Prince Philip’s funeral service will be a very different affair from the grand ceremonial moment that was originally intended. There will be no mourners lining the streets, no large-scale military procession, no military uniforms for the royals, and no singing from the congregation. The faces of those taking part will mostly be completely covered—mourners not walking in the procession will wear face masks throughout; those who are will put on masks to enter St George’s Chapel.
With these significant changes, much has been made of what has been taken away; the absence of crowds, the inability for many of Philips friends and colleagues to attend, and the lack of fanfare. But, through what has remained, these unprecedented times have also seen us gain an unparalleled insight into what really mattered to the late Duke of Edinburgh. A lot can be understood by what, and who, has made the cut when the Queen was faced with what a spokesman described as some “difficult decisions.”
When it comes to the guest list of 30, immediate family was always a given. But the inclusion of all the partners of grandchildren who were able to attend emphasizes just how important this immediate family unit, and those who join it, is. Some, but notably not all, of the Queen’s cousins are on this reduced list. And, significantly, space has been made for three relatives from the German side of Philip’s family. Between them, the three men (two are Philip’s great nephews and one is related to him by marriage) represent Philip’s four older sisters, who all married into German aristocratic families. The Prince had a turbulent childhood, often seeing little of his parents. His relationship with his siblings is not something the public heard much of, but this is powerful message of how important they were. There is only one non-relative to attend the funeral: the Countess Mountbatten of Burma, formerly known as Penelope Romsey, who was Philip’s close friend and carriage-driving companion.
Indeed, carriage-driving itself is front and centre at the funeral, with the sport that Philip loved and helped champion fully represented. A carriage and two fell ponies, Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm, will be situated in the Windsor Castle Quadrangle as his coffin passes. The sport was never part of his official life, but the tributes since his death have made it clear how much it was a defining interest and a world in which he was most at home.
The large-scale procession that would have taken place from London to Windsor has been scaled back to a presence of around 700 members of the military. Included are detachments from the Royal Navy—with whom Philip saw active service until July 1951— and other detachments from the Army and RAF recognizing his honorary positions. The Household Cavalry and Foot Guards who protect the sovereign will also be present.
A standout moment has been given to the Grenadier Guards, whom Philip was colonel of for more than 42 years. They will form the bearer party putting the coffin onto the customized Land Rover and provide the band to lead the procession. On arrival at the chapel, it will be pallbearers from the Royal Marines who take up the honor—reflecting the fact that Philip was their Captain General for an astonishing 64 years before his retirement in 2017.
His honorary appointments were clearly valuable to him, but, tellingly, front and center at the funeral will be a representation of his active service. His naval cap and sword will be given pride of place on top of the coffin. He started customizing the Land Rover it will travel on some 18 years ago.
The service itself will be straight-forward. There will be no eulogies and, perhaps in a typical no fuss style, a small number of personal touches. Philip requested that a piece sung on his 75th birthday be performed; Psalm 104 set to music by William Lovelady. He also asked that the Buglers of the Royal Marines sound Action Stations, used on naval warships to signal all hands must go into battle. It is a reminder that Prince Philip fought World War II, where he was mentioned in Dispatches for manning his ship’s searchlights in the Battle of Cape Matapan. Who can forget that it was while he was a cadet at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth that Philip first caught the eye of a young Princess Elizabeth.
Despite alterations for COVID, palace officials have emphazied that the funeral service is still very much reflective of Philip’s wishes. It was fitting that he planned his day, but, as many have suggested, he may have appreciated this simplified version even more. As should be the case, not every aspect of the life of a royal is for public consumption. But, while this COVID-secure funeral has less in it, it could be possible that we have ended up both understanding and honoring Prince Philip just that little bit more.
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