HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had by any standard an exceptional and astonishingly wide-ranging life: his circumstances, qualities and accomplishments would almost certainly have marked him out even if he had not, in 1947, married the then Princess Elizabeth. But as it transpired, he was to spend almost three-quarters of a century as the self-effacing and steadfast support of the longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom.

Having lived through almost a century of turbulence and transformation, it was perhaps not surprising that, from some quarters, he was criticised and mocked for some of his attitudes and utterances. Yet Prince Philip was, if anything, more notable for his adaptation to, and often anticipation of, the modern world than for any supposedly reactionary tendencies.

It was he who argued for the televising of the Coronation, and for the Royal Family to engage more with the media; he was a pioneer of the conservation movement and founding president of the WWF, a prime mover in promoting science and engineering during the 1970s, a tireless advocate for the Commonwealth, and the creator of the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, in which around a quarter of a million young people participate at any given time.

He saw active service in defence of the nation during the Second World War and held naval rank for more than 82 years, was patron of almost 800 organisations, Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh for more than half a century, and not only performed at the highest level in equestrian sport, but wrote the rulebook for some of them.

By the time of his retirement at the age of 96, he had conducted more than 22,000 solo public engagements, in addition to those in which he attended the Queen. And those engagements were not perfunctory or nominal: Prince Philip actively engaged with (and often corresponded with) the foremost figures in fields such as education, science, technology, environmentalism, religion and international relations, in all of which he had a close and committed interest, while maintaining the neutrality demanded by his position.

Though his supposed “gaffes” were a staple of newspaper coverage of the Prince’s public appearances, even the most cursory appraisal of them shows almost all to have been light-hearted, ice-breaking remarks without any offensive content, taken out of context, either to provide copy or ammunition for those already antithetical to the monarchy. The worst charge that could be made was that Prince Philip’s sense of humour could appear rude, or had failed to keep up with changing attitudes.

Yet he remained, until the last, lively and engaged with current affairs. Despite his own forceful qualities of character and relentless commitment, he never chafed at his role as consort to the monarch. Though himself of royal birth – albeit on the dining room table of a villa in Corfu – he was the grandson of a king who had been assassinated, and the son of another who had to abdicate and flee from revolutionaries. While apparently a Greek of Danish descent, he was shaped by his schooling in Scotland, and his service with the Royal Navy.

Others of his background, accomplishments and breadth of enthusiasms might have resented the role of second fiddle, or pushed themselves forward; Prince Philip instead followed the example of Prince Albert, quietly busying himself with a huge range of worthwhile endeavours, but providing above all a bedrock of support for his wife, while giving equal weight to her position as his monarch.

Their long and extremely successful marriage, and their obvious regard for and dependence upon each other will ultimately, as with all lives at whatever station, be his real testament and legacy. Whatever opinion may be held on the monarchy as an institution, or on Prince Philip as a person, this is a moment to acknowledge the enormous personal loss and source of grief that his death will be to the Queen, and to reflect on the extraordinary and selfless devotion and service that he demonstrated in life to her, and to the nation.