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 send off, 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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Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the wedding of Princess Eugenie of York to Jack Brooksbank at St. George's Chapel on Oct. 12, 2018, in Windsor, England. (Photo: Alastair Grant/WPA Pool, Getty Images)
Like most funerals of the last year, Prince Philip’s has been mostly 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.
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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Royal Guardsman look out from the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster, AP)
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.
The choir in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, in February 2018. (Photo: DOMINIC LIPINSKI, AFP/Getty Images)
Which royals will be at the funeral?
Under Britain’s pandemic rules, only 30 people will be allowed to attend the funeral, 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.
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