WINDSOR, England — Legend has it he was born on a kitchen table on the Greek island of Corfu almost a century ago. On Saturday, he will be delivered to a royal vault on the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Britain’s royal family is bidding farewell to Prince Philip, family patriarch and Queen Elizabeth II’s husband of 73 years, who died last week a few months short of his 100th birthday.
Philip will be remembered for his “unwavering loyalty” to his wife Queen Elizabeth II, according to the order of service, which he helped to plan.
Ahead of the funeral, riders from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery made their way up the Long Walk towards Windsor Castle, and military personnel and royal guards took up their positions for the start of the royal procession.
The Duke of Edinburgh — the longest-serving consort of any British monarch — lived a peripatetic youth after his father, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, was banished and his family fled Greece. Philip joined Britain’s Royal Navy where he excelled, serving in World War II, and married the then-Princess Elizabeth.
After she became queen in 1952, he carved out a socially-unusual role for the times, supporting his wife, but always one step behind her — in public at least.
“There was no precedent. If I asked someone, ‘What do you expect me to do?’ they all looked blank. They had no idea,” Philip told the BBC of his early days as the sovereign’s husband.
Many will remember him for being an early advocate of British science and industry, and a champion for conservation and the environment.
His will not be a state funeral, as Philip was not a monarch, but rather a ceremonial funeral akin to the burial of the Queen Mother in 2002.
‘Strength and stay’
Hundreds assembled outside the castle despite officials asking crowds not to gather before the funeral.
Mourners arrived carrying photos and paintings of Philip, and shop windows displayed depictions of the queen’s husband.
“He has died the way he lived — with no fuss or bother,” Ailsa Anderson-Cole, a former press secretary to the queen, told NBC News Saturday referring to the scaled-backed funeral service. “Prince Philip has probably got the kind of ceremony that he would have wanted.”
The ceremony will be laced with personal touches, pre-planned by Philip, and will begin with an eight-minute procession followed by a service in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle — the location of Prince Harry and Meghan’s spring wedding just under three years ago.
In contrast to that jubilant event, the funeral for the charismatic and at times cantankerousprince will be somber and dramatically scaled down due, in part, to coronavirus restrictions.
The queen, 94, who has called her husband her “strength and stay,” is expected to sit alone in the ancient chapel donning a mask. Other attendees have been instructed to maintain social distancing in accordance with the country’s Covid-19 rules.
Ahead of the chapel service at 3 p.m. (10 a.m. ET), a national minute of silence will be held.
A widely-anticipated moment will see Prince William and his brother, Harry, walk together behind their grandfather’s coffin on foot during the ceremonial procession, along with their father, Prince Charles, and a handful of royals — none wearing military uniforms.
Protocol suggests that Harry, who undertook two tours of Afghanistan, can only wear a suit with medals at royal functions. He lost his honorary military titles after deciding to step back as a senior working royal last year.
Although William and Harry won’t walk side by side — their cousin Peter Phillips between them — it will mark the first time the brothers have appeared publicly together since Harry and Meghan gave a tell-all interview to the media mogul Oprah Winfrey in the United States last month.
Meghan, pregnant with the couple’s second child, remains in California.
Making the short journey from castle to chapel, Philip’s coffin is being transported in a purpose-built Land Rover that the Duke began designing 18 years ago, according to palace officials. The specially adapted hearse was modified to a dark bronze green at his request, with final changes made in 2019.
The vehicle is being flanked by military pallbearers and parade bands in keeping with Philip’s military affiliations.
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His coffin will be draped in his personal flag and surmounted with his sword, naval cap and a flower wreath. The official Order of Service includes hand-picked hymns sung by a reduced choir of four, along with readings and prayers by both the Dean of Windsor and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
After the coffin is lowered into the royal vault, Philip’s many titles will be proclaimed and a lament will be played by a Pipe Major of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, according to the palace.
Regarded as a no-fuss straight-talker by some, Philip was also in the news over the years for racist and insensitive remarks. For many, though, the service will highlight his legacy of loyalty and service to the crown and efforts on behalf of the environment, among other work.
In a 2011 interview, Philip reflected on his own unique role.
“I reckon I’ve done my bit,” he said in an interview with the BBC to mark his 90th birthday.
“It’s better to get out before you reach the sell-by date.”