LONDON (AP) — Prince Philip was discharged from a London hospital Tuesday and immediately taken by helicopter to join other senior royals at Queen Elizabeth II's rural retreat in time for a traditional family Christmas.
His arrival is a bit of welcome good news for the queen at the end of a year that she admits has been “bumpy.” Her comments are thought to relate not just to Britain's difficult path toward Brexit but also setbacks experienced by the royal family in 2019.
Buckingham Palace did not reveal details about Philips medical treatment and said that he wished to thank everyone who had sent good wishes during his four-night stay at the private King Edward VII hospital in London.
The palace had previously said that the 98-year-old prince was being hospitalized for planned treatment of a pre-existing condition. The fact that he did not go to the hospital by ambulance and that the queen did not change her plans to be by his side suggested it was not an emergency situation.
Philip, a man of great pride, walked out of the hospital on his own Tuesday morning even though many patients of that age use wheelchairs when they are discharged. The prince left the hospital on foot and entered a vehicle unaided. He was dressed elegantly with his tie in a Windsor knot and waved to a nurse as he departed the hospital.
The palace said he had been hospitalized as a "precautionary measure." Officials did not explain the nature of his treatment, which appeared to have been timed to allow him to receive the care he needed and return to the family in time for Christmas.
He has suffered from heart disease and other ailments including a bladder infection in recent years and has largely stepped out of the public eye since he announced his retirement from royal duties in 2017.
The Palace said at the time the decision was not health-related and was simply a reflection of his advanced years. “I've done my bit,” Philip told friends when he stepped down after decades of royal events, often carried out silently one step behind the queen.
On Monday, Prince Charles said his father was faring well but was suffering from age-related problems.
“When you get to that age, things don't work so well,” he said.
Philip arrived at Sandringham in time for Christmas Eve, when the royals usually exchange small gifts.
It is not known if Philip will be strong enough to attend a Christmas morning church service traditionally attended by the queen and other senior royals. He did not attend last year.
The small church service near the queen's palatial home usually draws well-wishers hoping to get a glimpse of Elizabeth and her family and perhaps to exchange Christmas wishes with the royals.
Church is usually followed by a family lunch at Sandringham and then the broadcast of the queen's message to Britain and the Commonwealth countries. Excerpts released ahead of time reveal the queen plans to admit it has been a challenging year. It was recorded before Philip was hospitalized.
Talking about the need for reconciliation and forgiveness, Elizabeth says: “The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference."
She is thought to be referring both to Britain's laborious exit from the European Union, which is now almost certainly going to happen on Jan. 31 after voters gave the pro-Brexit Conservative Party a comfortable majority in Parliament, and to the royal family's difficulties.
The problems facing the queen's family this year included Prince Andrew's retreat from public duties following a disastrous TV interview in which he defended his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and failed to show empathy for Epstein's young female victims.
The family has also endured what many close observers think is a rift between Prince William and Prince Harry, who has traveled with his wife Meghan and young son Archie to Canada rather than spend the Christmas holidays at Sandringham, as has long been customary for senior royals.
Both Harry and Meghan have complained about constant scrutiny by the media as they settle into family life with 7-month-old Archie.