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In a remarkable coincidence, the last significant royal death at Windsor Castle was that of Albert, Prince Consort – Prince Philip’s great-great-grandfather and someone who also worked indefatigably for his Queen and his adopted country.
Unlike the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Albert had little time to prepare his funeral, dying at a mere 42 years of age, and it was down to the widowed Queen Victoria to interpret his wishes.
Victoria herself would not be in attendance, following the convention that funerals were a male only preserve, and that women were too frail to conceal their grief in public. Instead, crying inconsolably, she headed for Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, where she failed to conceal her grief in private and began her 40 years of mourning.
She left behind her preparations for the sort of funeral Albert would have loathed. Mourners wore long black coats and wide-brimmed hats with ‘weepers’, something Albert had thought excessive a few years earlier at the obsequies for Victoria’s aunt, the Duchess of Gloucester.
On Victoria’s instructions, the rooms and corridors of Windsor Castle were covered in black drapes. Her only concession was to have Albert’s funeral at noon in broad daylight. Previous funerals were held at twilight with torches lighting the processional route.
Prince Philip’s body will be carried from the castle’s State Entrance by soldiers from the The Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards. Philip was Colonel of the Grenadiers for 40 years from 1975. Albert held the same position and the regiment formed a guard of honour at the entrance to the chapel.
Albert’s hearse was drawn by six black horse wearing black feathers. The only flowers were from Albert’s daughters the princesses Alice, Helena and Louise, who had made a wreath of moss and violets, while Victoria’s tribute was a simple bouquet of violets with a single camellia in their centre.
It is thought one wreath from the Queen will be carried on Prince Philip’s coffin today.
Empty mourning carriages followed the hearse, representing the Queen, the Prince of Wales, her cousin the Duke of Cambridge and his mother Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge.
Unlike Prince Philip’s funeral, there were few immediate members of the royal family present. Those that did attend arrived at the West Door ahead of the cortège but would follow the prince’s coffin through the chapel. The chief mourners were the 20 year old Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and his younger brother Prince Arthur, aged 11. (In another link, Arthur, later Duke of Connaught, would live to the age of 91 and among the mourners at his 1942 funeral also at St George’s Chapel, was the 20-year-old Prince Philip of Greece, on leave from the navy.)
Three of the Duke of Edinburgh’s German relations will be present at his funeral. Albert’s had just one blood relative present, his elder brother, Ernest Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Both Albert and Philip were perceived as outsiders. The Queen’s cousin, Margaret Rhodes, recalled that in the early days many of his critics in royal circles felt he was “a foreign interloper out for the goodies.”
A century earlier the British treated Albert with equal suspicion, reflected in the doggerel: “He comes to take ‘for better or for worse’ / England’s fat Queen and England’s fatter purse.”
Albert, like Philip, did have a loyal following from his personal staff. Leading the carriage procession from the State Apartments were his two valets and two jägers (soldiers), followed by his solicitor, a librarian and several apothecaries and surgeons. In today’s procession, the Duke’s two pages and a two valets will likewise join his children and grandchildren in the procession to the chapel.
Just as today, the royal mourners didn’t wear uniforms. Instead they donned black evening coats with white cravats, apart from Prince Arthur who was in Highland dress. At the chapel they were given the conventional mourning scarves and armbands.
Meanwhile the funeral procession made it’s stately progress from the castle’s Upper Ward, through the Norman Tower and down the hill to St George’s, just as Prince Philip’s will. Then just as now only a handful of spectators witnessed the impressive sight from the Military Knights houses in the Lower Ward. In the distance they could hear the minute guns fired by the Horse Artillery in the Long Walk. Today Artillery cannon will mark the start and end of the one minute silence.
Prince Philip’s pallbearers will be drawn from the Royal Marines, the regiment he served for 64 years as Captain General. Prince Albert’s pallbearers were made up of close associates such as Sir Charles Phipps contrary to the custom of having public figures.
Covid restrictions have limited the choir at the Duke’s service to just four people, a soprano and three lay clerks. The music has had to be modified to suit this small group as well as the lack of a packed congregation to sing the hymns. The choice of music in 1861 was very fitting given the Prince Consort’s musical tastes. Psalm 39 (“I said, I will take heed to my ways”) was sung to an adaptation, by Albert himself, of a Beethoven theme.
A hymn by Martin Luther was appropriately sang to the tune Gotha, and Albert’s body descended to the crypt entrance as a chorale, again composed by the prince, was sung. The choristers had already dissolved in to tears during the requiem while the the two princes were also silently weeping. One account claimed ‘brave men sobbed like children.’
One of Albert’s chaplains, Arthur Stanley, later recalled: “I do not think that I ever have ever seen, or shall see, anything so affecting.”
Similarly, the service for the Duke of Edinburgh with it’s pared down simplicity and many personal touches will undoubtedly be well be long recalled as one of the most memorable royal funerals.
Ian Lloyd is author of The Duke: 100 Chapters in the Life of Prince Philip (History Press, £16.99). Buy yours for £13.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514