HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh
His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh KG, KT, OM, GBE, PC, Hon. LLD, FRS was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1976 to 2011.
His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has died aged 99, Buckingham Palace has announced today (9 April 2021). Prince Philip was Chancellor of the University of Cambridge for 35 years, from December 1976 to June 2011.
The Duke of Edinburgh brought to his role at Cambridge the same insight, energy, and practical good sense that characterised all his public and private work on behalf of the monarchy. The Chancellor’s principal public function, the conferment of honorary degrees in a grand annual ceremony, was only a small part of the Duke’s engagement with the University. He would visit Cambridge several times a year, and always found time to talk to students and researchers, as well as discussing University business with the Vice-Chancellor.
Professor Stephen Toope, the current Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: “It is a great sadness to hear of the death of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Philip’s strong and deep relationship with Cambridge went back many decades, and his enthusiastic support of the University’s work, both as its Chancellor for 35 years and at other times in a personal capacity, was deeply appreciated here. On behalf of the Duke’s many friends and well-wishers at the University, I extend my most sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Family.”
At a 2007 event celebrating 30 years of his Chancellorship, the Duke told those present that he was prevented from attending university himself by the Second World War, with the result that he began his university career “at the wrong end”, becoming a Chancellor without ever having been a student. He also told listeners that his connection with Cambridge had been “fascinating, and the greatest pleasure for me ever since [my election].”
His Royal Highness was a particularly strong supporter of engineering, visiting the University’s Department of Engineering regularly both before and during his time as Chancellor. He was instrumental in the foundation of the Royal Academy of Engineering, which has had several presidents from Cambridge, and he was a strong advocate for the establishment of the Regius Professorship in Engineering at Cambridge in 2011.
Students and staff at the Department of Engineering recall his lively interest in discussing their work. Dame Ann Dowling, former Head of the Department of Engineering, remembers that the Duke “had much to contribute to conversations on aircraft noise, my own area of research, not only because he was a pilot, but because Windsor Castle is right under the approach to Heathrow!”
Conservation was another of the Duke’s special interests, and he often met with Cambridge students and researchers in this area. The University created the Prince Philip Professorship of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology to mark the 30th anniversary of his Chancellorship in 2007.
Professor Tim Clutton-Brock, the first Prince Philip Professor, said: “Prince Philip had a countryman’s love of nature and an intuitive understanding of animals and their habitats. His extensive involvement in the conservation of animal populations led to an acute interest in the ecological principles on which management and conservation practices needed to be based and he played an active and perceptive role in encouraging scholarship on these issues.
“No-one who was quizzed by the Duke is likely to forget the experience. He had a keen intellect that rapidly focused on the kernel of important issues, paring away unnecessary details, and his probing questions quickly identified the strengths and weaknesses of arguments that interested him.”
Former Vice-Chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said: “The University was fortunate beyond measure to have the Duke of Edinburgh as our Chancellor for three and a half decades. Prince Philip was held in the greatest respect and affection here: there is hardly a corner of the University and its Colleges that he had not visited, always showing the keenest interest in our students, our teaching and our research across all disciplines.”
Dame Alison Richard, who was Vice-Chancellor from 2003 to 2010 and worked closely with the Duke during that time, described him as “a Chancellor of vision and perspicacity,” and remembered his “insatiable, passionate interest in the work of the university."