view on Prince Philip’s funeral Because of the pandemic and its restrictions, the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
at Windsor will be a less grand event than might once have been expected. Only 30 official mourners will attend. Those who do so will leave their military and naval uniforms at home. The public has been asked to stay away. Television will nevertheless ensure that this private ceremony of farewell will be acted out on the global stage.
As a result, the funeral’s emotional hold over the wider nation will be undiminished. There is a single overriding, deeply shared and understandable reason for this. Most of us have lived under only one British monarch, Elizabeth II. In the days since her husband’s death on 9 April, attention has seamlessly moved from the departed duke to the effect on those who remain. The elderly and widowed Queen, who will be 95 next week, is thus more than ever at the forefront of a respectful national mind.
The Queen’s loss will become publicly and poignantly visible on Saturday
when she is chief mourner of her husband. The Queen is said to possess a practical understanding of the crown’s theatrical power. “I have to be seen to be believed” is reportedly one of her catchphrases. She is likely to provide the dominant images and memory of the day. All the other issues that supposedly cluster around this funeral – from the minutely scrutinized body language of Prince William and Harry to the predictably partisan assessments of every aspect of the BBC’s coverage – are completely trivial in comparison.
Saturday’s funeral is an event of shared national significance. Some will flinch from this view. They should not. The royal coverage and preoccupations of the past week have irritated some. But the BBC and the media are fated to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. What is important is to understand that this moment was always coming. It should not be dismissed as public infantilization, although, as ever where monarchy is concerned, there is something of that in the mix. This is also, willy-nilly, the beginning of the end of an era, and the gradual start of a turning point for an institution and the UK itself.
The funeral will be the next stop – Prince Philip’s death
has been the first – in a five-stage but one-way journey on which the British monarchy and the nation which it embodies are now embarked. The journey marks the transition from the long and generally settled era of the Queen’s record-breaking reign since 1952 to an unpredictable future after she passes on. The third and fourth stages of this journey will be her own death, followed by her almost certainly vast state funeral. The past week has given a taste of what those will entail. The final stage will be the coronation of her heir and successor.
The length of this journey of transition is unknowable. It could all happen surprisingly quickly. Or it could last for several years. What is knowable, however, is that the journey has begun, that it is not only the monarchy that will be in transition, but the country too, and that things will be different – and feel different – afterwards.
This is not a prelude to saying that Britain should be a republic, although that is one option. It is to say that ours is a country in need of a talking cure. We need to ask if the “modernised” postwar monarchy that Prince Philip once encouraged, increasingly marked by its ever-extending family of celebrity royals in the public eye, has been a useful change. It is proving to be a high-wire act. No other European monarchy has chosen this collective route.
When the dust from Saturday’s funeral has settled, Britain needs to look the transition that has begun in the eye. It must give itself permission to discuss what comes next, and do it in a more grownup way. It needs to give permission to public bodies, to politicians and, not least, to members of the royal family to discuss such matters without causing a media frenzy. Talking is neither treasonous nor disrespectful. After the duke is laid in earth, it will be time to begin.