Nat first everything about the decor itself must have seemed familiar. Just before 3 p.m., the Queen took her usual place in the corner oak bench under the ancient Knights of the Garter banners in St George’s Chapel, Windsor – her family’s home church. It was a seat she had occupied countless times for Sunday Communion, for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Only this time, for what must have seemed the first time, her wife and husband, her nearly 75-year-old “strength and stay” were not sitting next to her. At yesterday’s funeral service for Prince Philip, the monarch stood as steadfast as ever with his head bowed, perhaps grateful for his black mask, with only the cameras still present for the company. In her bubble of one, however, socially removed from the sparse congregation around her, it goes without saying that she had never looked so lonely.
Until last March, the only funerals many of us had ever watched on screens were probably a royal funeral. Princess Diana, possibly the Queen Mother. However, the long months of the pandemic have made virtual shipments terribly commonplace. Death and farewell have arrived on Zoom and Facebook Live. This fact gave special emotion to yesterday’s events, in which only 30 of Philip’s family and closest friends attended, instead of the planned 800.
Watching the progression of the Duke’s coffin, topped with his personal banner, naval cap and sword, through the empty and resonating nave of the chapel on television, was to be reminded of a reality that so many tens of thousands of families have suffered in recent times. The point is, without the consolations of hugs and belted hymns, without a melee of shoulders to cry on and old faces to recognize, you find yourself with a more austere, perhaps more hollow, sense of an ending.
There have been suggestions that this is the kind of departure that, in his gruff manner, the Duke of Edinburgh has always dreamed of – well, his prayers for “less fuss” have been answered (although those who, deep in their hearts, want a low-key wake-up call?). For once there were no hangers, no celebrities, no politicians, no foreign dignitaries. The restrictions on the number also provided a good excuse to avoid the potential awkwardness that a larger gathering might have exposed. Harry was there – the first time he had seen his family in a hectic year – but obviously without Meghan, who was back home in California, no doubt listening. Prince Andrew was present with his daughters, but obviously not Sarah Ferguson. Never would a guest list have been so simple for the Lord Chamberlain’s office.
The lack of pomp beyond the military bands resplendent in the spring sun and the bowed grenadiers felt in keeping with some of the most singular arrangements the Duke had put together. Windsor had always been his own territory for him. The best of BBC tributes followed him on his daily tours as a ranger of Windsor Great Park, a post he held from 1952 until this year. These walks in the field were replicated on his last trip, in the back of his favorite Land Rover Discovery, specially modified to his hearse instructions, and repainted in military green. He had put the vehicle into service in 2002 and was still making modifications to it a few years ago. He gave, as he no doubt hoped, a rougher and more robust feel to the debates. Watching him, as the motorcade passed the empty pony trap with his gloves and cap on his seat and his two favorite black ponies strapped in, old Bing Crosby’s words mourned The Old Man (“We’ll follow the old man everywhere. he wants to go ”) came to mind.
Much had been said that, as they made the long walk behind the Land Rover that carried their grandfather’s coffin, William and Harry would be separated by their cousin Peter Phillips. Royal sources inevitably explained that the arrangement with typically arcane formulas – age plus heir on the right equals a reserve on the left, or something like that. The cameras moved closer to the brothers’ faces for hints of side-eye animosity or sparks of old camaraderie, but they only reflected empty sadness. The fact that the first time they walked behind a hearse was with Prince Philip by their side (“If I do, will you?” He allegedly asked the boys before their mother’s funeral) cannot not having taken these steps to the chapel easier.
The service, led by David Conner, Dean of Windsor, and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was somber and liturgically accurate, without personal praise and certainly without any of the gestures towards modern worship that had caused the Duke to raise an alarmed eyebrow at Harry and Meghan’s wedding. No doubt that in stating his wishes for the service, he rightly felt that more than enough would have been said and written about him by then. His faith, as we learned last week, has not strayed from the covers of the Book of Common Prayer. The anthem of his favorite sailor, Eternal Father, Strong To Save, could only be sung by four singers, although their sound swelled to fill the space.
If there has been one theme of these tributes and memories that have been shared last week, on the BBC, in parliament and beyond, it is that despite all the demands of his role, The Duke of Edinburgh has always been her own man. Through her heroic deeds on HMS Valiant during WWII, through a lifetime of state visitation and royal duty, through four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, through triumphs and the disasters of a lifetime in the public eye – he remains recognizable as the boy whose character was formed in the Spartan environment of his school years. He resolutely did things his own way.
This spirit seemed to characterize his last word. After the last message had been played and his coffin was lowered into the royal vault, the Duke had requested the call-out bugle of action stations to ring around the chapel – the traditional rallying cry on a warship naval to mean that all hands should be ready. themselves for the battle. As with many of his statements in life, his divided family must have questioned the precise meaning of this moving call to arms. The lack of military uniforms within the Royal Party appears to have been a decree from the Queen to spare Harry the complications of not being in formal dress after being stripped of his military titles following his departure from “post” frontline royals ”. The ignorance of morning suits in the Queen’s regiments added to the feeling that this was an unusual occasion. On his first visits to Buckingham Palace as a young man, it was noted that Prince Philip had nothing to wear other than his ‘shabby’ naval uniform with his ‘post-war look’. In the years that followed, a connection remained with a generation that had gone through these trials.
If it had a purpose during these years, the monarchy provided a collective direction for the universal staging positions of all our lives, births, deaths and marriages, bringing emotion and empathy to the idea of the state. This function has really come of age with the current Queen and her husband, allowing the cameras to roll during her coronation. It’s a relationship with the audience that has provided, for better or worse, some of the exclamation marks in his long reign since. In some ways, it felt like a turning point in this story, the end of an era.
The Queen turns 95 on Wednesday April 21. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who delivered the blessing, praised her “extraordinary dignity and courage” while saying goodbye to her husband. As she left the chapel, to be led the few hundred yards home, with her family on foot, William chatting with her brother, you were reminded how, in all her years of broadcasts and speaking , the only truly memorable quote the Queen provided. of the royal stadium is this indelible idea that “grief is the price we pay for love”. No doubt, in the back of this car, this sentence was never closer to his thoughts.