At its heart, Saturday’s funeral for Prince Philip at Windsor Castle is no more, and certainly no less, than what was always intended – the family farewell to an extraordinary man whose long life brimmed with accomplishment.
But sadly there are other factors which will turn this moving ceremony from a simple act of interment into the most minutely examined royal event for years, with every expression and gesture on the mourners’ faces scrutinised as never before.
The reason, of course, is the presence of Prince Harry and what it means for the future of the monarchy.
Can this most acrimonious of family feuds, which burst into public consciousness with Harry and Meghan’s explosive TV interview a month ago in which they accused an unnamed member of the Royal Family of casual racism, be settled?
Prince William. Prince Harry and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh attend the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium, London, October 31, 2015
If so, it is the apparent rift with Prince William which is central to any reconciliation.
Yesterday the brothers issued their own, separate, heartfelt tributes to their much-loved grandfather. Seldom have their words been polished and honed with greater care than those they summoned to describe the huge hole Prince Philip’s death has left in their lives.
On one level it was even possible to divine some common ground, unlocked from their shared memories of growing up with this remarkable figure. Both, for example, invoked Philip’s often used maxim of wanting to ‘get on’ with things. And both were dutiful.
But while William’s offering was formal and sober, his brother caught something of his grandfather’s irreverence in colourful, if grammatically incorrect, comments.
The fact that they did not issue a single joint statement as Philip’s grandsons as they once might have, suggests, alas, that a rapprochement is as far away as ever.
Prince William has given this moving tribute to his ‘grandpa’ Prince Philip, who died on Friday at the age of 99, pledging to continue his work and support the Queen
Prince Harry’s tribute to his grandpa Prince Philip, who he called a ‘legend of banter’, was released via the Archewell charity he set up with Meghan, not Buckingham Palace
‘My grandfather was an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation’: A message from The Duke of Cambridge following the death of The Duke of Edinburgh
With Harry in strict quarantine at his Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage, after flying to London from Los Angeles, and William and Kate with their children at Anmer Hall, in Norfolk, for the Easter school holidays, the chances of the brothers meeting ahead of the funeral service look remote.
So the words they chose to remember the Duke of Edinburgh by will take on even greater significance.
Both included personal memories. William reminisced about his grandfather taking his children for horse-drawn rides – his statement was issued with a photograph of a two-year-old Prince George alongside Philip on his carriage at Sandringham – while Harry remembered him with a beer in hand. Both spoke with affection. Like the Queen, William is reticent and not given to expressing emotion in public. Harry, on the other hand, appears to pride himself on being open and even too emotional for some.
Thirty minutes separated the brothers’ statements but the manner in which they were issued spoke volumes. William’s came first, in line with royal precedent, and was released by Kensington Palace.
Harry, meanwhile, chose not to use the services of the Palace – a mistake surely – and instead gave it to his US-based Archewell Foundation to distribute. This might explain the corny Americanism that stood out in his choice of words.
It was not enough to describe his grandfather as ‘a man of service, honour and great humour’ but he added that Philip was ‘authentically himself’, a curiously modern expression for a 99-year-old man who made a virtue of his old-fashioned bluntness and was anything but politically correct.
But the focus, inevitably, will be on Harry’s decision to include in his eulogy the official motto of the Royal Marines: ‘Per Mare, Per Terram’ – By Sea, By Land.
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On the surface, it was a fitting nod to Philip, Captain General of the Marines for 64 years, and whom Harry had succeeded. But by exiling himself from Royal Family duty, he’d had to surrender that role after barely 30 months. And the Marines are unlikely to forget his departure, even if they do forgive it. Was this a cri de coeur about his sadness at losing that honorary title or even perhaps a coded appeal to be allowed to don the Marines uniform for one last time?
The Philip whom Harry recalled was the ‘master of the barbecue’ and the ‘legend of banter’ who was ‘cheeky right ’til the end’, adding: ‘I know that right now he would say to all of us, beer in hand, ‘Oh do get on with it.’
To William his ‘mischievous’ grandfather had been a presence in his life not just in the good times but also ‘the hardest days’, a reference almost certainly to the death of Diana when Philip did so much to console the 15-year-old in his grief.
He was grateful too for the kindness that his grandfather had shown Kate.
But in his remarks was there one icy barb directed at his brother? ‘Catherine and I,’ he wrote, ‘will continue to do what he would have wanted and will support the Queen in the years ahead. I will miss my grandpa, but I know he would want us to get on with the job.’
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Princess Anne preparing a barbecue on the Estate at Balmoral Castle, Scotland during the Royal Family’s annual summer holiday, 22nd August 1972
Harry by his actions and his self-imposed absence in California can, of course, do no such thing. But he did include his pregnant wife and son in his salute. ‘Meghan, Archie and I (as well as your future great-granddaughter) will always hold a special place for you in our hearts.’
Two brothers, two very different ways of marking their grandfather’s life, but no sign of any healing comments to mend a heart-breaking rift.
Funerals are often times when families have an opportunity to take stock and put on a united front in public, which can smooth the path in private. Can William and Harry turn back the clock?
It is not so long ago that the two were scarcely ever out of each other’s company, popping in and out of each other’s homes and sharing everything. But the Oprah Winfrey interview has changed everything.
It was not just the attack that he and Meghan made on the cold aloofness of the Royal Family, but also the criticism of Kate and the saga in which the duchess cried, and even dragged flower girl Princess Charlotte into their narrative, that has pushed those close fraternal bonds to breaking point.
On Saturday all eyes will be on the brothers – analysing their expressions, their eye contact, their body language – for any hint of bridges being built and differences being settled. Both know that, even now, far more unites them than divides them.