LONDON — Buckingham Palace announced Thursday that Prince Philip, the 95-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II, will retire from public life starting in the fall.
“Prince Philip will attend previously scheduled engagements between now and August, both individually and accompanying The Queen,” said a Buckingham Palace news release issued following a night of frenzied speculation after an emergency meeting by palace staff. “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 announcement said that the prince, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, had “the full support of The Queen” and that Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, who turned 91 last month, “will continue to carry out a full program of official engagements.”
The prince, who has been attending ribbon-cuttings, state banquets and other high-ceremony events on behalf of the royal family for more than half a century, has long been expected to curtail his role as his health has gradually declined. Thursday’s announcement came hours after news of an emergency all-staff meeting at Buckingham Palace leaked, prompting a flurry of unfounded speculation that one of the royal family’s most senior members had died.
The hashtag #BuckinghamPalace trended worldwide on Twitter. The Sun, the mass-market British tabloid, even accidentally published online news that Philip had died — only to retract it minutes later.
“Prince Philip dead at 95, how did the Duke of Edinburgh die, etc. etc.,” ran the headline.
The queen is generally believed to be in good health, though a “heavy cold” over Christmas last winter kept her away from her usual church attendance. Philip, who turns 96 next month, has suffered a variety of ailments in recent years. Yet both the queen and the prince have kept up heavy schedules of royal engagements well into old age.
Adventurous and athletic, Philip started his career in the navy. After his wife became queen in 1952, he supported the monarch in carrying out engagements around the world and has clocked up more than 22,000 solo engagements. One of his best known initiatives is the Duke of Edinburgh Award, a personal development and adventure program for young people.
But Philip is often better known for his colorful — and controversial — language, which sometimes landed him in the headlines for the wrong reasons.
He once told a group of British exchange students in China that if they stayed much longer, they’d become “slitty-eyed.” During 1995 visit to Oban in Scotland, he asked a driving instructor: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”
He did not appear to tone it down in later life. At an event in London five years ago he told a disabled man in an electric wheelchair: “How many people have you knocked over this morning on that thing?”
Ahead of his 90th birthday, Philip gave an interview to the BBC saying that he was scaling back.
“I reckon I’ve done my bit,” he said. “I want to enjoy myself for a bit now, with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say. On top of that, memory is going; I can’t remember names and things. So I’m just sort of winding down.”
On Wednesday, the queen met with British Prime Minister Theresa May to discuss the country’s upcoming election, in June. Philip appeared the same day at Lord’s Cricket Ground to open a new grandstand. Before he unveiled a plaque at the cricket club, he joked to the assembled guests that he was “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiled.”
The queen still attends roughly 300 official events annually. But lately she has been cutting back, delegating more of her duties to Prince Charles — the next in line to the throne — as well as other members of the royal household.
In December, the palace announced that the queen was stepping down as the patron of over 20 organizations. But she is still the patron of more than 600 organizations.
Her husband leads or is a member of 780 organizations, though Buckingham Palace said Thursday that Philip “will no longer play an active role.”
He responded to the news of his retirement with a humorous quip. While at reception with the queen on Thursday afternoon, a guest said that he was sorry to hear that the royal was standing down.
The prince prompted laughter when he replied: “Well, I can’t stand up much longer!”