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Britain’s goodbye to Philip: A pared-down funeral, minute of silence and a solitary queen in a chapel
Apr 18. 2021
By The Washington Post · William Booth, Karla Adam, Jennifer Hassan, Miriam Berger
LONDON – Prince Philip, the steadfast but irascible consort to the queen, who worked tirelessly to bolster the monarchy – but was most famous for his barbed gaffes – was celebrated in an intimate funeral at Windsor Castle on Saturday.
Just a few dozen members of the royal family were in attendance, all cloaked in black and wearing face masks.
“Powerful in its simplicity,” said a royal commentator watching the procession on BBC.
It was the less-grand funeral that Philip himself said he wanted. His coffin was transported via a camouflage green Land Rover that would have looked more at home at the family’s Balmoral Castle in the muddy moors of Scotland.
Compared to spectacular funerals past – for Princess Diana in 1997 or the Queen Mother in 2002 – Philip’s ceremony was stripped down to its bare bones, partly because of pandemic restrictions.
During a national moment of silence, one could hear birdsong in place of London’s normal buzz. Among the gestures to honor Philip, landing and takeoffs at nearby Heathrow International Airport were paused for the minute.
There was no public access to the funeral. In normal times, before this modern plague, such a royal farewell would have seen hundreds of guests from around the world, including global celebrities and heads of state, packed into Westminster Abbey. A horse-drawn cortege would have moved through the streets of London, lined with thousands of Brits in mourning.
But because of pandemic, which has taken the lives of 130,000 in Britain alone, strict coronavirus restriction allowed only 30 mourners, who sat in small family units in the empty stalls in the quire of St. George’s.
Most poignant of all perhaps was the image of Philip’s wife of 73 years, Queen Elizabeth II, sitting hunched and small, all alone on a pew.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s children and grandchildren walked behind his coffin in a funeral procession, led by Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
Prince William and Prince Harry were a few steps behind their father. Later, when they left the chapel, Harry was filmed chatting with William and his wife Catherine. The two brothers walked side by side for several minutes. It was the first time the brothers have been seen together since the scorching Oprah Winfrey interview last month.
Harry’s wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did not attend, upon medical advice. She is pregnant and due to give birth to the couple’s second child this summer in California, where the couple now live.
Though the funeral may have been simple by royal standards, the procession across the grounds of Windsor Castle was attended by more than 730 members of the armed forces, many in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats.
As the bells of the castle’s Curfew Tower rang, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery fired off rounds of minute guns and a piping party from the Royal Navy blew their whistles.
The 94-year-old queen, her face obscured by a black mask, was escorted by a lady-in-waiting who sat with her in the royal Bentley as the national anthem rang out underneath blue skies at Windsor. It was the first time the reigning monarch has been seen in public since the death of Philip on April 9 at age 99.
There were readings by the Dean of Windsor David Conner and the Archbishop of Cantebury Justin Welby – but no eulogy. Conner praised Philip for his “kindness, humor and humanity” and the “many ways in which his long life has been a blessing to us.”
Richard Fitzwilliams, a royal commentator, told The Washington Post that the British monarchy under Elizabeth, even without one of its most stalwart figures, will rumble on.
He noted that the queen has already held work “engagements” following the death of her husband, including holding a ceremony at Windsor Castle for a retiring royal aide. Those kind of events – along with her various broadcasts and video calls throughout the past year, including one where she urged Britons to get vaccinated – suggest she’s not at all thinking about stepping down as head of state.
“So long as her health permits,” he said, “the monarchy continues as it is.”
On a sunny spring day at Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the queen, people paused Saturday to pay their respects to Philip. There are several signs outside the palace gates asking people not to lay floral tributes. Still, people did. One card read, “Thank you for being absolutely bloody brilliant.”
James Conner, 62, a photographer who previously served in the Royal Navy, dropped by to soak in the scene. “He was an old sailor,” he said of Philip, who served in the Royal Navy and saw action in World War II. “People should be respectful of that. He was a sea dog who liked to have a laugh.”
For many of those gathered outside of Buckingham, the tributes to Philip also were bound tightly with questions about how 94-year-old queen will manage without her partner of more than seven decades.
“Most of the country are behind the queen, who is now seemingly alone,” said Richard Webb, 61.
Elizabeth, he added, was also “going through other stuff right now with her family.” Asked if he was referring the break by Harry and Meghan, known as Megxit, he said: “Yes.”
“The queen has tried not to inflame things as far as I can see,” he said. “Things must be very hurtful for Meghan and the whole family but my sympathies lie with the queen.”
Kate Hatt, 46, a teaching assistant from Kent, said she was unsure of the future of the British monarchy. “The Queen and Prince Philip are what we see as the traditional royal family,” she said. “So much has changed. When the queen goes, too, a lot of people’s respect for the royal family will go. We need to hold onto it while we can.”
Nigel Eggleton, 62, director of a bus company, said that he was visiting London on Saturday to pay his respects.
He said that Prince Philip will be remembered for his service to country and queen, for the youth award program that bears his name, and probably for his gaffes “which stick in the mind.”
But he added: “I suspect the majority of the country is thinking of the queen today.”
The royal family will now enter another two-week mourning period, during which they will continue to attend functions, often while wearing black bands.
In the days and weeks ahead, the family will also have to reckon with what Philip’s death means for the monarchy’s future. Among the many uncertainties is the exact role of the next Duke of Edinburgh.
The Duke of Edinburgh title is set to pass eventually to Prince Edward, the youngest child of Philip and the queen who was promised the title on his wedding day in 1999. But because peerages are hereditary, on the day Philip died, his eldest son, Charles, inherited the title. Edward is unlikely to be granted the title officially until after the queen’s death, when Charles becomes king and his other titles can be regranted.
Tributes to Prince Philip continued to dominate the front pages of the British tabloids ahead of the funeral Saturday, with several newspapers running a never-before-seen photo Elizabeth and Philip from 2003.
In the photo, the couple look relaxed as they laze in the sunshine outside in the grounds of their Balmoral estate in Scotland. The queen opted to release the photo on Friday – the eve of Philip’s funeral. It is an image that shows the couple smiling, a hat perched on Philip’s knee as he beams alongside his wife. For many, it shows another side to one of the world’s most famous couples – one that reflects a moment of calm away from the intensity of the royal spotlight.
“Farewell my prince,” read the front cover of the Sun, which included a 28-page magazine dedicated to Philip inside Saturday’s edition.
The Daily Mail reported that the queen would say a private goodbye to her husband of seven decades ahead of the funeral. Its front cover read: “One last moment with her prince.”