‘Lilibet’ sat alone for final farewell to her Philip

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·4-min read

Symbolic of her devastating loss, the Queen sat alone, separated from her family in the age of a pandemic, as she paid a heart-breaking farewell to the man she relied upon above all others.

Seventy three years, four months and 28 days ago, she was a 21-year-old princess in a bridal gown in an abbey, marrying the dashing lieutenant whom she fell in love with at first sight.

Now, the nation’s longest reigning monarch, four days from her 95th birthday, was clad in mourning black, without her loyal consort the Duke of Edinburgh at her side as she said her last goodbye to him following a lifetime together.

As the Queen first took her seat in the ancient carved wooden stalls of St George’s Chapel, she was entirely alone on the south side of quire, while the other members of her family due to be seated in her row were walking in the procession.

Yet even when they arrived, coronavirus rules dictated the space next to the monarch – usually occupied by Philip – must remain empty, and the one next to it also.

Over an arm’s stretch away was the Queen and the duke’s second son the Duke of York.

Just the Queen’s solemn eyes, her glasses on, were visible, with her face mostly covered with her jet black mask, edged in white.

As the world watched, she bowed her head during the national minute’s silence in honour of her lost loved one.

Grand royal funerals are a rare occurrence, but this, like no other ever witnessed before in the history of the monarchy, was unprecedented in the limitations placed upon it as the bruised and battered country copes with the worst public health crisis for generations.

A Queen, two future kings and two future queen consorts gathered, in their face coverings like the rest of the limited congregation of just 30 carefully selected attendees, and were grouped into pairs and households to keep Covid-19 at bay.

With its strong nautical theme, the funeral, each detail organised at Philip’s own hand, mirrored the duke’s lifelong association with the Royal Navy – buglers, seafaring hymns and the ship’s battle cry Action Stations.

Queen and Duke of Edinburgh
Hours before the funeral, a photograph of the couple enjoying time on the Balmoral estate was released (The Countess of Wessex/PA)

The setting was the breathtakingly beautiful quire of St George’s Chapel, with its carved stalls of the Knights and Ladies of the Garter and magnificent towering fan vaulted stone ceiling and impressive stained glass windows.

Husband and consort, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, and a military man of strong character of who never liked a fuss, the duke’s decades of service to Britain and his commitment to royal duty have been heralded as exemplary.

But the irony would in no way have been lost on Philip that when, as a young Prince of Greece and Denmark, he first began to court the future Queen, old-school courtiers disapproved and were suspicious of this foreign prince in the post-war years.

Practical to the end, at his request his coffin was borne on a sturdy Land Rover hearse he designed himself and last tinkered with plans for at the age of 98, while rolled slowly through the grounds to the west steps.

Duke of Edinburgh funeral
The Duke of Edinburgh’s driving carriage was positioned in the Quadrangle for the funeral (Ian Vogler/Daily Mirror/PA)

In days gone by, Philip would have been haring through the countryside on his favourite driving carriage, but now it stood stationary in the Quadrangle in his honour, joined by his two reliable black Fell ponies – Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm.

In his place on his seat was the duke’s small red sugar lump pot from which he would give his ponies sweet treats and his flat cap, gloves and whip – a touching reminder of his absence.

After his wedding, Philip wrote to his mother-in-law: “Lilibet is the only ‘thing’ in the world which is absolutely real to me and my ambition is to weld the two of us into a new combined existence that will not only be able to withstand the shocks directed at us but will have a positive existence for the good.”

Together they faced the ups and downs of the Queen’s reign, the trials and tribulations of family life – an irreplaceable bond, united at key moments of history, witnessed from the unique viewpoint of a monarch and her consort.

Now the Queen, still head of state and five years from her own century, as duty dictates will have to endure the remainder of her reign without her “strength and stay”.