role because, simply, this has been his duty. The Queen will be remembered as a successful and popular monarch, one who defined the second half of the 20th century, but a great deal of her ability to fulfill her position as effectively as she did can be traced back to the Prince’s support and unfailing steadiness.
In short, it’s a retirement well-earned.