Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s stalwart companion during six decades on the throne, is to step down from his public duties from the autumn, Buckingham Palace announced on Thursday.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s decision was taken with the support of the Queen, the statement said.
London was earlier gripped by speculation of an imminent announcement after reports senior staff of the royal household had been called to the palace for an emergency meeting.
On Wednesday, the Prince had seemed in good fettle, opening a new stand at Lords, the home of English cricket, wearing the distinctive “egg and bacon” striped tie of the Marylebone Cricket Club.
At 95, he is the longest serving royal consort in Britain’s history and the figure Queen Elizabeth has depended on the most throughout her long reign. But he has had bouts of ill health in recent years.
Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August, the palace said, but will not accept new invitations for visits and engagements.
However, he may still attend some public events “from time to time”. Prince Philip is patron, president or a member of more than 780 organisations.
Prime Minister Theresa May said after the announcement: “On behalf of the whole country, I want to offer our deepest gratitude and good wishes.”
Jeremy Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, said the Prince had “inspired young people for more than 60 years in over 140 nations” with his Duke of Edinburgh youth achievement award scheme. Mr Corbyn, a republican, wished him “all the best in his well-earned retirement”.
The palace statement said the Queen “will continue to carry out a full programme of official engagements with the support of members of the Royal Family”.
The Queen was 91 in April and has reigned longer than any previous sovereign, overtaking Victoria’s record in September 2015. She has lessened her public engagements in recent years, with her son Prince Charles and her grandsons, Princes William and Harry, taking on more engagements.
However in an era where even popes “retire”, the Queen shows no signs of stepping back with “abdication” a taboo word in royal circles after the scandal of Edward VIII who opted to live with his lover Wallis Simpson and give up the crown in 1936.
But there is little doubt the Queen will miss Prince Philip’s support — and humour — in the sometimes far from glamorous royal roles opening buildings and officiating at charity events.
Back in 1997 she broke with protocol on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary, admitting that he was “quite simply my strength and stay all these years.”
In an interview to mark the diamond jubilee in 2012 Prince Harry went further, suggesting the Queen would find it hard to continue without his support.
“Regardless of whether my grandfather seems to be doing his own thing, sort of wandering off like a fish down the river, the fact that he’s there personally, I don’t think that she would do it without him, especially when they’re both at this age,” Prince Harry told the Radio Times.
A moderniser at the outset of her 67-year reign, the Greek-born Prince Philip, a former naval officer and minor European royal in his own right, has been the monarchy’s chief image maker, inviting cameras into Buckingham Palace for a 1969 documentary.
But in recent years he has come to resent the media’s intrusiveness and developed a hostile relationship with the royal press corps.
Notoriously brusque, he has a knack for a politically incorrect observations as when during a Royal visit to China in 1986 he told British students they would “go home with slitty eyes” if they stayed there too long.
When the monarchy’s problems erupted in the early 1990s — first with the separation of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and then the newspaper and book revelations about the disintegrating marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana — Prince Philip took a central role.
Some at court saw the arrival of Diana as a threat to the established order, particularly as her popular touch contrasted with the family’s stiff and aloof relations with the public. But when her marriage to Prince Charles hit the rocks, it was Philip who tried but failed to reconcile the couple.
After Diana’s death in a car accident in 1997, Philip concentrated on protecting grandsons William and Harry, persuading them to walk behind their mother’s coffin at the funeral.
Mohamed Fayed, the Egyptian-born Harrods tycoon whose son Dodi was also killed in the Paris crash, subsequently claimed Philip had ordered Diana’s death. But an inquest in 2008 concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy.