Queen and royal family mourn Prince Philip as tributes pour in

People place flowers with condolence messages outside Buckingham Palace, despite a call not to gather outside royal residences.

Funeral details yet to be finalised after Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s ‘strength and stay’, dies aged 99

The Queen and royal family were in mourning as condolences and tributes flooded in from across the globe following the announcement of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, aged 99.

Flags were lowered to half-mast and the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times in honour of Prince Philip, the Queen’s “strength and stay” for 73 years, who died peacefully at Windsor Castle on Friday morning. He was the longest-serving consort in British history and two months away from his 100th birthday.

As a mark of respect, political parties paused campaigning ahead of May’s elections and the House of Commons announced it would be recalled one day early on Monday for formal tributes to be paid. TV channels cancelled scheduled programming to run tribute coverage as news of his death made headlines worldwide.

A statement from Buckingham Palace, issued at midday, said: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty the Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

“His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. Further announcements will be made in due course. The royal family join with people around the world in mourning his loss.”The Prince of Wales visited his mother, the Queen, during Friday afternoon, travelling from his Gloucestershire home to Windsor Castle, sources have said.

Funeral details are being finalised but the coronavirus pandemic means original funeral plans – codenamed Forth Bridge – must be hastily adapted. No 10 and Buckingham Palace are in consultation. Government officials said there would be eight days of national mourning until the morning of the funeral, making it likely to fall on Saturday, but later removed the statement.

Organisers are said to be “desperately anxious” not to stage anything that attracts mass gatherings. Restrictions will mean public elements of the final farewell are not able to take place in their original form.

Planned processions in London and Windsor, where the funeral service is expected to take place at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, are unlikely to go ahead. Government rules state no more than 30 people can attend a funeral. Up to 800 people, including world and Commonwealth leaders, senior politicians and representatives from the duke’s many patronages, would originally have been expected to attend.

It is thought the Duke of Sussex, who lives in the US, is likely to be among the small number of mourners who will be present, though it is not known if Meghan, who is pregnant, will join him. The couple paid tribute to Philip on their Archewell website on Friday, which switched to a memorial page. It read simply: “In loving memory of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021. Thank you for your service … You will be greatly missed.”

Covid restrictions also led the government to request people not to gather at royal residences. The royal family has requested that members of the public, instead of leaving flowers, consider making a donation to charity. An online book of condolence has been opened on the royal website.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Although this is an extraordinarily difficult time for many, we are asking the public not to gather at royal residences and continue to follow public health advice, particularly on avoiding meeting in large groups and on minimising travel. We are supporting the royal household in asking that floral tributes should not be laid at royal residences at this time.”

A framed plaque formally announcing the death was fixed to the railings of Buckingham Palace, but removed after one hour instead of the traditional 24 hours to avoid attracting crowds.

Gun salutes will mark the duke’s death on Saturday. At Woolwich Barracks, six 13-pounder first world war field guns, the same as those fired for Philip’s wedding, and pulled by 36 horses, will fire simultaneously as gun salutes at the Tower of London, Hillsborough Castle in Belfast, Edinburgh Castle and Cardiff Castle, as well as in Gibraltar, and from Royal Navy saluting warships. The gun salutes will be fired inside parade grounds behind closed doors and televised, with the public asked to watch from home.

The prime minister led tributes to Philip. Speaking at a podium outside No 10, Boris Johnson praised the duke’s “steadfast support” of the Queen, saying Philip had “helped steer the royal family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life”.

The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said the UK had “lost an extraordinary public servant”. The former prime minister Sir John Major said Philip was “for over 70 years, the ballast to our ship of state”.

Tributes came from across the world, including European royal families, Commonwealth leaders and the US Congress. The US president, Joe Biden, highlighted the duke’s “decades of devoted public service”.

In a pre-recorded interview with the BBC Prince Charles paid tribute to his father, saying: “I think he’d probably want to be remembered as an individual in his own right, really.” The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he was “an outstanding example of Christian service” and a powerful advocate for conservation. The adventurer Sir David Hempleman-Adams said the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme Philip founded 65 years ago would be his greatest legacy.

The duke’s health had been slowly deteriorating for some time. He returned to Windsor Castle on 16 March after a month in hospital for treatment for an infection and where he underwent heart surgery for a pre-existing condition.

He had retired from public duties in May 2017, joking that he could no longer stand up. Since then he was rarely seen in public, spending most of his time at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, though moving to be with her at Windsor Castle during the Covid lockdown periods.

Despite living quietly out of the public eye, he made headlines when involved in a car crash in January 2019. Two women needed hospital treatment after he was apparently dazzled by low sun as he pulled out of a driveway in Sandringham. The Crown Prosecution Service decided it was not in the public interest to prosecute the duke after he later voluntarily surrendered his driving licence.

Born on the island of Corfu, Philip, who once described himself as “a discredited Balkan prince of no particular merit or distinction”, played a key role in the development of the modern monarchy in Britain. He relinquished his naval career to immerse himself wholeheartedly in national life, carving out a unique public role. He was the most energetic member of the royal family with, for many decades, the busiest engagements diary.

Even when well-advanced in years, he could be seen on walkabouts hoisting small children over security barriers to enable them to present their posies to his wife.

He could be blunt and outspoken to the point of offensiveness, and was accused of making racist remarks. He claimed to have coined the word “dontopedalogy”, a talent for putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. He never suffered fools gladly, but equally he could be charming, engaging and witty – and displayed such genuine curiosity on his official visits that his hosts were flattered.

His youngest son, the Earl of Wessex, said the public image of his father portrayed by certain parts of the media was “always an unfair depiction”, and he always had a “twinkle in his eye”. Prince Edward told ITV news : “He was brilliant. Always absolutely brilliant. He had a wonderful sense of humour but of course you can always misinterpret something or turn it against them, so it sounds like it’s not right.”

He chaired the Way Ahead Group – made up of leading royal family members and their advisers – to analyse and avert criticism of the institution.

The Queen, who deferred to him in private, would say “What does Philip think?” on any major matter concerning the royal household. Big decisions, including her finally agreeing to pay tax on her private income, the abolition of the royal yacht Britannia, and her letter to Charles and Diana suggesting an early divorce, were taken after consultation with the duke, according to insiders.

He had a keen interest in religion and conservation, despite dispatching a 2.5-metre (8ft) tiger with a single shot on an official visit to India in 1961, the same year he became president of the World Wildlife Fund UK. Industry, science and nature were other passions.

The duke had looked gaunt as he was driven away from King Edward VII’s hospital in central London in March, having been pushed in a wheelchair to the waiting car.
He and the Queen spent more time together this year than they had since his retirement from public duties in 2017, with the Covid-19 crisis leaving the two of them at Windsor in HMS Bubble, the nickname given to the couple’s reduced household of staff during lockdown.

source: Caroline Davies

Levant