LONDON Queen Elizabeth visited her 90-year-old husband Prince Philip in hospital on Saturday where Britain's longest-serving royal consort was recovering from surgery to ease chest pains he had suffered in the days before Christmas.
Buckingham Palace said the operation to clear a blocked heart artery was a success, but Philip appeared bound to miss much of the royals' Christmas celebrations at their rural Sandringham estate.
Heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and siblings Prince Edward, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne also visited Papworth hospital near Cambridge to see their recuperating father, who said this year he wanted to wind down some of his royal duties.
"Prince Philip was in good spirits," a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said, describing the visits. "He will remain in hospital under observation for a short period."
Philip had been preparing to enjoy Christmas with his family - including grandson Prince William and his new wife Catherine - at Sandringham in east England, with an exchange of gifts on Christmas Eve and a Boxing Day shoot among the highlights.
The Duke of Edinburgh, known for his outspoken and sometimes brusque manner, has had a hectic year of engagements in 2011 including the wedding of William and Catherine, entertaining U.S. President Barack Obama and a trip to Australia.
There will be little chance to rest in 2012 when 85-year-old Elizabeth, whose annual Christmas Day address will focus on the importance of family, celebrates her 60th year on the throne with a tour of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Philip, who married Elizabeth in 1947, was taken to Papworth, one of Britain's main heart and chest centers, about 60 miles away near Cambridge, late on Friday.
"The Duke of Edinburgh was found to have a blocked coronary artery which caused his chest pains," the palace said. "This was treated successfully by the minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting."
The minor operation involves using a catheter to insert small tube into the artery to clear any blockages.
Philip had attended a lunch for staff a week ago and had been on "very good form," the BBC said.
"He has had these chest pains before and I don't think it's anything untoward, but given his age they are being safe rather than sorry," former royal press spokesman Dickie Arbiter said.
Despite his age, Philip has been in generally robust health this year, ploughing through a busy array of charity work and social engagements.
A pivotal figure in the House of Windsor, he has a reputation as a fiercely loyal consort who prefers outdoor pursuits to introspection.
However, in a BBC interview to mark his 90th birthday in June he said he was hoping for a quieter life in older age.
"I reckon I've done my bit," he said. "I want to enjoy myself a bit now with less responsibility, less frantic rushing about, less preparation, less trying to think of something to say."
Britain's tabloid newspapers have delighted over the years in recounting his many public gaffes.
He once told British students in China: "If you stay here much longer, you'll be slitty-eyed."
Born on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921, Philip served in Britain's Royal Navy before marrying Elizabeth. They have four children, including the heir to the throne, Charles.