Remembering His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh

Our Interim Head of Heritage and Collections, Charlotte New, remembers His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh by looking back at his 60-year relationship with the Ri.

  • Prince Philip at the Anniversary Celebration of the Royal Philharmonic Society at the Ri in 1988

It is with profound sadness that we reflect on the passing of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and the tireless work he undertook raising the profile of science, engineering and technology in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth.

Ever since the Royal Institution was founded in 1799, we have had a long and proud tradition of royal patronage and engagement. We were given a royal charter in 1800, and the royal family have regularly attended our lectures, opening events and anniversary celebrations.

Her Majesty The Queen has been a member of the Ri since 1950, graciously confirming her royal patronage in 1952 after the death of her father, King George IV. The Queen has since attended a number of Ri events including public lectures, the opening of the Faraday Museum and our 200th anniversary celebrations, during all of which she was accompanied by her supportive and loyal husband, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.

  • Excerpt from the 1960 Meeting of the Managers of the Royal Institution showing Prince Philip being appointed an Honorary Member of the Ri.

Prince Philip's first interaction with the Royal Institution, however, was as guest of Sir William Lawrence Bragg, who was then Director of the Ri.

On 6 March 1958, Prince Philip attended the Friday Evening Discourse Lecture given by Sir William Hawthorne, on aerothermodynamics. Hawthorne was a renowned engineer, assisting Sir Frank Whittle in the development of the first jet engine, and his work would have greatly appealed to Prince Philip who himself learned to fly all types of aircraft, gaining his RAF wings in 1953, his helicopter wings in 1956 and his private pilot's license in 1959.

Prince Philip then accompanied the Queen to the re-opening of the Michael Faraday Museum at the Royal Institution in 1973. During the evening visit, the Queen and Prince Philip were shown into the Faraday Laboratory by Sir George Porter, then Ri Director, as well as being given a demonstration of Porter’s ‘flash photo-chemistry’ research for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1967.

At the opening ceremony, the Queen was quick to comment ‘I well remember coming here to listen to a lecture in 1950 and to become a member. Indeed, I am rather proud of the fact that I have been a member longer than my husband, who only achieved this honour in 1960’, leading to a round of laughter.

  • The Queen and Prince Philip at the re-opening of the Faraday Museum.

  • Sir George Porter, Prince Philip and the Queen at the re-opening of the Faraday Museum.

  • The official pamphlet for the 1973 re-opening of the Faraday Museum.

In 1988 the Ri was the setting for the 175th anniversary celebrations of the Royal Philharmonic Society. This event was attended by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who visited the temporary exhibition in the library and attended a small concert in the theatre.

  • Prince Philip at the anniversary celebration of the Royal Philharmonic Society at the Ri in 1988.

In 2008, the Ri completed a series of extensive renovations to our Grade I listed building on Albemarle Street. These were designed to improve its accessibility to the public, and to better engage our visitors with the story of scientific development in the UK, by expanding and improving the exhibition spaces for our museum collection.

The Queen and Prince Philip attended our building’s re-opening, enjoying a day engaging with the varied educational programmes of the Ri. Sir David Attenborough was on hand to describe how bees communicated through their ‘waggle-dance’, and in the theatre a group of children demonstrated a number of experiments. Heston Blumenthal was also on hand to explain how science and gastronomy collide, producing liquid nitrogen ice cream which was of particular interest to Prince Philip.

  • Prince Philip and the Queen at the re-opening of the Ri in 2008.

  • Heston Blumenthal demonstrating to the Queen how liquid nitrogen ice cream is made.

  • Sir David Attenborough demonstrating bee movement to the Queen during the 2008 re-opening celebrations.

These snapshots of royal interaction are a treasured memory to the Ri and reaffirm the commitment and enthusiasm that the royal family hold in supporting educational and scientific development.

We at the Royal Institution respectfully send our heartfelt condolences on the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh to Her Majesty The Queen and the rest of the royal family at this time.

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