Somehow it was typical of Prince Philip yesterday not to wait for paramedics after clambering from his overturned car. Instead, it was only when he was back at Sandringham that he was examined by a doctor.
According to official bulletins from Buckingham Palace, he was not hurt in the accident, which happened on a road bisecting the Norfolk estate.
But eyewitnesses reported that he was ‘very, very shocked’ and shaken.
That he seemingly escaped uninjured will naturally be a source of great relief not just for the Queen and the Royal Family but for the country, too.
The Duke of Edinburgh driving around the Royal Windsor Horse Show after his hip operation in May last year
Pictures taken by a passing driver show Prince Philip’s Land Rover Freelander 2 on its side as an ambulance races to the scene
Prince Philip driving a Land Rover through the Balmoral Estate in Scotland in September 2018
Once again, he appears simply indestructible. Nothing it seems can dent his durability or his indomitable spirit.
But now questions will inevitably be asked about the wisdom of a man of 97, however proud and physically robust, taking the wheel of a powerful car.
Philip’s obstinacy is famously matched only by his boldness. This, remember, is a man who still enjoys the thrills of hurtling around a carriage-driving course decades after most of his contemporaries retired.
He has always held strong views on the nature of risk, and is certainly not foolhardy. But this accident poses questions not just about the Duke of Edinburgh’s welfare, but what he represents for other road-users.
In short, is the Prince now at an age where he could be considered a danger to motorists?
However good a driver he is — and one of his former bodyguards tells me he always considered him among the safest and most responsible royals to get behind the wheel — it is demonstrably true that as we age, our reaction speed diminishes. Our hearing, too, is not as pin-sharp, and the eyesight starts to fade.
And little more than six months short of his 98th birthday, Philip must be one of the oldest motorists in the country.
There comes a time in most people’s lives when the responsibility of age should make them take a long, hard look in the mirror, for the sake not just of themselves but of others, too.
Two years ago, Philip did just that when he decided he wished to stand down from official life. Now, surely, he must consider taking another step to accommodate the march of time.
The fact is he does not even need to drive. He has the round-the-clock presence of police bodyguards and access to any of the royal chauffeurs. Or, if that doesn’t suit, one of his valets or even a friend could assume the duty of driver.
The problem, of course — as all those who know the Prince will testify — is his sheer bloody-mindedness. Indeed, the fact that he escaped yesterday’s scare in his two-ton Land Rover Freelander might, if anything, embolden him to keep driving.
So if Philip himself will not surrender his driving duties, who can possibly tell him to stop? No courtier, however bold, would dare. The answer can only be the Queen. Were she to do so, then Philip, who has spent every minute of their 71 years of marriage obeying his wife, would surely agree.
Of course, that, too, throws up an intriguing possibility as to whether the Queen would actually press her husband to pursue a course he manifestly doesn’t want to.
‘The reason their relationship has worked so well for so many years is that neither has forced the other to do something,’ says a former lady-in-waiting.
For decades, Philip has put duty first, whatever the cost. During the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, it meant shivering without a coat in the rain for four hours during the Thames river pageant. It was Philip, a brave young wartime naval officer, who particularly wanted a waterborne tribute to his wife of 64 years, and the Queen was happy to do it his way.
It must have occurred to palace advisers that for this couple of such great age to spend the entire time on their feet was at least unwise and at worst, foolish. But Prince Philip is stubborn, and while fit young people all around this upright, elderly man wilted in the long hours of a wet and chilly afternoon on the river, he stuck to the business at hand.
The upshot was an infection and a stay in hospital.
It was partly because of that experience that the prince decided to retire. ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,’ he laughingly told one retainer at the time.
But Philip was never going to adapt to the standard format of retirement. He likes his independence too much for that. And nothing illustrates that independence more than the freedom of the open road.
Both he and the Queen adore the chance to get behind the wheel whenever they are on the three big royal estates — Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham.
Philip’s only concession is to use his seatbelt — which mercifully he must have had on yesterday. The Queen, on the other hand, often motors about the private roads on the estate without buckling up — as she is quite entitled to do.
For Philip, the car represents an escape from the formalities of royal life. In the early days of his marriage, he liked nothing more than to speed off in his two-seater sports car.
Since retiring, he likes to potter around in one of the estate cars. And if he can do so on his own, so much the better.
Just before Christmas he drove himself to the Sandringham sawmill, where estate Christmas trees are sold to locals. And a few days before that, while still at Windsor Castle, he was seen driving on the estate’s back roads.
The scene near to the Sandringham Estate where the Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road accident while driving
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are driven by Prince Philip, along with the Queen at Sandringham in April 2016
His view is uncompromising — as long as he is in good health, physically and mentally, he sees no reason to stop driving.
As his former bodyguard says with considerable understatement: ‘He is prone to being very independent. He would often try to drive off without one of us in the passenger seat, it was something of a game. That was all right on the estate, but we weren’t too happy if he tried to go further afield.’
He is a mixture of robust common sense and impetuousness, a man who tends to laugh off concerns about his safety while haring across the countryside with reins in hand, for example.
After a driving career almost eight decades long, Philip has inevitably had the odd prang.
Twenty-three years ago, he was involved in a minor shunt while driving in Brandon, Suffolk, after apparently colliding with the back of a Mercedes.
Neither he nor the other driver were hurt, and there were no court proceedings.
Yesterday’s accident was clearly of a more serious nature. But will it lead to a royal change of mind?
For Philip, the motor car has been an essential part of his life.
His very first car was a 1935 Standard which ended up in a private collection in Sri Lanka.
He never forgot it, and during a visit to the country in 1956 he tracked it down.
Despite being remarkably fit for a man barely two years away from his century, the Prince is not as mobile as he once was.
Even so he can — and often does — walk to the stables at Windsor, where carriage-driving ponies are housed.
At Sandringham, where he often spends time at Wood Farm, there is little need for a car.
Since the New Year, Philip and the Queen have been together at Sandringham — she is due back in London after observing the anniversary of her father King George VI’s death (and her accession to the throne) on February 6.
Philip may return with her, or more likely remain in Norfolk a little longer.
The night before the accident, the couple gave a party for estate workers and today they will be hosting a group of Prince Andrew’s friends, who are arriving for a shooting weekend.
Normally, Philip would get behind the wheel to follow the guns during the course of the shoot.
After yesterday the question is, will he? Or will the accident mean that Philip sacrifices one of his last remaining indulgences? Having escaped serious injury, his family — and the nation — will be wishing that he does.