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Prince Philip to retire from public engagements

Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, will stop carrying out public engagements this fall, Buckingham Palace says.

Duke of Edinburgh will still be involved with many charitable organizations

Prince Philip, seen here, with the Queen, attending a horse race near London in 2012, has maintained a vigorous public schedule well into his 90s, despite suffering heart problems. This fall, he will stop carrying out public engagements, Buckingham Palace announced. (Ben Stansall/Reuters)

Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, will stop carrying out public engagements this fall, Buckingham Palace announced Thursday.

The palace said the Duke of Edinburgh will still head numerous charitable organizations, but will not play an active role in attending engagements.

"The Duke… may still choose to attend certain public events from time to time," the statement said. 

The palace added the decision has the "full support" of the Queen. 

Philip, who has sometimes drawn attention with headline-grabbing gaffes, has been by the Queen's side throughout her 65 years on the throne. She has described him as "my strength and stay."

They were both seen arriving for a service at St James's Palace later on Thursday, an event that included former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. 

Queen and Prince Philip attend service at St. James's Palace

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Chrétien said he chatted with Philip for over an hour. 

"He was in very good spirits and a good mood," Chrétien said later to CBC News.

"He just explained to me that he was less comfortable than he used to be in crowds and, you know, so he said 'I will keep doing a lot of things, but I don't want to be forced to get out as much as I was doing in the past.'"

Former PM Jean Chrétien talks about Prince Philip

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CBC's Renée Filippone chats after Chrétien attends royal reception 2:28

The announcement followed a meeting — described as "top secret" and "emergency" by some in the British media — of senior royal staff at Buckingham Palace on Thursday morning. The news prompted speculation about the health of the royals, including incorrect reports that the flag atop Buckingham Palace had been lowered to half-staff.

However, a well-placed source said there was no cause for concern about the welfare of the Queen or Philip, who turns 96 next month. 

Philip has suffered heart problems and other ailments in the past, but has maintained a vigorous public schedule. He conducted 184 official engagements in the year to March 2016, official figures show, and is involved with almost 800 organizations, according to the Royal Family. 

The palace did not offer any new details about his health.

He seemed to be in good health and in a fine mood Wednesday during an appearance at Lord's Cricket Ground in central London. He joked about being the world's most experienced person when it comes to unveiling plaques.

The Queen, the world's longest-reigning living monarch who celebrated her 91st birthday in April, will continue to carry out a full program of official engagements, the palace said. 

The couple, due to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in November, have been cutting their workload in recent years, passing on many responsibilities to son and heir Prince Charles, and grandsons, Princes William and Harry.

The Queen also carried out official duties on Wednesday. Elizabeth met Prime Minister Theresa May to formally agree to the dissolution of Parliament ahead of June's election.

May paid tribute on Thursday to Philip for his contribution to Britain and beyond, his "steadfast support" of the Queen, and his patronage of hundreds of charities and good causes.

"On behalf of the whole country, I want to offer our deepest gratitude and good wishes to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh following today's announcement that he will stand down from public duties in the Autumn," she said in a statement.

Passersby on the streets of London also gave Philip high marks for his years of service. 

"Prince Philip's worked very hard over many years," said one man. "A bit controversial at times … but overall I think he's done a pretty good job." 

Londoners offer good wishes to retiring Prince Philip

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Gruff, unguarded manner

Outspoken, irascible and intensely private, Philip, a Greek-born former naval officer, developed a reputation for brusque comments and occasional gaffes at some of the thousands of ceremonial events he has attended.

A stray remark about "slitty eyes" during a visit to China in the 1980s became symbolic of his gruff and often unguarded manner. Even into his 90s, his off-the-cuff remarks could still get him into trouble, such as when he exasperatedly swore at a photographer at an event in 2015.

However, those close to him say his reputation masks an urbane wit and an unsentimental dedication to his duties.

Despite being one of the most influential figures in the Royal Family for almost 70 years, he has no clear-cut constitutional role and has admitted struggling to carve out a role for himself as the Queen's consort.

"There was no precedent. If I asked somebody, 'What do you expect me to do?' they all looked blank — they had no idea, nobody had much idea," he told the BBC in an interview to mark his 90th birthday.

The announcement was made following a meeting of senior royal staff at Buckingham Palace. The news prompted speculation about the health of the royals. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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