Having logged more than 22,000 solo engagements for the British monarchy, Prince Philip – who was laid to rest at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle Saturday, April 17 — knew a thing or two about attending funerals. And so it’s no surprise that his own, which he planned himself, was lovely – simple, straightforward and moving as befitted a no-fuss naval man and our Covid times – with hymns, selections from the “Book of Common Prayer” and 30 masked, socially distanced mourners, led by his widow, Queen Elizabeth II, who could not help but shed the occasional tear.
Funerals are always moments to take stock – of the surroundings, the deceased and the human condition. The solitary bagpiper, who turned and two-stepped his way slowly from the chapel brought home the finality of the proceedings. That we saw him and the superb quartet of singers, the chapel, the mourners themselves, from many angles was a tribute to a man who insisted that technology be used to lift the veil on the monarchy and allow the British people and the rest of the world in. In this, Prince Philip was very much like his and his wife’s ancestor, Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, another prince consort who was deemed too foreign and too interested in modernizing the traditions of the monarchy. That their efforts sometimes went awry was probably less the fault of the men than the challenges of the institution.
If you blinked, you might’ve missed Prince Philip’s coffin being lowered into the chapel’s vault. (It will be moved to its final resting place there when the queen dies.) Then the mourners departed, with all but the queen walking up the hill in smaller family groups as Harry, the Duke of Sussex, caught up with his reportedly estranged brother and sister-in-law, William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – the way it used to be.
Life is short and for the living. Perhaps for them the recent tempest over the Sussexes’ damning interview with Oprah Winfrey paled against the weekend’s event.
Its import had been driven home earlier by the queen’s arrival at the chapel. At the entrance, she paused and turned around. Already there’s been much parsing of that gesture, as there has been about Harry’s reunion with his brother and his wife. Was the queen waiting for others to catch up or the arrival of the Land Rover, specially outfitted over the years by Prince Philip, that now carried his body?
Perhaps she was looking for the man who for 73 years had walked two paces behind her as protocol dictated and then realizing he was there – though not in his familiar way – turned around and went on.