A Royal Family After Philip

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When I first started writing here in January 2017 I was a little mad at myself for not having started sooner. The year felt so random at first, coming on the heels of the relatively quiet 2016 and well after the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte. In retrospect, that year was the beginning of a new royal era – William and Kate moving back to London, William beginning as a full-time royal, the introduction and then engagement of Meghan, and, of course, The Duke of Edinburgh’s retirement.

His final engagement that summer was one of the more moving I’ve covered here and the images captured during it (such as the one above) were incredible. Philip retiring from public life was in and of itself historical – as has been captured in countless headlines and articles covering his life and death over the last few weeks, he was the longest-serving consort in British history. For the three years after his retirement he remained primarily at Wood Farm, a smaller residence on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, while the Queen split her time between Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Last March, so as to ensure safety during quarantine, Philip joined his wife at Windsor.

His presence has thus been behind-the-scenes, of late. Very much a part of the family, but not necessarily the institution. Decisions and machinations that will drive how the Royal Family functions going forward have fallen to the Queen and The Prince of Wales – we saw this with how the two handled The Duke of York and The Duke of Sussex, the latter situation also roping in The Duke of Cambridge. Philip’s death, therefore, feels even more so like a family’s private loss. He took his leave of us, the public, a few years ago now.

With that, let’s turn to the funeral and what’s come out of it.

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Operation Forth Bridge

Royal funerals are planned years, decades even, in advance by the family, courtiers, and even the press. Each death of a senior royal is given a code name of a prominent bridge and, when launched, kicks into gear a series of operations that span the time between the death itself and the funeral. The Queen’s death, for example, is known as London Bridge. Philip’s was Forth Bridge, named for a bridge near Edinburgh, the site of his title. This encompasses everything from when and how to notify the media and public to when flags will be flown at half-mast to bells tolling. Senior royals thus have the opportunity to plan their funerals and we know that while some aspects of Saturday’s service had to be adjusted for the pandemic, the ceremony was a reflection of Philip’s wishes.

For now, Philip’s body rests in the Royal Vault, but it will be moved when the Queen dies to the George VI Memorial inside St George’s Chapel where they will be interred together.

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The 2020 Of It All

There were a few surreal moments from Saturday, but even 13 months into a global pandemic, it was still jarring to see the juxtaposition of such a historic and traditional ceremony clashing with the realities of COVID. From the service members to the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Royal Family wearing masks to the distanced seating of the attendees inside St George’s Chapel to the image of the Queen having to attend her husband’s funeral in what was essentially solitude…the images from this funeral won’t be confused with any other. It’s such a concentrated moment of time.

Philip’s death announcement itself was touched by the pandemic – the public was advised not to gather at palace gates or leave flowers (though many did) and the traditional physical posting (such as that seen at royal births) was quickly removed so crowds wouldn’t loiter to read.

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The Lack of Uniforms

It was decided ahead of time that members of the procession with the right to wear military dress would opt out and go with medals instead. Much has been made about this being a way to spare Harry embarrassment he might feel given that the military positions he once held as a working member of the family were removed earlier this year. Yes, in part, but I think the real driving force behind this decision was in fact The Duke of York, who would have been in a similar position, albeit for very different reasons. Frankly, I think the Palace knew that there was nothing they could do to stifle the speculation over William and Harry’s “reunion,” but there was no need to highlight the accusations against Andrew on such a somber occasion.

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The Procession

The Queen attended her husband’s funeral in a Rolls Royce that traveled from the Castle to the chapel. She was accompanied by a lady-in-waiting. The walking procession is traditionally only male, but The Princess Royal had apparently requested and been granted permission by her father to join it when the time came. As such, Anne joined Charles in the front row, followed by Andrew and The Earl of Wessex (Prince Edward), then William, Peter Phillips (Princess Anne’s son), and Harry. Behind them came The Earl of Snowdon (Princess Margaret’s son, Philip’s nephew) and Timothy Laurence (Anne’s husband). And behind *them* came members of Philip’s household.

Most attention was obviously focused on that third line of William, Peter, and Harry, with the assumption being that Peter was wedged between the brothers so they weren’t walking shoulder-to-shoulder. While it’s possible that in another time Harry would have been center, I do think it’s worth noting that Peter would always have walked in the procession and quite likely with the brothers in a row of grandsons. He is, after all, Philip’s eldest grandson.

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Who Was & Wasn’t There

Obviously The Duchess of Sussex didn’t make the trip – we all know that and probably could have guessed it. The official party line is that Meghan was advised by her doctor not to travel to the UK while pregnant. And I think that’s quite likely given pandemic concerns, etc. It is, however, incredibly convenient for everyone involved. Her presence would have been even more of a distraction than Harry’s and for that reason, I’m glad she stayed home.

Also not there was Sarah, Duchess of York, Andrew’s ex-wife. Her position in the family is untraditional, to say the least. She and Andrew are still very close and the couple (ex-couple?) still operate as a family unit with their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. She also reportedly still spends a good deal of time with the Queen since she often lives at Royal Lodge on the Windsor estate. Philip, however, never fully recovered from her exploits in the 1990s and wasn’t a fan. They were civil, of course, and the narrative is that Sarah, or “Fergie,” tried very hard to get back in his good graces, but it never fully happened. So, no surprises there, though I did see a lot of speculation that she would be in the chapel.

