What Prince Philip's Final Year Alive Was Really Like

His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had been in the public eye ever since he married Britain's Princess Elizabeth – now Queen Elizabeth II – in 1947. And while most people look forward to retiring in their 60s, Philip's role was a job for life: to support his wife for as long as possible. So even though he was well into his 90s at the time, it was a shock to a lot of Brits when he announced in 2017 that he would be retiring from public life.

Philip stuck to his guns, rarely making any appearances in the last few years of his life. But it was the last year of his very long time on earth – April 2020 to April 2021 – that saw some of the most excitement. It was a year of family drama played out in the media and the courtroom, serious health complications, and, oh, a little thing called the coronavirus pandemic, which upended Prince Philip's life just like it did everyone else's. Here's what Prince Philip's final year alive was really like.

Life at Wood Farm

The royal family has access to a whole lot of big houses. Some are owned by the government and/or the crown estates, but some they own outright. Sandringham is the latter, which makes it more of a family home than many of the palaces and castles the royals spend most of their time in (even if Sandringham is larger than all the family homes in your neighborhood combined). It's where the royals choose to celebrate Christmas, so it obviously has some happy, festive memories. And it's just a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the pomp of their other homes. As one former staffer told People about the queen's love for Sandringham, "She doesn't have to be monarch there. She can be Elizabeth rather than the Queen."

But it's still a huge estate, and there are other houses fit for a royal near the main mansion. After his retirement in 2017, Prince Philip chose to spend his time at one of them, Wood Farm. It is even homier than Sandringham, although it still has a generous five bedrooms. Royal biographer Hugo Vickers told the Daily Mail, "Wood Farm is more practical than opening up Sandringham. It's not tiny, but it's a normal house that anyone could live in. It's very un-Royal." Described by Hello! as "modestly furnished," Philip's one splurge was apparently redoing the kitchen after he moved in.

The Daily Mail reported that at Wood Farm Philip was filling his time in retirement reading, painting, and hosting friends who came to visit.

Prince Philip's good friend Penny Knatchbull

One person who spent a lot of time at Wood Farm with Prince Philip was his best friend, a woman he loved very much. No, not his wife. As the queen and Philip lived increasingly separate lives, he spent a lot of time with Penny Knatchbull, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, an old friend three decades younger than him.

And while the British tabloid press would never be so gauche as to report there was anything improper about the pair's close relationship, it was heavily suggested – especially when Penny was the only non-blood relative invited to Prince Philip's 30-person funeral service, as Yahoo! News explains. Yet if anything was going on, the queen seemed fine with it, as royal biographer Hugo Vickers told the Daily Mail that the trio "get on very well together. I've seen them all together – the Queen, Prince Philip, and Penny – at Windsor and she stays at the castle. They spend a lot of time in each other's company."

He also explained that the pair bonded over their love of competitive carriage driving: "Prince Philip and Penny have been doing this together for years as a mutual interest." While the shared hobby might have been a bonus, it wasn't the only reason Philip practiced virtually every day for years. "He loved carriage-driving, but he also loved being with Penny," one former servant told The Royal Observer. "She was a beautiful and vivacious woman and Philip adored her company."

Quarantine with the queen

Prince Philip probably would have spent the entirety of the final year of his life at Wood Farm ... but then covid happened. Suddenly, quarantines, lockdowns, and safety precautions meant it didn't make sense to have the very elderly queen and her husband in separate households. So Philip moved in with her at Windsor Castle to ride out the pandemic.

After more than 70 years of marriage, the couple had presumably seen enough of each other, so the move was significant. For years, they had regularly gone days, if not weeks without seeing each other. Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, told the Daily Mail, "This must be the longest they've been under the same roof for many years, I would say. But it's an opportunity for them in their later years to reconnect."

If the sudden cohabitation wasn't what the couple would have picked had been up to them, they at least seem to have made the best of it. Vanity Fair reports they went for walks together in the castle's extensive gardens every day. A source told the magazine, "The lockdown has given them an opportunity to spend a lot more time together which has been wonderful. They dine together most evenings and I think they've both enjoyed having this time to be with each other."

Final birthday

Prince Philip was an old-school Englishman (even if, technically, he was Greek) and didn't like people making a big deal about him. This included on his birthday, even as he crept closer and closer to that huge century milestone. However, considering Britain was in lockdown due to covid on Philip's 99th birthday in June 2020, he probably got the type of celebration he wanted: barely anything at all.

