WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II is sitting alone in the quire of St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years.
Philip, who died April 9 at the age of 99, was being laid to rest in the Royal Vault at Windsor Castle after a funeral service steeped in military and royal tradition — but also pared down and infused with his own personality. People across Britain have observed one minute of silence in honor of Philip just before his royal ceremonial funeral got under way.
Following strict social distancing rules during the pandemic, the queen set an example even in grief, sitting apart from family members arrayed around the church. Just 30 mourners were allowed to attend the service at St. George’s on the grounds of Windsor Castle, where the queen has stayed to avoid getting COVID-19.
Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.
The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”
His coffin emerged from the State Entrance of Windsor Castle as those taking part in the ceremonial procession for his funeral took their places. It was loaded on a specially adapted Land Rover, designed by Philip himself, for the eight-minute journey to St. George’s Chapel. Senior military commanders lined up in front of the vehicle, with members of the royal family following behind.
The queen rode in a state Bentley at the rear of the procession. The entire procession and funeral was taking place out of public view within the grounds of the castle, a 950-year-old royal residence 20 miles (30 kilometers) west of London. It will be shown live on television.
Under spring sunshine, some locals stopped outside the castle to leave flowers on Saturday, but people largely heeded requests by police and the palace not to gather because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Philip’s coffin coffin was draped in his personal standard, and topped with his Royal Navy cap and sword and a wreath of flowers.
The funeral will reflect Philip’s military ties, both as a ceremonial commander of many units and as a veteran of war. More than 700 military personnel are taking part, including army bands, Royal Marine buglers and an honor guard drawn from across the armed forces.
Those marching into place included soldiers of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, who were firing a gun salute, Guards regiments in scarlet tunics and bearskin hats, Highlanders in kilts and sailors in white naval hats.
Philip was deeply involved in the funeral planning, and aspects of it reflect his personality, including his love of the rugged Land Rover. Philip drove several versions of the four-wheel drive vehicle for decades until he was forced to give up his license at 97 after a crash. His body will be carried to the chapel on a modified Land Rover Defender that he designed himself.
The children of Philip and the queen — heir to the throne Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward — will walk behind the hearse, while the 94-year-old queen will travel to the chapel in a Bentley car.
Grandsons Prince William and Prince Harry will also walk behind the coffin, although not side by side. The brothers, whose relationship has been strained amid Harry’s decision to quit royal duties and move to California, will flank their cousin Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne.
The moment is likely to stir memories of the image of William and Harry at 15 and 12, walking behind their mother Princess Diana’s coffin in 1997, accompanied by their grandfather Philip, in a London ceremony televised around the world.
Armed forces bands played hymns and classical music before the funeral service, which was being preceded by a nationwide minute of silence.
Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”
Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”
As Philip’s coffin is lowered into the Royal Vault, Royal Marine buglers will sound “Action Stations,” an alarm that alerts sailors to prepare for battle — a personal request from Philip.
Former Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who knew Philip well, said the prince was a man of faith, but liked things kept succinct.
“He was at home with broad church, high church and low church, but what he really liked was short church,” Chartres told the BBC. “I always remember preaching on occasions which he was principal actor that the instruction would always come down: ‘No more than four minutes.’”
Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.
Mourners have been instructed to wear masks and observe social distancing inside the chapel, and not to join in when a four-person choir sings hymns. The queen, who has spent much of the past year isolating with her husband at Windsor Castle, will sit alone.
Ahead of the funeral, Buckingham Palace released a photo of the queen and Philip, smiling and relaxing on blankets in the grass in the Scottish Highlands in 2003. The palace said the casual photo was a favorite of the queen.
For decades, Philip was a fixture of British life, renowned for his founding of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards youth program and for a blunt-spoken manner that at times included downright offensive remarks. He lived in his wife’s shadow, but his death has sparked a reflection about his role, and new appreciation from many in Britain.
“He was a character, an absolute character,” said Jenny Jeeves as she looked at the floral tributes in Windsor. “He was fun, he was funny. Yes, he made quite a few gaffes, but it depends which way you took it really. Just a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather, and a good example to all of us, really.”
Jill Lawless reported from London.