The death of Prince Philip felt like nothing short of the death of an era. On one hand, he was a divisive and controversial figure over the years. But he also embodied living history and served as one of the most visible faces of the English monarchy.
Because of his status and importance, many were expecting a grand funeral on April 17. But due to factors such as COVID-19 and his own personal wishes, the actual event was far more muted than people were expecting.
What was the funeral like, and what happened behind those closed doors? Here is a closer look inside the funeral of Prince Philip.
An intimate funeral
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Prince Philip’s funeral is how intimate it was. It was not attended by mourning celebrities or gaggles of paparazzi. Instead, there were only 30 guests in attendance for the actual funeral.
While the actual funeral had an intimate guest list, there were public mourners throughout the U.K. and the world. And seeing the different ways that people celebrated and remembered Philip’s legacy is a powerful testimony to his life.
A change in traditional clothing
Everything about the Royal Family involves tradition. This extends to events like the funerals for royalty and typically dictates how guests in attendance would dress.
The royal tradition for such funerals was for everyone who had previously served to wear their military uniforms. Historically, this helped to underscore the royal family’s commitment to military service.
This year, the royalty involved ditched that tradition, and guests wore either mourning coats or day dresses (and medals of service with the coats). One possible reason for this change centers on Prince Harry. When he walked away from his royal duties, he also walked away from the honorary military titles. These are the titles that would allow him to wear a military uniform.
By having everyone skip the military clothing, funeral organizers put less of a spotlight on Harry as the black sheep of the family. But it turns out that both Harry and the Queen stood out for the same unexpected reason.
The Queen sits alone
Even during a royal funeral, optics are everything. And so it raised eyebrows around the world when Queen Elizabeth sat completely alone during her own husband’s funeral.
Why was nobody by the Queen’s side during this traumatic time? It all comes down to the U.K.’s COVID-19 regulations. Guests that weren’t part of the same household had to sit two meters away from others during the ceremony.
Because of these regulations, the Queen sat alone. Prince Harry sat alone as well. Generally, everyone involved kept a stiff upper lip. But we can only imagine the isolation made things even more awkward for Harry.
Mourners at the gates
As noted, Prince Philip’s actual funeral service was quite small. But this didn’t keep many British citizens from mourning Philip in their own way.
Even though Philip was being buried at the Royal Vault at St. George’s Chapel, hundreds of his devoted followers gathered around Buckingham Palace to mourn his passing. There, the followers laid flowers in memory of Philip and swapped stories about his life and his legacy.
In addition to mourning Philip, many who gathered outside of Buckingham Palace expressed their sympathy and support for Queen Elizabeth during this difficult time.
During most funerals, the eulogy comes from a family member who truly understood the deceased. However, the Royal Family has its own customs when it comes to royal eulogies.
And part of that custom is that family members do not give the eulogy. Instead, that honor went to the Right Rev. David Conner, Dean of Windsor. He conducted the funeral and delivered a touching eulogy about Philip’s life.
Conner spoke about “the many ways in which [Philip’s] 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,” he continued. “Our lives have been enriched through the challenges that he has set us, the encouragement that he has given us, his kindness, humor and humanity.”
Why William and Harry didn’t walk next to each other
While Philip was obviously the center of attention during his own funeral, many kept a close eye on Prince Harry, 36, and Prince William, 38. This is because the two brothers have had an increasingly strained relationship over the years.
There were many rumors that the two butted heads over assorted matters (including Harry marrying Meghan) back when they both lived in England. And Harry’s decision to abandon royal duties and move overseas with Meghan Markle has allegedly deepened the rift between brothers.
This funeral marked Harry’s first return to England after coming to the U.S. And this was only weeks after he and Meghan gave a bombshell interview to Oprah Winfrey that made accusations of manipulation, racism, and elitism against the Royal Family.
Notably, William and Harry did not walk next to each other during the funeral procession to St. George’s Chapel. Instead, their cousin Peter Phillips, 43, son of Princess Anne, walked between the brothers. And it’s possible this was done to draw attention away from the drama.
Buckingham Palace put out a statement ahead of the funeral to address that the brothers would not be walking next to each other, calling the procession order “a practical change rather than sending a signal.”
“This is a funeral and we are not going to be drawn into perceptions of drama,” a Buckingham Palace spokesman said. “The arrangements have been agreed and represent Her Majesty’s wishes.”
All hope of reconciliation is not lost, though. After the funeral, William and Harry were seen exiting the service together and chatting together. While we don’t know what they said to each other, simply speaking to each other in the wake of their grandfather’s funeral may be the first step towards healing.
But although William’s wife Kate Middleton was seen exiting St. George’s Chapel with the brothers, Harry’s wife Meghan Markle was not in attendance, for a good reason.
Why Meghan Markle didn’t attend the funeral
At first glance, Meghan Markle’s absence from the funeral is very noticeable. And you may think this is due to the tension she caused when she gave an interview with Oprah Winfrey and threw the Royal Family under the bus.
However, a source told E! News that Meghan would have attended the funeral, but could not because she is pregnant.
“Meghan wishes she could have flown to the U.K. to support her husband but has been advised not to due to her pregnancy,” the source said. “She would have put all the family tension aside to be there with Harry,” despite the fact that they “are still not on amazing terms with the family.”
Meanwhile, Harry seems okay with the fact that he had to attend the funeral alone. “Harry wants to make sure Meghan and the baby are healthy and not involved in stressful situations,” the source said.
For better or for worse, Meghan’s inability to attend created one less publicity distraction for Prince Philip’s funeral.
Philips’ grandchildren and his legacy
It is too early to know the exact legacy Prince Philip left behind. But thanks to official statements by William and Harry after his death, we know exactly how his grandchildren will remember him.
“My grandfather’s century of life was defined by service — to his country and Commonwealth, to his wife and Queen, and to our family,” William said. “I feel lucky to have not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence well into my own adult life — both through good times and the hardest days.” William went on to express gratitude that Philip spent so much time with Kate Middleton and their grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Harry said that Philip “was authentically himself, with a seriously sharp wit, and could hold the attention of any room due to his charm — and also because you never knew what he might say next.”
Continuing, Harry said, “He will be remembered as the longest reigning consort to the monarch, a decorated serviceman, a prince and a duke.” After that, Harry decided to end things on a lighter note.
“But to me, like many of you who have lost a loved one or grandparent over the pain of this past year, he was my grandpa: master of the barbecue, legend of banter, and cheeky right ’til the end.”