Watching the masked Queen Elizabeth sitting alone in the quire wiping away her tears was the moment many of us will have cracked, and shed our own tears. For her grief at losing her husband, for her family’s grief, but also for all those who have lost family or friends through this last year which has brought such suffering to so many.
And yet there was so much to celebrate in the funeral for Prince Philip, an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life in exceptional circumstances. Surely the Prince would have approved of what turned out to be a stunning spectacle. It was exquisitely organised from start to finish (he declined a state funeral but spent many hours giving instructions on how the service was to be carried out) and it married the best of Britain’s royal pageantry with military ritual and tradition.
There were sweet touches. The Prince’s dark green four wheeled horse drawn carriage was parked so it was passed by the funeral procession with his cap, whip and brown gloves neatly laid on a folded blanket.
The wreath of white blooms, which were specially chosen we are told by the Queen included roses and lilies, and were the only flowers placed on top of his coffin. Tucked into the side of the flowers was a handwritten card, edged in black from his wife.
He would have approved of the precision and beauty with which the ceremony – which started with the family following the coffin out of the private chapel at Windsor Castle – made its way to St George’s Chapel for the service. And yes, initially Prince William and Prince Harry were kept apart with Peter Phillips in the middle as foil.
The royal family stood at the bottom of the steps of St George’s Chapel ahead of a national one-minute silence at 3pm. This was marked by a round fired by the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery which signalled the start of the silence while another round marked its end.
It was members of the Royal Marines who carried the coffin up the steps to be received by the Dean of Windsor David Conner, who conducted the funeral, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
The funeral ceremony itself was solemn with personal touches. In the Bidding, the Dean said: “We are here today in St George’s Chapel to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
“With grateful hearts, we remember the many ways in which his long life has been a blessing to us.“We have been inspired by his unwavering loyalty to our Queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.
“Our lives have been enriched through the challenges that he has set us, the encouragement that he has given us, his kindness, humour and humanity.We therefore pray that God will give us grace to follow his example, and that, with our brother Philip, at the last, we shall know the joys of life eternal.”
He was described as enriching the lives of all those he knew with his “kindness, humour and humanity”.
You have to hand it to the royals, they know how to put on a show, from the choice of music (including Elgar, Bach and Britten) to bringing in 730 personnel from the armed forces to stand guard at various parts of the ceremony.
There were several tear-jerkers: the playing of I Vow To Thee My Country was particularly poignant, considering the young Prince was a refugee when he first came to Britain and always saw himself as something of an outsider.
Another moving moment was the exquisite manner in which the pall-bearers brought the coffin from the Prince’s own-designed military green Land Rover up the steps of St George’s Chapel to be carried into the Quire.
In many ways, the service benefitted from being minimalist because of the Covid restrictions. Even though there was only a choir of four – three lay clerks and one soprano – their voices more than filled the chapel. And while the service was intimate with only thirty family members, viewers were allowed to feel a part of the proceedings because of the way it was filmed. Millions of people around the world watched too: the US main networks – MSNBC, Fox and CNN – were all beaming the funeral service live.
The funeral service lasted about 50 minutes in all. The Queen and her family left the chapel via the Galilee Porch escorted by the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury. After the service, there was a moment of reconciliation, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in conversation with Harry, Duke of Sussex.
While the Prince’s coffin will be kept in the Royal Vault, it will not be his final resting place. He is to be interred in the chapel’s vault until the Queen dies, at which point he will be transferred to the gothic church’s King George VI memorial chapel to lie alongside his wife.
Since his death on 9 April, the media has been full of stories about Prince Philip from those who knew him well – some have said too much and for too long.
What has been remarkable about this outpouring of anecdotes and tales of the Prince is that it showed he was a man who was far more thoughtful and clever than many gave credence. But also it shows just how clever he was, and how influential he has been for the Queen over the last 73 years.
What is most remarkable is that the baby prince born in exile on a dining table in Corfu nearly a 100 years ago became consort to Britain’s longest living monarch and is now laid to rest in the splendour of St George’s Chapel, resting place to kings and queens going back to Henry V111. What a journey. What a story.