In a similar position was Autumn Phillips, Peter Phillips’s ex-wife…or soon to be ex-wife? Their separation was announced in December 2019 and I’m honestly unclear on whether their divorce has been finalized.

And finally, the only “children” in attendance were the Wessexes’ – Lady Louise and Viscount Severen (James) – Philip’s two youngest grandchildren. No great-grandchildren made the cut, so to speak, which isn’t shocking given that most of them are so young. George was the only one who I thought might have been in play given his position as a future king and the historic nature of the event, but seven is still very, very young for a ceremony like this.

Waiting to meet the procession at the chapel were The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duchess of Cambridge, The Countess of Wessex, Mike and Zara Tindall, Jack Brooksbank and Eugenie, Edo Mapelli Mozzi (who I have to Google every time to get that spelling right!) and Beatrice, and a handful of other relations, including a representative of Philip’s birth family.

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The Aftermath

While the Queen was driven back to the Castle after the ceremony, the rest of the family opted to walk. And that, my friends, is when the magic happened. Or whatever you want to call it. I’ll admit that I had to do a double-take when I saw Harry walking with William and Kate, but not out of shock – it was more reminding myself to be shocked, if that makes sense? We have seen that particular trio *so* many times over the years, even making that exact walk after royal events, like Easter, that I almost took it for granted as so normal. Then remembering the actual state of their relationship right now I came to, but that brief moment reinforced to me how incredibly sad this break is when all is said and done (and it’s not – it’s still very much playing out).

It also underlined that they are – for all of their weirdness given their public status – a family. Certain events, like deaths, have a way of breaking through the noise and I think that’s what we saw with William and Harry, even if briefly. A tentative recognition that they are still the Brothers Wales and they have shared experiences with each other that can’t be replicated, even with Kate and Meghan. Now, look, I’m not trying to over-dramatize a few cursory polite words exchanged at a family function, but that was a by far a more civil and friendlier showing than we’ve seen at recent public outings.

Which brings me to my final point – thank God for Kate, because she did that. We’ve seen her break the ice between the brothers before (Easter 2019, anyone?) but I think this brief moment exemplified her role in the family and why she’s done so well in the public eye. She engaged Harry, facilitated communication with William, and then subtly stepped away, choosing to walk a few leagues back with Sophie and Louise. All the golf claps.

As for Harry, he flew from LA several days ago and quarantined at Frogmore Cottage, his UK residence with Meghan at Windsor so as to be able to safely attend the funeral. Now the conversation of the day is whether or not he had a two-hour “summit” with Charles and William. The short answer is that we don’t know – I’ve seen conflicting reports – but it sounds like it took place, possibly at Frogmore Cottage to ensure privacy. It’s been said that Charles and William insisted on all three of them speaking at once so that no one’s words could be misconstrued to another later on (witnesses, etc.), which speaks to how bad things have gotten. I’ve also read that Harry insisted on Frogmore as the location because he was outnumbered, but that’s rumor.

I don’t really have much to say about this, to be honest. I certainly hope that they spoke and that it’s gone better than previous conversations have between William and Harry. Then again, the reason we all know that they’ve gone poorly is because Harry has been leaking that information to Gayle King and CBS News, so frankly I don’t know that I would be quite ready to play ball if I were Charles or William. Good for them.

Harry has now flown back to LA, William and Kate are back in London, and Charles has reportedly gone to his house in Wales to mourn privately for a couple weeks. After how the last few months have gone for him and his family, I don’t blame him, and I hope he gets a break.

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Last Odds & Ends

  • The Queen’s image in the chapel was incredibly striking and there is of course something gut-wrenching about watching a 94-year-old widow attend her husband’s funeral in solitude. Re: her head being bowed for so much of the ceremony – while, yes, she is grieving, she is also incredibly religious. I think her posture had more to do with prayer than trying to hold it together.
  • Charles at various points, particularly at the beginning of the walk, was hard to see. To use an over-used phrase, it looked like grief was literally etched on his face.
  • In an abrupt and artless segue, Kate wore a Catherine Walker coat dress over a Roland Mouret dress. Obviously she looked beautiful, but I’m actually only mentioning her fashion (given the topic at hand) because she wore a pearl necklace on loan from the Queen. The last time she wore the piece was in November 2017 when she attended the Queen and Philip’s 70th wedding anniversary party. That was obviously not an accident and in fact a very touching tribute to the Queen’s loss.

And with that, The End. The Duke of Edinburgh led an incredible life, his service was an example to us all, and my thoughts – like so many of yours, I’m sure – are with the Queen. As should come as no surprise, least of all to her late husband, she has already carried out a handful of public engagements, which is just how he would have wanted it. Queen Victoria she is not, and thank God for that.

2 thoughts on “A Royal Family After Philip

  1. Laura Jordan

    I thought the funeral was beautiful. The Queen broke my heart. I know she’s Stoic but having been widowed at half the age she is, I know that a husbands funeral is a strangely terrible event that no amount of minute guns and wonderful music could make easier.

    It was entirely sensible that Meghan did not attend, she’s nearly 40 and has sadly had a recent miscarriage, but I do think it was a fortuitous turn of events and sincerely hope that any meeting between Charles/William/Harry was productive. I have my doubts, though. There is huge damage there and given past showing, it is hard to blame Charles and William if they felt a witness was required.

  2. Michelle Tapsell

    Thank you for this very interesting and sympathetic viewpoint on this sad event for the Royal Family. Extremely well done as usual. 👏

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