One of the inevitable results of Prince Philip’s sad death is a shake-up in the House of Windsor.
And Prince Edward, who will in time become the Duke of Edinburgh, is bound to take on a more prominent role in supporting the Queen and, in time, her successor, Prince Charles.
Prince Philip may not have been in the royal line of succession. But his importance to the monarchy was paramount – and his death leaves a huge gap to be filled.
The title of Duke of Edinburgh has now been automatically inherited by Prince Charles. But, in a sign of the affection of the Queen and Prince Philip for their youngest son, it will be passed on to Prince Edward on the sad day of the Queen’s death. This was made clear by the Queen in 1999, when Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999 and was made Earl of Wessex.
When Prince Charles becomes king, the title of Duke of Edinburgh will ‘merge in the Crown’, meaning the title no longer exists. But Charles III will bestow on his youngest brother a new ‘creation’ of the ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ – the fourth creation of the title since it was first bestowed in 1726.
It makes perfect sense. Of Prince Philip’s four children, Prince Edward has always been most closely associated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, created by Prince Philip in 1956.
Prince Edward is not only chairman of the award’s committee. He has also won the award’s gold medal for a 60-mile, four-day walk in Scotland. Earlier this year, he promoted the award on Sky News.
Before Prince Philip’s death, Prince Edward had already succeeded his father as President of the Commonwealth Games Federation. He opened the Games in New Zealand in 1990 and in Malaysia in 1998.
This is all part of Edward’s greater prominence in the Royal Family in recent years. Prince Andrew has stood back from royal duties after his disastrous involvement with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Prince Harry has gone into self-exile after Megxit.
With Prince Philip retiring from royal duties in 2017, that has meant a greater responsibility for Prince Edward and Princess Anne over the last four years. And the former has been particularly prominent in royal affairs since his father’s death. He appeared in a pre-recorded documentary hours after the news was announced. He spoke to the press after a service at Queen Victoria’s Chapel, Royal Lodge, on Sunday. And he and Sophie Wessex chatted amiably through their car window as they left Windsor Castle earlier this week.
It all amounts to a notable change of events for the prince, after early difficulties in his career.
Born in 1964, the youngest of the Queen’s children, he is almost 16 years younger than Prince Charles. He followed Charles’s educational trajectory – Gordonstoun and Cambridge. He didn’t excel academically – with a C and two Ds at A Level and and a 2.2 in history.
But it was during his military service when he really came a cropper, dropping out of the Royal Marines having completed only four months of the year-long training. His father – Captain General Royal Marines for 64 years, from 1953-2017, before the job was given to Prince Harry for just over three years – is said to have been deeply disappointed.
In those days, Prince Andrew was the golden boy of the family, having served with distinction as a helicopter pilot in the 1982 Falklands Conflict.
Prince Edward’s next move – working for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Theatre Company – could have been a useful foundation for a theatrical career. But then came his production of the deeply embarrassing Grand Knockabout Tournament in 1987 – where members of the Royal Family took part in a version of It’s a Knockout.
In 1993, he got into hotter water when he set up his own TV production company, Ardent Productions. Prince Edward was always going to be caught between his obligations to his family and his obligations to objective television.
A 1996 documentary by Ardent on Edward VIII, Prince Edward’s great-uncle, went down well. But disaster ensued in 2001, when an Ardent crew were said to have invaded the privacy of Prince William, studying at St Andrews. Prince Charles was allegedly upset. In 2002, Edward stepped down from Ardent to devote himself to public duties. Ardent was finally dissolved in 2009.
Ever since he moved to royal duties, though, Prince Edward’s career has blossomed. What has helped, too, is his marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999. She had her own difficulties with the press in 2001, when she was caught out by the News of the World in a meeting at the Dorchester with the ‘fake sheikh’, Mazher Mahmood.
She, too, gave up her job, as a PR executive, in 2002, to concentrate on royal duties and her family. Sophie Wessex has grown particularly close to the Queen. She talks to her most days and joins her on Saturday afternoons to watch old films. It helps, too, that the Wessexes live at Bagshot Park, only 11 miles from Windsor Castle, where the Queen is likely to spend most of her time from now on.
The Queen sees a lot, then, of the Wessexes’ two children, Lady Louise Windsor, 17, and Viscount Severn, 13. They are the Queen’s two youngest grandchildren; her oldest, Peter Phillips, is 43.
Lady Louise has been particularly prominent since her grandfather’s death. She attended church with her parents in Windsor on Sunday (pictured at the top of this article), looking dignified if a little tearful. Touchingly, she borrowed her black Prada jacket and Loewe bag from her mother.
Lady Louise was particularly close to Prince Philip, taking up his beloved sport, carriage-driving. Prince Philip watched her come third in the Private Driving Singles carriage drive at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2019. And she was seen this week, practising her carriage-driving in the Dressage Arena at Windsor Castle.
How proud her grandfather would be of her – and of his youngest son, who will one day follow in his footsteps as the Duke of Edinburgh.
Harry Mount is author of How England Made the English (Penguin)