WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM – Queen Elizabeth II on Saturday led Britain in a one-minute’s silence in memory of her late husband, Prince Philip, as she bid him a final farewell at a funeral restricted by coronavirus rules but reflecting his long life of military and public service.
The 94-year-old monarch, dressed in mourning black and a black face mask, sat inside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, as the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin arrived on a bespoke Land Rover which he designed himself.
A military gun was fired to signal the start of the solemn tribute, which was observed in shops, railway stations and at sporting events across the country.
The ceremony with just 30 mourners took place entirely behind the castle’s stately walls, with the public urged to stay away because of the pandemic.
But small crowds still gathered in Windsor town centre, and on the sweeping Long Walk to the castle gates, behind barriers patrolled by uniformed police.
Ieuan Jones, 37, travelled to the town from his home in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, and called Philip “a strong man, a true hero (who) did so much for this country and the royal family”.
“It’s really a shame that because of the pandemic we can’t pay a wider tribute to the exceptional man he was,” he told AFP.
At Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s central London home, Cardiff-born chef Santosh Singh laid purple tulips to mark the end of an era.
“I love the royals. I think they’re amazing… It’s sad because in time, all this will change,” the 57-year-old said.
Ceremonies were earlier held in Sweden and Denmark, while birds from the Royal Pigeon Racing Association were released from the National Memorial Arboretum in central England.
The Duke of Edinburgh — described by royals as “the grandfather of the nation” — died on April 9, aged 99, just weeks after being released following a month-long stay in hospital for treatment of a heart condition and an infection.
Britain’s longest-serving royal consort was an almost constant presence at the Queen’s side during her record-breaking reign that began in 1952 as Britain rebuilt from World War II and as its global empire began to unravel.
His death, after 73 years of marriage, has left a “huge void” in her life, the couple’s second son, Prince Andrew, said last weekend.
The Queen released a touching personal photograph of herself with Prince Philip, both looking relaxed and smiling in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland in 2003.
Images of key moments in the couple’s marriage were also shared on the royal family’s social media accounts, as most newspapers reflected on her deep personal loss.
At the service, the Dean of Windsor, David Conner, will pay tribute to Philip’s “unwavering loyalty” to his wife, who turns 95 next week, the country and the Commonwealth, as well as his “courage, fortitude and faith”.
Government Covid-19 regulations have forced hasty revisions to “Operation Forth Bridge”, the long-rehearsed funeral plans for former Royal Navy commander Philip.
But the stripped-back ceremonial funeral still featured members of the armed services he was associated with, including music from military bands.
More than 730 members of the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, in ceremonial dress and heads bowed, took part, lining the short funeral procession route through the immaculately trimmed grounds of the historic castle.
A minute gun fired and a bell tolled during the sedate, eight-minute journey.
End of an era
The Queen led mourners, as they paid their respects to the man she once called her “strength and stay”, and whose death closes a remarkable chapter for Britain’s most famous family.
The congregation is mostly close family, including the couple’s four children: heir to the throne Prince Charles, 72, Princess Anne, 70, Prince Andrew, 61, and Prince Edward, 57.
Also present are Charles’ eldest son William, 38, who was joined by younger brother, Harry, 36, for the first time since his shock move last year to the United States.
All eyes are on the brothers — whose mother was Charles’ first wife, princess Diana — after a reported falling out over Harry’s move to California with his American wife, Meghan, and their stinging criticisms of the royals.
Meghan, pregnant with her second child, was advised not to travel on medical grounds. Harry has had to quarantine since arriving from Los Angeles.
The brothers, who as young boys walked behind their mother’s coffin at her funeral in 1997, followed the procession on foot, but not side-by-side.
Between them was their cousin, Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips, 43, which has only fuelled further media rumours of the rift, even if it reflected royal protocol.
Masks and social distancing
Funerals of senior royals are normally grand public affairs, honed over years of planning, combining pomp, pageantry, and a guest list that is a who’s who of world dignitaries.
The last major royal funeral — of the Queen’s mother, also called Queen Elizabeth — in 2002 cost more than £5.4 million (US$7.4 million) and saw more than one million people throng outside Westminster Abbey in central London.
Saturday’s ceremony was a more modest affair but a royal send-off like no other, with two-metre social distancing in place inside the 15th century Gothic chapel.
All guests — in mourning black — are required to wear black face masks before, during and after the ceremony.
The slimmed-down formalities, however, may have appealed to the straight-talking prince, who had an aversion to “fuss”, according to his family.
The duke will be interred in the Royal Vault of St George’s Chapel.
When the Queen dies, he will be transferred to lie alongside her in the King George VI memorial chapel, which houses the remains of her father, George VI, her mother, and the ashes of her younger sister, Princess Margaret. AFP