It was a funeral like no other royal funeral. For the no-nonsense prince who hated fuss, and who was happy playing a supporting role, it was the perfect ending, writes Ian Lloyd.
It was simple, quiet and dignified and above all reflected his taste and his wishes.
His funeral was always going to be at Windsor, whose impenetrable walls have defended the castle from invaders for a thousand years. Yesterday, they secured a private place for a grieving widow and her family, as Philip always knew they would.
After the very lavish spectacle of Diana’s funeral and the traditional ceremonial given to the Queen Mother, Philip decided to spare his family the ordeal of grieving before the crowds. A global pandemic limited his modest plans even more. There were no politicians, no ambassadors, and military top brass or foreign royals. Instead, under Covid rules, only 30 guests were allowed, which limited the congregation to the very few that meant the most to him. Such an outcome would definitely have warmed a ducal thumbs-up.
Windsor was eerily quiet. There were no crowds to applaud the cortège, throw flowers or pressing to take photos, something that always irritated the duke.
The only noise was the military band and the occasional muffled cannon fire from the Royal Artillery marking the duke’s passing.
The most poignant sight was that of the Queen, 95 years old on Wednesday, as she left the castle’s Sovereign’s Entrance. How she must have reflected that at every key family event over the past seven decades, from the funeral of her father in 1952 to the wedding of Prince Harry three years ago, Prince Philip was by her side.
Her limousine paused behind the funeral cortège for a moment so she could say her own goodbye before the procession began. Perhaps she was tempted to give a wry smile at the modified Land Rover carrying his remains.
The duke had always known the Queen hated performing and being centre stage and always sought to make her laugh to relax her.
Before her very first televised Christmas broadcast she was looking fraught with nerves. Philip told the producer to tell her to remember “the wailing and gnashing of teeth”, a private joke that caused her to smile.
The Land Rover painted in his own distinctive shade of “Edinburgh green” would have brought him to her mind like nothing else. As the duke’s coffin was placed on this special vehicle we caught a glimpse of the Queen’s wreath of white roses and lilies, a reminder of the white bouquet Philip romantically gave her on every wedding anniversary.
Nearby, the Queen would have seen Philip’s carriage drawn by two of her fell ponies, his cap and gloves placed in the driver’s seat where he sat for so many times over the past few decades.
The royal group of mourners was headed by Prince Charles and Princess Anne, his first-born children. Anne, ramrod straight and dignified, perhaps thinking back to those childhood holidays around the Western Isles when Philip took them sailing in his little yacht, or their shared no-nonsense approach to life.
When a man tried to kidnap Anne in 1974, Philip’s response was “she’d have given him the hell of a time while in captivity,” a remark that made her roar with laughter.
Charles, of course, has had a rocky relationship with his father over the years but the two men have grown together in recent times as it became clear the younger prince would be taking over his role of pater familias to the family. No one will forget the tears in Charles’s eyes after visiting his father in hospital where Philip is said to have asked his eldest son to look after the Queen.
Andrew and Edward, Philip’s “second family”, came next and then of course William and Harry in the third row. Their rift, which escalated after Harry and Meghan’s televised interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, has dominated many headlines. William, looking strained and thoughtful yesterday, had promised to carry on his work: “I know he would want us to get on with the job.”
And just what was going through Harry’s mind? As he walked past the Galilee Porch did he recall the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor two years ago when he and Philip stood on that very spot convulsed with laughter over one of the duke’s typically wry remarks?
At the foot of the steps the Royal Marines prepared to bear the duke’s body. Prince Philip served them well as Captain General for 64 years and his final royal engagement before his retirement in 2017 was to inspect them. Harry succeeded him for 30 months until he left royal duties and was no longer entitled to wear their uniform. His tribute to his grandfather ended with the words “per mare per terram” (“by sea, by land”).
The funeral service also reflected the duke’s personality. The hymn Eternal Father Strong To Save is the song of the Navy which Philip served in with pride for 12 years. The sentences and the readings from the Bible were traditional, and we sometimes forget how religious the duke was. He was a regular churchgoer and his library contained 634 books.
The royal mourners gathered in the chapel Quire reflecting the funerals many of us have attended throughout the country during the past year – social distancing, wearing masks and unable to sit next to the Queen to offer comfort. Present were three of Prince Philip’s German relatives, a reminder that he was from foreign stock, not German, but born a prince of Greece with Danish blood in his veins.
That Greek and Danish heritage was reflected in some of the many insignia displayed on the altar. It was a reminder of the vast contribution he had made to royal life.
Perhaps the most affecting moment was the sound of the buglers of the Royal Marines playing Action Stations, something Philip would have heard many times on warships to signal all hands must go to battle stations. It was a reminder of his service in the Second World War, and that the duke was part of that diminishing group of veterans.
One thing that wasn’t diminished was the emotion of the day. It was a reduced ceremonial funeral but one somehow more personal because of it. There was a moving moment when William and Harry cast aside their recent differences and walked together. They weren’t leaving their grandfather behind but taking with them the life lessons he taught.
Indeed the Duke of Edinburgh’s personality resonated throughout the moving service as well as in the minds of those present. As the mourners led by the Queen made their way out of the Galilee Porch and into the bright sunlight, somewhere far away there was a voice calling “Well don’t just stand there, let’s get on with it.” His final call to action.
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