Richard Berthelsen: Royal Family walked in order of birth, not succession at Prince Philip's funeral
TORONTO -- In the end, it was brisk, short and to the point. It was a Royal funeral that was the design of the Duke of Edinburgh himself, who had little time for unnecessary pomp and ceremony. It went much as he might have wished and the Queen, Royal Family and Armed Forces obliged.
It was also poignant, moving and quite emotional at times, in surprising ways. For Britons, it was considerably less than they called for in the moment and for the man, but it seemed to successfully steer its way through troubled pandemic waters. For Canadian compatriots of Prince Philip, particularly his regiments and the many organizations with which he was associated here, it was a difficult day to be so far away when many of them would have had a role if circumstances were different.
The arrival in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle of the specially designed Land Rover (designed by the prince himself) to transport his coffin was a difficult moment to watch. As the assembled members of the Armed Forces, drawn from his regiments and various commands over the years, bowed their heads, the hymn “I Vow to Thee my Country” played. This was mourning on a grand scale on a stunning spring day, and it will not be soon forgotten. The silence was only attenuated by the boots on the pea gravel as the pallbearers deftly loaded the coffin on its transport.
As the Queen brought up the end of the procession in her car and as the National Anthem played, for a moment all eyes went to Her Majesty as she followed the Duke for one of the first times in a long life together, as Philip went on his final ride to his resting place. The Duke of Edinburgh had left Windsor Castle, his home, for the last time.
As the procession set off precisely on time, it was particularly sad to see his two ponies, Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm, waiting forlornly at the corner of the Quadrangle, his riding cap and whip in the carriage along with his little jar filled with sugar for the ponies. This was a sad reminder of the joy that Philip took in carriage driving. His grooms stood with their heads bowed, along with members of the staff of the Castle, many of whom were wearing black armbands in mourning.
They have been much ado about the procession, the order in which people walked, and the attire of the day. Certainly, it was unusual and unfortunate that at the funeral of the Lord High Admiral and a man with so many military appointments, that uniforms were not worn by those members of his family entitled to do so. But this was a Royal Family determined to put on a unified face to do nothing to detract from the occasion. And so, it was the best course available for the Queen and her officials in the Lord Chamberlain's office to specify that morning suits would be worn with decorations. This alleviated any discomfort for Prince Harry, who no longer has appointments in the Armed Forces, and Prince Andrew for whom wearing a uniform now seems wrong -- at least until his status is resolved.
The order in which the family walked was in order of birth, rather than the order of succession or strict precedence. As it was a family funeral, it made sense since the Queen is the font of all honour and the Sovereign determines the order on any occasion. In this instance, it was entirely correct protocol that Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s son, as the eldest grandson should be in the centre with Prince William to his right and Prince Harry to his left. Peter Phillips walked just perceptibly behind the two princes in deference to their royal status.
Whether this would have been the case had circumstances been different given the past few months is unknown, but it looked like the right thing to do as the eldest grandsons walked together.
The various military touches in the funeral elevated the occasion to its royal status. But it was striking that not a word was said about the Duke, his life, or accomplishments, aside from a formal recitation of his titles by the Herald, Garter King of Arms. The prince knew that this occasion would be preceded by days of media coverage and not much more would need to be said; not would he have wanted it. It was a classic, Anglican funeral with its focus on the spiritual and the afterlife, not the life of the deceased.
It was particularly moving and sad to see the coffin disappear below the floor of St. George's Chapel into the vault at the end. On the television coverage, the Royal Family seemed to be spared this moment as cameras focussed on the musicians. Prince Philip is now at rest below St. George's until such time as he may be reunited with the Queen in the George VI Memorial Chapel in years to come. It is the same place where his mother’s remains were held until she was patriated to Israel, which was her wish.
Prince Philip had always been a great modernizer of the monarchy from the very start of the Queen’s reign. It was Philip who insisted that her coronation be fully televised, which probably did more for the sale of televisions across the U.K. and Canada than any salesperson could have done. We have become used to watching royal ceremonies, although this was never the case in the past. The Duke initiated the filming of both in front and behind the scenes in 1969, leading to the film “Royal Family” which was meant to demystify and introduce Prince Charles when he became Prince of Wales.
It seems fitting that Philip who embraced television and the media from the start, should have his own funeral exist almost entirely in virtual space and television with next to no public participation. While there were only 30 mourners in the chapel, aside from the officiants and camera people, there were many millions who were felt fully part of this funeral because of the Duke’s opening the door so many years ago. To my mind, it was the first time any funeral in St. George's Chapel at Windsor has ever been televised. Philip was a trailblazer to the end.
Camera work both at and around Windsor Castle, as well as in the chapel, gave viewers of these historic places a sense of their beauty and architectural detail, thanks to modern technology. The chapel, which has been restored over the past number of years, has never looked as beautiful in its simplicity and starkness with so few people, while sun streamed in through the stained glass. The Queen and the Duke took particular interest in the restoration of St. George's Chapel and encouraged private donations over the years to accomplish this.
Several musical selections were commissioned by the prince and all were selected by him. The breathtaking mix of only four choristers, and the sound reverberation given the acoustics, will not soon be forgotten. It was otherworldly with so few voices and musicians. In particular, the lament played by the piper as he walked away, was a particularly moving way to end the ceremony and reminds us that Prince Philip was the Duke of Edinburgh.
For most, it is the image of the Queen in mourning black, sitting alone at the front, across from her husband's coffin, which will remain the most memorable image of the day. All thoughts are with Her Majesty as she navigates her way through the weeks ahead in what will be a difficult time while she continues to be separated from her family in returning to her duties. Royal Court mourning will continue until the day after her birthday, and it will certainly negate the possibility of a public celebration to mark the occasion on April 21.
The Queen has lost her “strength and stay” and her Consort of almost 74 years. In the past week, many new generations have learned a lot about Prince Philip, his unusual childhood and family background, and the many contributions that he made to public life around the globe for almost 100 years.
Prince Philip’s was a life well lived with many accomplishments, and he leaves behind a family who loved him and a Commonwealth which respected him. After such a long and dutiful life, may he now rest in peace.