Not even his eldest son was allowed to visit Philip on his big day. "Well, I haven't seen my father for a long time. He's going to be 99 next week ... it's terribly sad," Prince Charles told an interviewer (via Vanity Fair). "He's not one for technology or fuss but I expect there will be some phone calls with his family," a royal source told Vanity Fair. And, of course, the queen was there to celebrate his big day. "I'm sure she will do something special to mark his birthday."

But his 99th and, as it would turn out, final birthday was overshadowed by one that would never happen. Despite the fact that everyone knew there was a good chance he would not make it that long, effectively, Philip's 99th birthday simply meant the planning for his 100th birthday celebration had to begin in earnest. One thing he could have looked forward to had he made it that long? The traditional message the queen sends everyone when they make it to a century. "They are planning tentatively the 100th birthday celebration; of course, she'll give him a telegram. That's what she does when people turn 100," royal expert Camilla Tominey told an interviewer (via the Daily Mail).

Final wedding anniversary

The queen and Prince Philip married young and then they both lived much longer than average. This meant their marriage lasted a long, long time. Maybe too long. How can you not get sick of someone after seven decades? How many times will you have heard all their stories by then? It's perhaps not surprising the couple had chosen to live mostly separate lives before covid forced them to quarantine together. This didn't mean there was any big falling out, just that they were fine giving each other space after all those years. But once they both went into lockdown at Windsor Castle, it meant they were guaranteed to spend their 73rd wedding anniversary together. It would turn out to be their last one.

In honor of the occasion, the couple released a photo of the two of them, which Insider says ended up being the last photo of the queen and Prince Philip that was ever publicly released. Posted on Instagram by the royal family's official account, it shows the couple sitting on a small couch, her in pearls, him in suit and tie, looking at anniversary cards their many great-grandchildren made them. They both have big, natural smiles on their faces.

As the photo was released the day before their anniversary, it's not a snapshot of what they did on the actual day. It's not known how they celebrated, but hopefully they reminisced, enjoyed being together, and let themselves be proud of their long and strong relationship.

Family wedding

Many happy couples were forced to choose either to postpone their dream wedding during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, or severely downsize their plans and go ahead with a small guest list, social distancing, and other regulations. This was true in the U.K. even if you were the granddaughter of the queen.

According to Vanity Fair, Princess Beatrice, eldest child of the disgraced Prince Andrew, Duke of York (more on him later), and Sarah Ferguson, had already been forced to postpone her wedding to Italian fiancé Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi three times by July 2020. Despite having to forgo the sort of big event her younger sister Princess Eugenie had for her wedding in 2018 (the ceremony was broadcast live on TV), it was more important to Beatrice that her grandparents were both able to be there. When it came to the queen, this meant working the small ceremony around her official schedule, but with Prince Philip, everyone involved probably understood that any delay would mean he couldn't be there due to ill health or his death.

In the end, both grandparents made it to the wedding, even if the queen had to leave early for an official event. It was one of Prince Philip's last events, period, and their attendance was noted in the official announcement from the palace: "The small ceremony was attended by The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh, and close family. The wedding took place in accordance with all relevant Government Guidelines." A single photo of the happy couple with the queen and Prince Philip was released, where they are properly socially distanced.

Family drama

The coronavirus pandemic was not the only thing to upend Prince Philip's life in his last year. Family drama that had been splashed across the papers for a few years continued to get headlines. And while, to an outsider, there is simply no comparing the legal trainwreck Prince Andrew got himself into thanks to his friendship with Jeffery Epstein with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle giving an interview to Oprah, the royal family might not have seen it that way, Prince Philip included.

By the final year of Prince Philip's life, Harry and Meghan had taken a step back from royal life (known in the press as "Megxit") and moved to North America. But considering a report in the Sunday Times claimed Prince Philip had warned his grandson not to make it legal with the American, allegedly telling him, "One steps out with actresses, one doesn't marry them," Prince Philip was probably all up in his feelings about the situation. Then they gave the interview to Oprah accusing someone in the family of being racist, which definitely didn't help the media frenzy.

Then there was Prince Andrew. After accusations stemming from his relationship with Jeffery Epstein, and a disastrous interview with the BBC where he came off looking as bad as could be, the prince stepped down from his official duties. The Sunday Times' royal correspondent explained, "The prince hoped his status change would be temporary, but those hopes have disappeared." By January of 2021, sources were saying Andrew finally understood there was no coming back from what he'd (allegedly) done. A source told the tabloid The Mirror, "The Duke is sensitive to the public mood and to the fact that the institution must come first."

