The Difference Between a State Funeral and a Ceremonial Funeral, Plus More Royal Mourning Traditions Explained
Like much else in their orbit, royal mourning and funerals are dictated by protocol and extensive preparation.
As Prince Philip drew his last breath on the morning of Friday, April 9 – a moment that his daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex, told ITV News was "very peaceful" and "just like somebody took him by the hand, and off he went" – Operation Forth Bridge commenced. That is the code name for Philip's death and subsequent funeral, named after the Forth Bridge, which opened in 1964 and connects Edinburgh to Perth. (Philip is the Duke of Edinburgh.) At the time of its construction, the Forth Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world outside of the United States and was designed by two English engineers.
The plans for Operation Forth Bridge have been in place for years, and Philip himself heavily consulted, guided, and eventually approved the plans. That said, because of COVID-19 the plans have been extensively revised and scaled back, but likely reflect even more strongly Philip's deeply held wishes that his funeral be a simple funeral, rather than an ostentatious, over-the-top event. Philip's funeral, according to Buckingham Palace, will be "much reduced in scale and with no public access," all of it taking place outside of public view inside the grounds of Windsor Castle, where he passed away Friday. The proceedings will be televised.
When royals die, their funerals typically fall into one of three categories: A state funeral (generally reserved for the presiding monarch; the last state funeral was King George VI – Queen Elizabeth's father – in 1952), a ceremonial funeral (which Philip's will be; Princess Diana and the Queen Mother's funerals, in 1997 and 2002, respectively, also fall into this category), and a private funeral, like Princess Margaret's in 2002.
After Philip's passing on Friday, an eight-day national period of mourning commenced and will continue up until and including Philip's funeral, which will take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. One minute of silence will be observed before the ceremony's 3 p.m. start time, and flags will continue to fly at half-mast on official buildings. The royal family has entered, as of April 9, a 30-day period of royal mourning, observed by the family, their households, and troops who are committed to ceremonial duties, who will be seen with black armbands on their tunics during this period.
Philip is currently lying at rest in the private chapel at Windsor Castle, where he will remain until Saturday. At around 2:40 p.m., his coffin will be moved in a small ceremonial procession from the state entrance to the castle to St. George's Chapel. According to Town & Country, his coffin will travel in a customized Land Rover and will be covered in the flag of his personal royal standard, along with a wreath of flowers and his naval cap and sword. Following the service, he will then be interred at the royal vault. Though it is not confirmed where Philip's burial will take place, The Independent predicts he will likely be buried at Frogmore Gardens, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are also buried.
Per U.K. government COVID-19 guidelines, only 30 will be in attendance at Philip's funeral, a stark change from the original Operation Forth Bridge plan, which called for representatives of charities associated with Philip during his long life of public service to attend his funeral, in addition to foreign heads of state and other royal families. The new plans have been approved by the Queen and "still very much reflect the personal wishes of the Duke," a spokesperson from the Palace said. Floral tributes are often left by mourners leading up to royal funerals, but, because of COVID-19, the Palace said "during this time the royal family ask that members of the public consider making a donation to a charity instead of leaving floral tributes in memory of the Duke of Edinburgh. An online Book of Condolence for those who wish to leave messages is available on the Royal website."
As with everything in the royal family, royal deaths follow strict protocol, which includes the Prime Minister being the first to be informed of the news of a royal's death by Lord Chamberlain, the most senior officer in the royal household. If a royal should die overnight, the announcement will reportedly come at 8 a.m. GMT, according to The Independent. Newsreaders wear black as the nation mourns, members of Parliament wear black armbands, and flags fly at half-mast.
As Operation Forth Bridge is carried out this weekend and will certainly be met with ample mourning, a spokesman for Buckingham Palace encouraged the public to celebrate Philip's life, including more than 70 years of public service.
"While this is naturally a time of sadness and mourning for the royal family and the many others who knew and admired the Duke of Edinburgh, it is hoped that coming days will also be seen as an opportunity to celebrate a remarkable life, remarkable both in terms of his vast contribution and lasting legacy," the spokesman said.