Covid protocols on social distancing mean Her Majesty will be seated alone in the quire of St George’s Chapel – the historic setting for this afternoon’s service.
It will also be the first time that the Queen will have appeared in public since Philip, her husband of 73 years, died on Friday last week at the age of 99.
And while one of her most trusted ladies-in-waiting will accompany the Queen when her Bentley proceeds from Windsor Castle to the chapel steps, they are not permitted join the service because of the strict attendance limit of just 30 people.
It means the Queen, who will be 95 next Wednesday, will have no one by her side to hold her hand, or offer a gentle word of strength, as she mourns Philip as a widow, monarch, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
Just as her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, felt that they could not look Londoners in the eye until Buckingham Palace had been bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, Her Majesty was insistent, at the outset, that no special exceptions be made to the Covid funeral rules for the Royal family who will all wear face masks and not partake in the singing of the hymns.
She also knows, from the many telephone calls and official duties that she has performed from Windsor Castle during the pandemic, that there are countless grieving families up and down the country who have had to make similar sacrifices in the past 13 months with both understanding – and grace.
And it explains why the Queen will be uppermost in the nation’s prayers as Britain falls silent at 3pm in solemn remembrance before the Archbishop of Canterbury begins the service. “She is the Queen. She will behave with the extraordinary dignity and extraordinary courage that she always does,” said the Most Reverend Justin Welby. “And at the same time she is saying farewell to someone to whom she was married for 73 years.
“I think that must be a very, very profound thing in anybody’s life and I hope the whole nation, if they believe in that, they pray for her, and if they don’t, they sympathise in their hearts, offer their condolences to her and they hope for her to find strength in what must be an anguished moment.”
His sentiments were echoed by the Right Reverend Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, in one of the many ‘virtual’ church and civic services that took place yesterday in honour of the Duke of Edinburgh.
He also hoped the focus will be on the Royal family, as they remember Prince Philip, rather than other matters such as the relationship between the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex as the brothers are reunited after a difficult year and prepare to join other family members who walk behind their grandfather’s coffin.
“They have lost a husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather, but their grieving is done under the critical eye of a very wide public,” said Bishop Nick. “I pray that they will have the space to mourn their personal and world-changing loss away from the public clamour.”
But the funeral’s unique circumstances, including the custom-made Land Rover that will carry the coffin after being built to the Duke’s very precise specifications, will be very much on keeping with Prince Philip’s wishes according to the former Archbishop of York who became a friend and confidante.
Writing in The Yorkshire Post today, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Dr John Sentamu says Philip was “ a down-to-earth man who didn’t like ‘fuss’”. He goes on to describe Philip as “the embodiment of devotion, duty and loyalty, who in his service to our country was a model example to us all”.
They are also wise words that apply just as much to the Queen who will have found her Royal responsibilities to have been both onerous, and lonely, at times of tragedy, heartbreak and crisis throughout her incomparable reign.
Yet there were three people who were always there for her and whose loyalty and discretion was always assured – the Queen Mother, her sister Princess Margaret and Prince Philip who she likened to her “strength and stay”.
Now they have passed away and, through circumstance, the Queen finds herself alone, with the eyes of the world on her, on what will be one of the saddest – and certainly the loneliest – days of her remarkable life.