Prince Philip’s scaled-down funeral marks a changing era for the British royal family

Neither government advice nor appeals from the royal household were able to stop the tide of supporters heading to Windsor Castle to lay flowers for Queen Elizabeth ahead of her husband Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday.

For staunch supporters there remains an almost religious element in their devotion to the royal family, including the Duke of Edinburgh who passed away last friday at the age of 99, something of a caricature in the media until the outpouring of tributes portrayed him otherwise this week.

“We thought it was important to get the kids to pay tribute and see how much he meant to everyone,” said Dave White, an IT consultant at Sidcup in London whose 5-year-old daughter, Ella, had drawn a condolence card for the queen. “The royal family is a really special thing that we have in this country,” he said.

Ella White with her condolence card for the Queen © Charlie Bibby / FT

Prince Philip’s death came at a difficult time for both his family, still reeling from his grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle. explosive TV interview of self-imposed exile in the United States last month, and for the nation as a whole as it tentatively emerges from the devastation of the coronavirus into a new future outside the EU.

“There are repressed feelings that arise at these key moments. Trendy metropolitan communities are skeptical of the monarchy and skeptical of Brexit, but they can be out of touch with the sentiments of the country as a whole. . . and the feeling that the Duke, for all his quirks, has really done a great deal of good, ”said Vernon Bogdanor, professor of history at King’s College London.

The national mourning officially underway has been muffled by the persistent constraints of the pandemic. Pubs were allowed to reopen outdoors this week, and in Windsor, there were people drinking at the Duke. But the funeral itself will be reduced.

News crews from around the world broadcast from Windsor all week © Charlie Bibby / FT

Television crews have been lining the gates of the castle grounds for days in the hope that something may happen or that someone important will. But nothing and no one has done much.

Only 30 family members, for the most part, will attend the ceremony at St George’s Chapel on Saturday, in line with coronavirus restrictions still in place for gatherings. None of them will be allowed to sing, all will wear masks and the Queen will be seated alone.

“It’s very sad. But there will still be a lot of people coming to Windsor on Saturday,” said Kathy Lathlieff, retired accountant from Sutton in Surrey, who hoped the potted rose she left behind would find it. on her way to a royal flower bed.She also traveled to London for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, an event that pointed to a very different moment in Britain’s relationship with her royal family , watched by more than 2.5 billion people worldwide, according to the BBC.

Despite all the adulation, however, some visitors also felt that the death of Prince Philip should hasten the modernization of the monarchy. Sarah Moore, a school administrator who runs the Duke of Edinburgh’s awards program for outdoor activities at her school in Surrey, said she was inspired by the love and support he had always shown to the queen.

Sarah Moore, left, and Jayne Shelton © Charlie Bibby / FT

But she felt it was time for the royal family to be downsized – which could de facto happen with the death of Prince Philip, Prince Harry’s decision to step down from royal duties and Prince Andrew’s removal from the line. head on because of his friendship with the disgraced. the late financier and convicted sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein. The prince denies any wrongdoing.

“We have to face the facts and accept that not everyone is a royalist,” Sarah said. Her friend Jayne Shelton, a retired local government official, added: “The deference our parents and grandparents had is gone. We struggle with our own children to make them understand the royal family.

This generational divide, with opinion polls showing young Britons less attached to the royal family, may have contributed to the reaction to the TV coverage of the Duke’s death. After withdrawing the programs scheduled last Friday to make way for 24 hours of tributes, the BBC received 109,741 public complaints – the highest number in the broadcaster’s history.

“Her life was great and she deserves to be remembered. It has been central to public life for 70 years or more, but we don’t need to go too far, ”said Chris Mullin, the former Labor MP whose Tweeter describing BBC coverage as “North Korean” has gone viral.

Robert Lacey, the historical consultant behind the Netflix series on the royal family, The crown, agreed that some of the coverage had been overdone. But he didn’t see it as proof of a significant fracture.

He did point out, however, a generational chasm highlighted by the reflection on Prince Philip’s death, and the uproar of previous weeks on her grandson expressing his grievances in public.

“Prince Philip was as impenetrable as the Queen in a different way. Behind the well-encountered hail, there was a mystery. It was a very valuable tool that the monarchy lost, ”he said.

Despite Covid-19 restrictions, crowds have still gathered in Windsor this week to pay tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh © Charlie Bibby / FT

Clive Irving, another observer close to the royal family who cut his teeth as an investigative journalist when the Queen was new to the throne, noted the extent of Britain’s decline as a power. world during his reign, underscoring a surge in nationalism. who accompanied the death of his wife.

“It’s sad that something like that induces this feeling of wanting to withdraw into yourself so that the monarchy becomes a comforting agent of decline, almost like a drug you take to still feel good,” said Irving, author. of The Last Queen: Elizabeth II’s Seventy Year Battle to Save the House of Windsor.

Looking askance, Irish writer Fintan O’Toole said what was more remarkable was how uncomfortable commentators had been, in all this “cover orgy”, to speak of the very European nature of Prince Philip’s story.

“He was a ‘rootless cosmopolitan’, one of Theresa May’s citizens of nowhere: Greek, Danish, German. . . British. He changed his name, his religion, his citizenship, his identity, ”O’Toole said.

“In this there is this profound contradiction of English. The monarchy, the guarantor of the “island nation”, is a multinational enterprise. No one has embodied this more than Philip.

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