Prince Philip has died: Will there be a state funeral? Your questions, answered

Prince Philip has died: Will there be a state funeral? Your questions, answered

04/09/2021

In May 2017, Britain’s The Guardian newspaper made headlines when it revealed the plan for how the government will handle Queen Elizabeth II’s death. But there is also a plan in place for the death of Prince Philip, her husband of 74 years. 

Buckingham Palace announced he died Friday morning at Windsor Castle. Britain’s oldest and longest-serving royal spouse in 10 centuries was 99. 

When Philip retired from public life at age 96 in August 2017, media outlets began tracking down the details for his funeral and burial. Here’s an idea of what to expect, as well as answers to common questions.

Will Prince Philip get a state funeral?

No. Technically, as the consort to the sovereign, Philip is entitled to a ceremonial funeral, the same type used to honor the Queen Mother and Princess Diana. However, he reportedly doesn’t want that kind of “fuss” made over him.

That means he’s passing on the usual service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral and won’t lie in state at Westminster Palace. 

In 2013, the Sunday Times reported that Philip had informed officials there that they do not need to go through the stress of arranging such a ceremony, often on only a few hours notice. They last hosted a royal lying-in-state in 2002, when the Queen Mother died, drawing some 200,000 mourners.

Prince Charles, left, and Prince Andrew, right, stand vigil at the coffin of the Queen Mother's coffin in 2002 at Westminster Hall. (Photo: AFP)

How do state and ceremonial funerals differ? 

While Prince Philip won’t have either, there are some differences between state and ceremonial funerals.

Both usually involve lying in state and a service at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral, but the latter is usually reserved for the sovereign and distinguished figures such as Winston Churchill. However, ceremonial funerals don’t require parliamentary approval and funding.

Remember how Princess Diana’s coffin was transported through the streets of London by a horse-drawn gun carriage? That is the other distinguishing characteristic of a ceremonial funeral, according to Parliament documents. When the queen dies, hers will be drawn by sailors from the Royal Navy, a tradition dating back to the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901.

Britain's Prince Philip is seen with Queen Elizabeth at the state Opening of Parliament in 2010. (Photo: EPA-EFE)

Where will his body be kept before the funeral?

The Times speculates that Philip’s body might be taken to the Chapel Royal at James’s Palace, which held Diana’s remains in the week leading up to her 1997 funeral. As was the case with Diana, his coffin would be off-limits to all but family.  

Where will his funeral be? 

The Independent is betting on St. George’s Chapel, the same 800-capacity castle on the grounds of Windsor Castle that hosted the May 2018 wedding of his grandson, Prince Harry, and the former Meghan Markle, now Duke and Duchess of Sussex. However don’t expect a large gathering for a variety of reasons, including the coronavirus pandemic and Philip’s wishes. 

Under current COVID-19 restrictions, up to 30 people are permitted at funerals and 15 may attend wakes as of April 12, the BBC reports, though the government says that number may shift based on venue capacity and does not include workers. The new Phase 2 reopening guidelines raises the limit on wake attendees from six. 

Funerals may happen indoors or outdoors and crematoriums and cemeteries remain open.

With a capacity of 800, St. George's is pretty much a chapel in name only. (Photo: Chris Ison, AP)

Who will be invited?

The list of invitees is likely to be on the small side, with only family, friends and heads of state from Commonwealth countries in attendance. This list may be even shorter due to COVID-19, which has already impacted the royal family personally; Prince Charles and Prince William both tested positive for the virus last year. 

Will Prince Harry and Meghan Markle attend?

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stepped back from their roles as senior working royals last year and relocated to California. Prince Harry is the queen’s grandson, but the global pandemic could impact their travel plans. 

According to its Border Control website, the United Kingdom currently requires anyone entering the country to quarantine at their destination lodging or in designated quarantine hotel for 10 days. However, they can leave their quarantine location for compassionate grounds in order to attend funerals. They must quarantine at all other times.

Where will he be buried? 

According to The Independent, Philip has reportedly requested that he be buried in Frogmore Gardens at Windsor Castle, a spot near to his heart and that of his wife, who walks her dogs there. 

Frogmore is where Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan were photographed for some of their engagement photos, and where they held one of their wedding receptions.

The queen is also expected to be laid to rest at Windsor in the royal vault in St. George’s Chapel. Another possibility could be she will be buried alongside her parents and sister, Princess Margaret, in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, a small annex named for her father within the larger St. George’s Chapel.

Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece, was initially buried in St. George’s Chapel in 1969, but her body was moved to a church on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1988, as per her wishes.

But the Duke of Windsor was buried at Frogmore, after his body was returned to Britain in 1972 from Paris where he had been living in exile following his abdication in 1936. His American wife, Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, was buried next to him in 1986.

Frogmore Gardens is also the final resting place of Britain’s last reigning queen, Victoria, who chose to be buried alongside husband Prince Albert, who died in 1861, rather than in Westminster Abbey or in the royal vault at St. George’s Chapel. 

Will there be an official period of national mourning?

Yes, in fact, this appears to be the one part of the royal funeral protocol that will be observed. Traditionally, it lasts from the day of the death until the day of the funeral. It’s not immediately clear how COVID-19 may impact the length of the mourning period. In the case of the Queen Mother, it lasted for eight days. Until the funeral, traditionally affairs of state and any new law awaiting the queen’s royal assent are put on hold and books of condolences are usually made available at embassies around the world for the public to sign.

Will flags be lowered in his honor? 

Yes, flags will also fly at half-staff from the day of the death through the funeral, with one notable exception. The Royal Standard flies only when the queen is in residence and is never lowered because it signifies the continuity of the monarchy. It won’t even be lowered when she dies because her heir, Prince Charles, will have ascended to the throne.

After Diana died, the queen was criticized for not lowering the flag at Buckingham Palace. Typically, the only flag flown there is the Royal Standard, which was not on display because she was vacationing at Balmoral. Eventually, she agreed to fly the Union Jack at half-staff there.

When will Queen Elizabeth return to duty? 

Although she will reopen her famous red boxes of government paperwork after that initial eight-day mourning period, she is not expected to fully resume public life until after a 30-day mourning period. 

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