London: Prince Philip was a decorated military veteran who served in the Royal Navy before his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended to the British throne in 1952. But when the royal family gathers for his funeral at Windsor Castle today, none of them will wear their military uniforms, in a notable break with tradition.
The question of who would wear what to Saturday’s ceremony has been a hot topic in Britain since the duke’s death on April 9, posing an awkward dilemma for the royal family, which is trying to smooth over several public crises at once.
Earlier this week, Britain’s tabloids reported that Harry, who announced he would step back from his role as a working royal last year, might be the only member of the family in civilian dress after losing his honorary military titles in February - despite having served in the British army for a decade, earning the role of captain.
Harry has been living in the United States with his wife Meghan - who is unable to travel to Britain for the funeral because she is pregnant - and their son, Archie.
The couple appeared in an explosive CBS interview with Oprah Winfrey last month, in which they described racial hostility within the family and spoke out about their struggles with incessant tabloid attention. Meghan revealed that she experienced suicidal thoughts, adding that she was not offered adequate support by the palace. She also alleged there were conversations within the family prior to their son Archie’s birth about “how dark his skin might be.”
British news outlets also reported this week that the Duke of Edinburgh and the queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, who holds the rank of vice-admiral in the Royal Navy, requested to wear an admiral uniform to the funeral.
He was due to be promoted to that honorary rank on his 60th birthday last year, a plan that was scrapped following a disastrous interview in which the now 61-year-old attempted to defend his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
In the interview, Andrew was grilled over claims by Virginia Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, who has said Epstein groomed her to have sex with Andrew multiple times. He denied having had sex with her and said he could not even recall ever having met her. Andrew also said that he stayed at Epstein’s house, even after Epstein had served a prison sentence for child sex offenses, because it was “convenient.”
Public outrage followed the interview and Andrew then stepped back from royal duties, saying he would do so “for the foreseeable future.”
On Thursday, Buckingham Palace attempted to put an end to swirling theories about funeral attire, announcing that “members of the royal family will be wearing morning coat with medals or day dress.”
“That’s to say members of the royal family will not be in military uniform,” a spokesman said.
Served in the British Army for 10 years
The decision followed days of heated debate over how the family would handle protocol that would presumably ban Prince Harry, who served in the British Army for 10 years, from wearing his traditional attire due to his decision to step back from his royal duties and leave the United Kingdom.
While some see the funeral an opportunity for the divided to family to unite in grief and smooth over bubbling tensions, British media reported Friday that the relationship between brothers William and Harry, who haven’t been seen in public together for more than a year, has never been so strained.
“Brothers at arm’s length,” read a headline in the Sun, a British tabloid, over an article noting that the two princes would be kept apart at the funeral. “Brothers will not walk side by side in procession from Windsor Castle,” read the front page of the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Mail reported that the brothers would walk with their older cousin, Peter Phillips, between them as the family follows behind the duke’s coffin on Saturday.
Harry and William have not always walked side by side at funerals in the past.
Royal experts speculated this week that with a rift reported between the brothers, having one show up in military dress and the other in a suit would have drawn further attention to their tensions and caused an uncomfortable public incongruity.
On Harry’s wedding day, he and his brother both sported the the frock coat uniform of the Blues and Royals, a regiment of the part of the Household Cavalry.
In a statement published by the British Daily Mail, Buckingham Palace said it would “not be drawn into perceptions of drama,” adding that the plans had been signed off by the queen and “reflected her wishes.”
In another break with tradition, Saturday’s ceremony will be significantly smaller than other royal gatherings. Due to current coronavirus restrictions in England, the service will be attended by just 30 guests, those closest to the duke and the queen.