Ceremony – weddings, christenings, funerals, coronations – is what the British royals do best in public, and with roughly 10 centuries worth of experience, it’s no wonder. Now we’re about to see how they do a major funeral during a pandemic, when Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is laid to rest on Saturday.
The royal ceremonial funeral for Queen Elizabeth II’s husband of 73 years, who died April 9 at Windsor Castle at age 99, will combine antique tradition, the restraints of the coronavirus pandemic, the transcendence of the Church of England funeral rite and the idiosyncratic “no fuss” personality of the “Iron Duke” himself.
The duke’s final sendoff, which he helped devise, will be much reduced from the usual ceremonial funeral (like the Queen Mother’s in 2002 and Princess Diana’s in 1997) as a result COVID-19, and it won’t be in London but within the sprawling confines of Windsor Castle.
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Like most funerals of the last year, Prince Philip’s has been put at a distance for the public: Mourners can’t line up for hours to sign condolence books, as they did by the hundreds of thousands in 1997; they’re asked to go online instead. They’ve been asked not to gather to lay flowers in front of royal palaces as they did in 1997 by the millions; they’ve done so regardless. The flowers are collected every night and transferred to Marlborough House, the London headquarters of the Commonwealth.
Most disappointing, they won’t get to participate in an act of mass mourning, lining the the streets of London to watch and weep as the coffin trundles by.
Here’s what to expect, based on announcements from Buckingham Palace and reports by the BBC, which will be televising the funeral.
What will we see first?
Shortly before 10 a.m. EST, Prince Philip’s coffin – covered in his personal royal standard and topped with his sword, naval cap and a wreath of flowers – will be moved from the private chapel at the castle where it has been since his death, to the State Entrance of the castle.
It will be brought into the castle Quadrangle and placed on a customized Land Rover, one the duke helped design. Led by a military band and accompanied by military chiefs of staff, the cortège will move down the hill, flanked by pallbearers from the military and his staff, to St. George’s Chapel, the mini-cathedral where the service will be.
The half-mile route will be lined by more military personnel from all services, guns will be fired from the East Lawn every minute throughout and a bell will toll in one of the towers at the west end of the castle.
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As the coffin is borne up the West Steps, at 10 a.m. EST, a national minute of silence will commence.
At the top of the steps the coffin will be met by the Dean of Windsor, the Archbishop of Canterbury and an honor guard and a military band, which will play the national anthem.
Members of the Household Cavalry will line the steps and Royal Navy pipers will pipe a nautical call, “the Still,” as the coffin is carried up the steps. As the coffin enters, the Royal Navy pipers will pipe “Carry On” as the chapel doors close.
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All of the procession, except the royal family, will remain outside. The coffin will be carried inside to the choir or Quire, placed on a catafalque, and the service will begin.
After the service, the duke will be interred in the Royal Vault beneath the chapel floor. This part of the funeral will be private. The entire ceremony will likely take just under an hour.
Which royals will attend the funeral?
Under Britain’s pandemic rules, only 30 people will be allowed to attend, thus requiring ruthless paring of the list. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave up his seat to make more room for family.
Buckingham Palace announced the list on Thursday:
The queen, her heir Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, his sons, Prince William Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry Duke of Sussex, and Charles’ and William’s duchess wives, Camilla and Kate.
Philip’s three other children, Princess Anne the Princess Royal, Prince Andrew Duke of York, and Prince Edward Earl of Wessex, will be there with Anne’s husband, Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence, and Sophie Countess of Wessex.
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His other grandchildren attending: Anne’s children, Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall and husband Mike Tindall; Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie and their husbands; and Edward’s children, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor and James Viscount Severn.
Philip’s 10 great-grandchildren will not attend, not even Will and Kate’s future king son, Prince George, 7.
Three of the duke’s German relatives, the grandchildren of his older sisters who married German royals, will attend, invited at his instructions. His Mountbatten first cousin, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, will be there.
Other invitees are some of the queen’s relatives: Her late sister Princess Margaret’s children, the Earl of Snowdon and Lady Sarah Chatto and her husband. Some of the queen’s Windsor cousins will be there, including Princess Alexandra and the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester.
Who will walk behind Prince Philip’s coffin?
The tradition, dating back at least to his great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, is that male descendants, usually dressed in military uniforms, walk behind the coffin in the funeral cortège. (But not the queen; she will be driven from the castle to the chapel.)
In antique pictures and film of previous royal funerals, the coffin, covered with a royal standard, plus a crown for a sovereign, and flanked by military troops on horseback, military bands and bagpipers, rests on a gun carriage pulled by horses or ranks of troops through the streets of London.
This will be a much shorter procession but with as much military flavor as can be mustered, in keeping with the duke’s service in the Royal Navy.
Only the duke’s children and male grandchildren will walk in formation behind the coffin, the palace said Thursday:
Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne together, then Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Prince William and Prince Harry, currently estranged due to Harry’s decision to self-exile to California, will be separated by their older cousin Peter Phillips. Vice Admiral Tim Lawrence will walk with the Earl of Snowdon, and members of the duke’s staff will bring up the rear of the procession behind the coffin.
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The tradition is that all those who could wear a uniform, because of either serving or through honorary links with military commands, would do so, including Charles, William and Anne.
But the queen defused potential tension by deciding late Wednesday that all senior royals must wear civilian clothes to the funeral. This will mean less embarrassment for Harry and Andrew, both of whom actively served in British forces (Harry in Afghanistan, Andrew in the Falklands) but lost their roles after stepping back from royal duties in recent years.
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Small groups of his descendants walking abreast will likely remind millions of the ceremonial funeral of Princess Diana in 1997, when young William and Harry, their uncle Charles Spencer, their father and grandfather walked in the street behind her coffin from Kensington Palace to Westminster Abbey, evoking floods of tears from the millions of onlookers who lined The Mall.
What will be the most unusual element of the funeral?
The Land Rover as his “gun carriage” or his hearse. The duke’s interests in science, engineering, technology and design led him to help design a bespoke Land Rover, which he chose to bear his coffin nearly two decades ago.
According to Buckingham Palace, the duke was a longtime fan of Land Rovers. The open top rear section of the hearse was designed and custom-made to the duke’s specifications, and the original Belize green color was repainted dark bronze green, a color used for many military Land Rovers. Land Rover has maintained the vehicle since it was built and prepared it for the funeral in collaboration with the Royal Household, the palace said.
“The Land Rover is a stroke of genius,” says the American royal biographer, Sally Bedell Smith. “It is so much in his character – he used to drive around Sandringham in an electric van in the ’80s – that he would devise this.”
Will the royals be masked?
The congregation will wear masks for the service and members of the royal family will wear day dress or morning coat with medals. The BBC crew operating the TV cameras will also be masked.
Another COVID-19 unknown: Will the queen be forced to sit alone or far from her relatives due to social distancing rules? Will Prince Harry also have to sit alone, having arrived from California only days ago?
He has been quarantined at Frogmore Cottage at Windsor but the British pandemic rules are strict and allow for few exceptions.
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What is the Royal Vault?
Beneath its floors, St. George’s Chapel is stuffed with royal burials, but the Royal Vault is especially crowded. Constructed starting in 1804, there are three British kings including George III and his two sons, George IV and William IV.
Will this be the Duke of Edinburgh’s permanent resting place?
No. When the queen dies, the duke will be moved to the tiny King George VI memorial chapel – where the queen’s father, her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and the cremains of her sister, Princess Margaret, are also interred – to lie beside his wife again.