The longest-serving monarch in British history walked with the aid of a cane. She was slightly stooped but sure enough on her feet to go unassisted from the aisle to her chair, which served as a kind of throne. She sat beside her eldest son, Prince Charles, who will be king, and spent a moment digging through one of her famous handbags for her glasses to read the order of service and words to the first hymn.
And then she began to sing.
She was joined by hundreds gathered in the abbey where she married Philip – and where she celebrated her silver, golden, diamond and now her platinum jubilee, which marks 70 years on the throne.
The atmosphere was celebratory, with everyone unmasked and smiles all around. Attendees were beaming, enthusiastically shaking hands, face-to-face, the men mostly dressed in blues and grays, not blacks, and the women in fancy hats with feathers. There were children, including the royal grandchildren Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and trumpets playing a fanfare. It was very different from Philip’s funeral a year ago, when the pandemic required the queen to sit alone, masked, on a pew at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Dean of Windsor David Conner paid tribute to Philip’s intellect, sense of humor and “deep devotion to our queen and his family.”
He told the congregation that there were times when Philip could be “abrupt” and “somewhat sharp in pricking what he thought to be bubbles of pomposity or sycophancy.”
There was speculation that health or mobility problems might prevent the monarch, who turns 96 next month, from attending the service at Westminster Abbey. Even on Tuesday morning, British media outlets were reporting that the queen “currently intends” to be at the service.
This was Andrew’s first public appearance since settling a sexual abuse lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre, who said she was a teenager when sexually trafficked to the prince by the financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Prince Philip’s funeral last year was scaled down because of coronavirus restrictions. But about 1,800 people gathered Tuesday in Westminster Abbey for the memorial service. Among them were Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge; other European royals; and more than 500 representatives from Prince Philip’s patronages and charities.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also attended. Johnson recently apologized to the queen for lockdown-breaking parties held at his Downing Street offices and residence in April 2021 – on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
There were two notable “no shows.”
Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did not attend the memorial for his grandfather, who was his mentor and protector.
Harry and Meghan, having given up their duties as “senior working royals” in the service of the queen, are living in their seaside villa in Montecito in Southern California with their two young children.
Harry is pursuing a legal challenge against the British government after being informed he would no longer be given the “same degree” of personal protective security when visiting Britain.
The prince offered to pay for the security himself, but the Home Office declined. In court, Harry’s lawyers said the prince does not feel safe when he is in Britain, given the security arrangements applied to him. His mother died in a high-speed accident in a Paris tunnel when the car she was in crashed while being chased by paparazzi on motorbikes.
Buckingham Palace said in a statement that the service was intended to give thanks for Philip’s “dedication to family, nation and commonwealth” and recognize his legacy in “creating opportunities for young people, promoting environmental stewardship and conservation, and supporting the Armed Forces.”
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, the youth program founded by Philip, was also to feature prominently in the service. The award, which operates in more than 140 countries, aims to help young people build confidence and resilience through volunteering and outdoor activities.
The palace said that the queen has been “actively” involved in the plans, “with many elements reflecting Her Majesty’s wishes.” The palace also said that the service would incorporate elements that had been planned for Philip’s funeral but were scrapped because of coronavirus restrictions. At the time of the funeral last year, no congregational singing was allowed, and only 30 guests could be invited.
The queen, memorably, sat alone during the funeral in accordance with the guidelines.
The queen has experienced a spell of bad health since she was hospitalized overnight in October for what Buckingham Palace said were “preliminary investigations.” She also recently recovered from a bout of covid-19.
Over the past several months, she has missed some high-profile events, including the multifaith Commonwealth Day service this month, which she pulled out of because of mobility problems. At an in-person meeting last month with the incoming and outgoing defense service secretaries, the monarch acknowledged her frailty. Asked how she was, the queen pointed at one leg and quipped, “Well, as you can see, I can’t move.”
She has continued to meet with ambassadors and dignitaries over the past several months and has appeared in good form, but those events have taken place by video or inside the palace.
Tuesday’s service comes after a challenging few days for the royals in which Prince William and Catherine undertook a rocky tour in the Caribbean.
William and Catherine were greeted enthusiastically at their various stops, but there were also protests, unfortunate photo ops and calls for full independence from Britain as well as reparations for slavery. Prince William did something that royals rarely do: He effectively acknowledged that the tour had not gone according to plan. In a Twitter threadhe said that “foreign tours are an opportunity to reflect.”