A History of Royal Surgeries (And What the Palace Said About Them)

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All the Times Royals Had SurgeryGetty Images; Design by Michael Stillwell

The public was shocked yesterday by dual announcements that the Princess of Wales has undergone abdominal surgery and that King Charles will be attending hospital next week for a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate.

The double dose of royal health news was particularly notable because the Palace usually keeps any medical information as under-wraps as possible. However, from time to time when royals cancel engagements or are hospitalized, aides need to inform the public.

Here, we take a look at when the Palace has announced that a royal has been admitted to hospital, and how it was handled.

2018: Prince Philip hip replacement

In April 2018, just ahead of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, the Palace announced out of the blue that Prince Philip had undergone “a successful hip replacement operation” at the King Edward VII Hospital. No further details were shared of the surgery and he was discharged a week and a half later.

2013: Prince Philip abdominal surgery

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The Duke of Edinburgh leaves the London Clinic in central London, 11 days after he was admitted for "exploratory abdominal surgery."Dominic Lipinski - PA Images - Getty Images

Prince Philip was admitted to The London Clinic for surgery in 2013, but the Palace did not specify what it was for. Instead, an announcement released once he was at the hospital said it was “for an exploratory operation following abdominal investigations.” To this day, it has never been shared publicly what the procedure was.

2011: Prince Philip stent

Prince Philip was rushed to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge with chest pains just before Christmas in 2011 where he had a stent fitted. The Palace announced the news after he was admitted to the hospital on December 23, saying initially only that he had been “experiencing chest pains” before adding that he “was found to have a blocked coronary artery which had caused his chest pains” and that “this was treated successfully by the minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting.”

2007: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall hysterectomy

When Camilla had a hysterectomy at King Edward VII Hospital in March 2007, the Palace announced the surgery in advance and were open about the procedure she was having, although did not go into why. Reports in February 2007 quoted a royal spokeswoman saying that Camilla was not suffering from cancer and that “it's a routine scheduled operation but we wouldn't disclose any further details of a private medical condition.”

2003: Queen Elizabeth knee operation

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Queen Elizabeth II, seen wearing trousers and using a crutch, leaves the King Edward VII Hospital after undergoing knee surgery.Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

The Queen underwent surgery for torn cartilage in her right knee in 2003, and the Palace provided details of the procedure after it happened. A statement released by the Palace said that, “The 45-minute operation, which was performed by The Queen's orthopaedic surgeon Mr Roger Vickers, went very well and Her Majesty is expected to leave hospital tomorrow morning.” Details of other medical professionals who assisted with the operation were also listed.

2001: Sophie, Countess of Wessex ectopic pregnancy

The Countess of Wessex was airlifted to King Edward VII Hospital in December 2001 for an emergency operation. On the day she was admitted, the Palace said that she had an “emergency operation” but not what it was for. However, members of the media were clearly briefed that it was an ectopic pregnancy—when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the womb—as multiple reports stated this as fact when reporting her hospitalization. Two days later, the Guardian reported on a statement directly from the Countess issued by the hospital saying that she was “obviously very sad but it was just not meant to be.”

1995: Queen Mother hip operation

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The Queen Mother, 97, leaving King Edward VII hospital, after her second hip operation.Peter Jordan - PA Images - Getty Images

This was one of a number of times the Queen Mother was hospitalized throughout her life that the Palace announced. On this occasion, the BBC reported that the Palace said that her right hip had been replaced in a 90-minute operation. In 1998, they said that she had also undergone a left hip-replacement after a fall.

However, in 2009, the Queen Mother’s official biographer William Shawcross wrote that the Palace had not been upfront about all her conditions. He revealed that she had colon cancer at the age of 66 and had surgery to remove a tumor. The BBC reported that Clarence House said at the time she had undergone abdominal surgery to remove a partial obstruction. Shawcross also wrote that the Queen Mother had breast cancer surgery in 1984. That year, the Mail reported that the Palace had said that she had been admitted to hospital for three days of tests.

1988: Prince Harry hernia surgery

When he was just three years old, Prince Harry had an operation for a minor hernia at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. Reports from the time show that the Palace made the announcement after the operation and when the Prince had returned home with his mother Princess Diana.

1985: Princess Margaret lung surgery

Another surgery that was announced after the event was Princess Margaret’s lung operation in 1985. The Queen’s sister underwent a procedure to remove part of her lung. In a statement, the Palace detailed the procedure, saying, "Princess Margaret underwent an operation at the Brompton Hospital yesterday for the removal of a small area of her left lung which proved to be innocent. Her condition is satisfactory and it’s expected that she will leave hospital within the week."

1951: King George VI lung operation

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News that King George VI had successfully undergone an operation for his lung condition was issued at Buckingham Palace.PA Images - Getty Images

It wasn’t technically a hospitalization as the King was operated on inside Buckingham Palace where a theatre was set up specially for the lung surgery. A bulletin on the King’s health was posted on the gates of Buckingham Palace (see above) that said, "The King underwent an operation for lung resection this morning. Whilst anxiety must remain for some days his Majesty's immediate post-operative condition is satisfactory.” It wasn’t until after the King’s death in 1952 that it was later revealed he was suffering from lung cancer.

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