Final public event

The Duke of Edinburgh served in the Royal Navy for years, before and during WWII, and even after his marriage to the then-Princess Elizabeth, until he gave up his career to support her when she became queen. But his love for the military was clear throughout his life, and he took his honorary positions very seriously.

This meant that with great sadness, he had to do what was best for the regiments he symbolically led, and give up his honorary positions once he got too old to put in even the basic ceremonial work. His very last official public engagement was just such an event. In July 2020, Philip put on a suit and stepped outside at Windsor Castle to hand over his role as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, the wife of Prince Charles (who was 100 miles away, due to covid restrictions).

The Jersey Evening Post said Philip was on form, showing no signs of rust after doing no official events for almost three years. He chatted with bugle players from the Band and Bugles of The Rifles, and made one laugh when he seemed to be implying the soldier was fat. During the handover ceremony, Philip's 67 years of service with the Rifles were highlighted. Once it was over, Philip returned to the castle, his last ever official event behind him.

Hospital stay

Prince Philip was generally in good health even in his old age, although there were some health scares in the few years before he died, and he checked into the hospital on more than one occasion. Only two months before he died, Philip found himself again spending time surrounded by machines and doctors.

When announcing that the duke had been admitted to King Edward VII's Hospital in February 2021, the palace at first tried to downplay the seriousness of his health issue: "The Duke's admission is a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness's doctor," Buckingham Palace said in a statement (via 7 News). But, of course, when you are weeks away from turning 100, any issue can be the one that kills you. Especially when it requires heart surgery, as this one did.

According to his loved ones, though, this was all less concerning for Philip than just how much he hated being in the hospital. His son Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, came for a visit and told waiting reporters his father was bored out of his mind. "You can only watch the clock so many times and the walls are only so interesting," he said (via 7 News). One thing Philip was probably fixating on while staring at the walls was how to get out of there as soon as possible, which ended up being 28 days, according to Us Weekly. A royal insider told Vanity Fair, "He didn't want to die in hospital, he hates hospitals, so everyone was very relieved when he was able to go home."

Ready to go

Many people want to cling to life, no matter how old or sick they are, while others wish their time would come already. By the end of his life, Prince Philip was very much in the latter camp.

Interviewed for the BBC documentary "Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers" (via Hello!), Prince Charles recalled one of the last conversations he had with his father, "I was talking to him the day before he died, we were talking about his [100th] birthday coming up. I said [loudly], 'We're talking about your birthday,' because he was getting a bit deaf. And he said, 'What?' And I said, 'We're talking about your birthday and whether there's going to be a reception.'" With a chuckle, Charles recalled, "And he said, 'Well I've got to be alive for it, haven't I?'" It was the sort of dry humor Philip was known for, but it's clear he was also quite serious.

In 2000, when he was a still spry 79 years old, Philip told The Telegraph (via SW Londoner) that when it came to the idea of one day turning 100, he "couldn't imagine anything worse." This might have been on his mind as the days crept closer to the milestone. "He was tired with life by the end, I think a bit of him gave up," a royal source told Vanity Fair. While he didn't have any obvious or serious health problems after his stay in the hospital a few months before, by April 2021, it was his time to go.

Final days

According to those around him, the only thing Prince Philip cared about when it came to the end of his life was where it happened. Like many people, the idea of dying is tempered slightly if you know you'll be in a familiar, comfortable place, rather than in a hospital. "It was the Duke's fervent wish to die peacefully at home," one royal source told The New York Post. This was why it was so important he was able to leave the hospital in February and spend his last couple months at Windsor Castle. The Post's source added, "We knew that when he was taken home it was to die on his own terms, not in a hospital bed, but in his own bed. Philip didn't want any fuss. He wanted to do things his way until the end."

That end was "very peaceful," with the queen by his side, and as a royal insider told Us Weekly, "The whole family got a lot of comfort in knowing that he and Her Majesty got to be together in the sanctuary of Windsor Castle."

The queen cut a tragic figure at Prince Philip's funeral, sitting all alone due to covid restrictions. But she carried on, in true British stiff-upper-lip fashion. Us Weekly's royal insider said, "She reasons that Philip would hate it if she sat around moping for the rest of her years, and his extraordinary life and legacy is one that deserves to be celebrated and remembered fondly with every sense."