LONDON — Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain who officially retired from public life in 2017, briefly stepped back into his life of royal duty on Wednesday for a military ceremony at Windsor Castle, where he handed over a role he has held for nearly seven decades.
Philip handed the keys of Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles, a merger of four infantry regiments that was formed in 2007 and is now the largest infantry regiment in the British army, to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, amid the sounds of bugles.
But like so many things during the time of coronavirus, the ceremony was reimagined to allow for social distancing, with Prince Philip officially handing over the position at Windsor Castle, some 85 miles from where the Duchess later took up the duty in a ceremony at Highgrove House.
Prince Philip, officially known as the Duke of Edinburgh, was saluted and thanked for his 67 years of service to The Rifles and their forming regiments by Major General Tom Copinger-Symes, the assistant colonel commandant. The prince was first appointed Colonel-in-Chief of The Wiltshire Regiment, one of the groups that now make up the The Rifles, in 1953.
A short time later, The Rifles’ Colonel Commandant, General Sir Patrick Sanders, welcomed Camilla to her new role at Highgrove House in Gloucestershire.
Prince Philip has been mostly out of the public eye since 2017, when he announced his retirement. He has for years been dealing with health issues — he was taken to the hospital in London in December to treat a pre-existing condition, and underwent hip surgery in 2018.
He also drew headlines when at 97 he got into a car accident while driving near his country home, igniting debate about whether he should be behind the wheel at all.
He has been married to the Queen since 1947, and the pair have been isolating at Windsor Castle since the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
Since that time, they have been rarely seen, though they were pictured together there last week during the surprise wedding of their granddaughter Princess Beatrice. The Queen also held her first public engagement since the pandemic began when she knighted Sir Tom Moore — better known as Captain Tom — at the castle on Friday.