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Prince Philip: A royal funeral like no other

Tess de la Mare, PA
·5 min read

In normal times, royal funerals in the UK can match the scale of royal weddings, but the Duke of Edinburgh’s ceremony will be one of the smallest send-offs of a senior member of the British monarchy in living memory.

Just 30 people will be permitted in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle due to Covid-19 restrictions – something that is likely to suit Philip, who never wanted a large affair.

It will be dwarfed by that of Diana, Princess of Wales – which had 2,000 attendees in Westminster Abbey – and more than one million people lining the route taken by the cortege.

Previously, huge banks of flowers had been laid by the public at the gates of royal palaces in her memory.

Princess Diana
Banks of flowers were laid in tribute to Diana (Ben Curtis/PA)

Just a few years later, an estimated 200,000 people would file past the coffin of the Queen Mother over the three days she lay in state at the Palace of Westminster.

The funeral itself had 2,200 guests and the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey sounded 101 times – one for every year of her life – before the ceremony began.

Queen Mother
The Prince of Wales stands vigil beside the Queen Mother’s coffin while it lies in state at Westminster Hall in London (PA)

By contrast, there will be no lying in state for Philip – in accordance with his wishes.

Senior aides within the monarchy spend years preparing for royal funerals, usually with input from the royal themselves, to ensure everything goes off without a hitch when the day arrives.

But Diana’s sudden death in 1997 – just a year after her divorce from Prince Charles – caught them by surprise, prompting officials to adapt the template already in place for the Queen Mother’s funeral.

Operation Tay Bridge, the codename given to the plan, had already been rehearsed for 22 years by the time of the Diana’s death.

Her former grandmother-in-law would survive her by almost five years.

Princess Diana
Diana’s funeral was based on plans set out for the Queen Mother’s (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Many elements of Operation Forth Bridge, the codename given to the duke’s funeral, have had to be scaled back or cut completely.

Long held arrangements for military processions through London and Windsor were scrapped, and instead the event will be held entirely within the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Around 800 people had been expected to attend the service – something that is currently illegal under Covid-19 regulations.

The upset is likely to have tickled the duke, who according to The Times, used to take “wry amusement” from the fact so many of the people who helped plan of his funeral died years before he did.

Diana’s coffin was famously placed on a gun carriage draped in the Royal Standard, with three wreaths of white flowers.

Heart-breaking images of her young sons following the cortege on its final stretch to Westminster Abbey were broadcasted to 32 million people in Britain, and an estimated 2.5 billion worldwide.

Princess Diana
From left to right: The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and the Prince of Wales as they follow Diana’s coffin to Westminster Abbey (Tony Harris/PA)

The Queen Mother’s coffin made the short journey from the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Abbey on an open carriage, covered in her personal standard.

A wreath of flowers and her crown were placed on top.

By contrast, the duke’s body will be conveyed from the Private Chapel at Windsor Castle to St George’s Chapel in a specially modified Land Rover he helped to design.

Next Saturday afternoon, the coffin will be first moved from the Private Chapel by a small procession to the State Entrance of Windsor Castle.

Queen Mother funeral
The Queen Mother’s coffin was wrapped in her personal standard, with a wreath of flowers and her coronation crown placed on top (PA)

It will be covered with Philip’s personal standard and a wreath of flowers.

At 2.45pm, the coffin will begin the procession from the state entrance towards St George’s Chapel.

The Prince of Wales and other senior royals will take part in the procession on foot, along with members of Philip’s household.

Windsor Castle
The prince’s funeral is due to take place at St George’s Chapel in Windsor (John Walton/PA)

Arrangements for the Queen’s journey to the chapel and other royals have yet to be finalised.

The quadrangle of the castle will be lined by representatives from the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Highlanders, 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Royal Air Force.

The band of the Grenadier Guards are due to lead the procession, while representatives from the various regiments with whom the prince had a special relationship will line the castle’s quadrangle.

Only close relatives will enter the chapel however, but the service will be broadcast to the nation and commence at 3pm with a minute’s silence.

Members of the public have been asked not to lay flowers at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, and instead make a donation to one of the duke’s charities.

Prince Harry is due to fly in from California, although his wife Meghan – who is pregnant with their second child – has been advised not to travel by doctors.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he will not be present to allow as many of Philip’s family as possible to attend.

Despite it’s small size, the event will still be a “ceremonial royal funeral” – equivalent in status to that accorded to both Diana and the Queen Mother.

State funerals are generally reserved for monarchs, although Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Nelson are among a select few to have also been afforded the honour.

Princess Margaret’s Funeral
Princess Margaret had a private funeral in St George’s Chapel (PA)

In the last 20 years, only Princess Margaret’s funeral was smaller.

The princess, who died just seven weeks before her mother, requested a private funeral for family and friends at St George’s Chapel.

Her coffin was transported by hearse, draped in the Royal Standard with the procession led by two bagpipers.