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Remembering Prince Philip, The Longest-Serving Consort In British History

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Prince Philip, the royal consort of Queen Elizabeth II, died this morning at Windsor Castle in England. The Duke of Edinburgh was 99 years old.

NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, joins us from Belfast, where he is covering the recent violence in Northern Ireland. Frank, just tell us more about Prince Philip's story and what the British public thought of him.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah. Prince Philip spent his early years actually traveling throughout Europe. He was of royal descent himself and eventually had gotten to know the royal family and eventually married Queen Elizabeth.

He was known, I think, in different ways in this country over time. People did make fun of him. He has - was seen as short-tempered. He would tell jokes that were off-color, things that we would now consider - and even years ago - politically incorrect kind of remarks. If you look at the Daily Mirror, they - a number of newspapers here would carry - every year or two, they would say, you know, his hundred most, you know, improper remarks. One was back in '69 when I guess there were some financial questions. He said, well, if we go into the red next year, I'll have to give up polo. And that was one of the more minor ones.

That said, there was also a lot of affection for him and, I think, respect in the sense that, you know, when you do a job for a very, very long time and you really put your energy into it, people give you a lot of credit for that. He was very dutiful. He did thousands and thousands of royal events supporting the queen. It was a pretty thankless job in some respects and not a great job necessarily to have.

Today, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said that we give thanks to him - the nation and the kingdom give thanks to him for an extraordinary life and his extraordinary work.

MARTIN: I always found it interesting that by royal protocol, he actually wasn't supposed to stand next to the queen. He was always supposed to be a couple steps behind, right?

LANGFITT: Yeah. And it - and not - I mean, we know that "The Crown" is fiction - right? - the Netflix series. But we also know that some of it is true. And it does - the different actors who portrayed him got at the very frustrating and strange role that he had. And so I think that's probably how a lot of people, certainly in the United States, would be familiar with him.

MARTIN: Right. He was hospitalized in recent weeks. I mean, he was 99. But can you tell us more about his health condition?

LANGFITT: Yeah. He had - this is not a surprise. I think that we've all been waiting to see when this might happen because he had been in, I think, for an undisclosed heart condition. And he was very frail. And if people saw pictures of him, he was, you know, remarkable at 99 but still, you know, someone who was clearly very, very late in life.

MARTIN: So what does his death symbolize, do you think, for the royal family and the United...

LANGFITT: You know...

MARTIN: ...Kingdom at this moment?

LANGFITT: ...I think, Rachel, it's the beginning of the end of an era. The queen is 94, a very robust 94. But it also comes at a time that the monarchy is facing a lot of big challenges, which happen in cycles in this country - Prince Andrew's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and the accusations against Prince Andrew, which he denies that he was involved with at least one underage woman; the departure of Harry - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the United States with a whole new business model that challenges kind of the way the monarchy is run and recently on the "Oprah" show talking about - accusing the royals - at least one royal of racism. Now you have an unpopular heir to the throne, Prince Charles. He's not seen very well here. So you have an institution that is arcane in some ways and, once again, has to figure out a way to remain relevant to this country.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting on the passing of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Thank you so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.