Prince Philip, the consort known for his constant support of his wife Queen Elizabeth II as well as for his occasional gaffes, will retire from royal duties this fall, Buckingham Palace said Thursday.
Philip, 95, made the decision himself with the full support of the queen, the palace said in a statement. The royal, known as the Duke of Edinburgh, has suffered from heart disease and other ailments in recent years but has nonetheless maintained a vigorous public schedule.
He seemed to be in good health and a fine mood Wednesday during an appearance at a London cricket club. He joked about being the world’s most experienced person when it comes to unveiling plaques.
That may be true: Official figures indicate he has made more than 22,000 solo royal appearances and thousands more at the queen’s side.
Philip, a member of the Greek royal family in exile, has been at Elizabeth’s side in countless public appearance since their marriage in 1947. He gave up a successful naval career to support her when she became queen in 1952.
He became the longest-serving consort in British history in 2009 – much as Elizabeth has become the longest reigning monarch in British history.
Prime Minister Theresa May expressed gratitude “on behalf of the whole country” to Philip for his decades of service.
“From his steadfast support for Her Majesty the Queen to his inspirational Duke of Edinburgh Awards and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes, his contribution to our United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the wider world will be of huge benefit to us all for years to come,” she said.
Officials said the queen, who turned 91 last month, will keep carrying out royal engagements with the support of the royal family. She has indicated that she does not plan to retire.
Elizabeth has, however, reduced her workload considerably in recent years as her children and grandchildren have moved to the fore. She has stopped making long-haul air flights to other Commonwealth countries.
Attention has been increasingly focused on her son Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and on her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
The palace said Philip will continue his role with more than 780 charitable organizations but will not attend engagements.
He is not expected to disappear completely from the public stage – the palace said he may still choose to attend some events from time to time.
The palace did not offer any new details about his health and there were no indications of any new problems. The statement indicated Philip will carry out previously scheduled engagements between now and August.
Philip said when he turned 90 in 2011 that he was “winding down” his official duties, adding that he felt he had “done my bit.” He was treated later that year for a blocked heart artery but seemed to recover well.
He has been hospitalized several times since then with other ailments.
The queen is normally quite reserved about her private life but she has described her husband as “my strength and stay all these years.”
She met with May at the palace Wednesday and has made several public appearances recently. The queen and Philip were both ill with the flu over the Christmas holidays but seem to have recovered well.
Earlier in the day, a report by Britain’s Daily Mail of an unusual meeting of royal household staff sparked a worldwide wave of speculation about the health of the queen and Philip, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.
The Sun tabloid briefly reported on its website that Philip had died. The incorrect report was quickly dropped.
In Australia, where the queen is recognized as head of state, officials praised Philip’s perseverance.
“It says something about an individual that they get to the age of 95 before they decide to officially retire,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told reporters. “It’s something to aim for.”
Tourists outside Buckingham Palace also had kind words for Philip as he nears the end of his public life.
“He’s been an icon for so long, and I’ve really admired him and it saddens me in a way,” said Grace Marie, who said she understood his decision.
Danica Kirka and Kevin Scott in London and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed.
Gregory Katz, The Associated Press