Prince Philip’s memorial service yesterday was an affecting occasion. The hymns, including Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer and Britten’s Te Deum In C were well chosen, and the Dean of Windsor’s well-judged sermon acknowledged both the Duke of Edinburgh’s sincere but never pious religious faith and his energetic, at times abrasive personality. The Dean suggested, rightly, that the Duke would never have wanted to be remembered as a plaster saint. After the low-key Covid-necessitated funeral service of last year, it was a public reminder that the royal family can still command both dignity and respect. So why, then, have today’s headlines been so dreadful?
The answer, naturally, is because of the presence of Prince Andrew, who led his 95-year-old mother into the service. The shaming of the not-so-grand Duke of York had seemed complete earlier this year when he agreed to a humiliating pay-out to settle the civil suit brought against him by Virginia Giuffre on claims of sexual assault – claims which, despite the payment, he accepts no liability for. There were persistent rumours that the Queen had stood by him privately, even agreeing to pay a large amount of the supposed £12 million settlement herself. It has been reported countless times that he is her favourite child, whatever his private activities, and his very public association with the monarch yesterday did little to dispel this.
It is regrettable that, after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s unsuccessful Caribbean tour, the royal family’s next high-profile event should again be mired in controversy. The Daily Mirror’s headline read simply ‘The pain and the stain’ and the Daily Mail talked on its front page of ‘a strong sense of regret’ among courtiers and royals at Prince Andrew’s presence; the word ‘dismay’ was used. The pro-monarchy Daily Express was slightly kinder – ‘Royal fallout over Queen’s ultimate act of love’ – but an occasion that should have been both commemorative has been overshadowed by another ongoing controversy. The absence of Prince Harry and Meghan, which once might have been whipped up into a news story over his indignant statements about insufficient personal security being provided for him in Britain, barely made an impression.
Some are defending the Queen, whose frail appearance (a wheelchair was at one point mooted) and obvious emotion at her husband’s memorial service could only fail to move the hard-hearted. They argue that she was acting as a mother and a wife, rather than a head of state: it is a mark of her intrinsic Christianity and humanity that she has not only forgiven her son his transgressions but sought his support at a time of great emotional vulnerability. This may well be true. But the royal family does not do such things spontaneously. Prince Andrew’s presence would have been discussed and debated, and eventually signed off on by Prince Charles and Prince William – although it was rumoured that there was dissent about such a high-profile appearance even hours before. But Andrew came, and his mother leant on his arm, and the day was overshadowed.
The importance of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June cannot be overstated. If they manage to connect with the public in the same way that the Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations did in 2002 and 2012, then it will mark a fitting symbolic finale to the Queen’s distinguished reign, and will wipe out much of the bad feeling that has accumulated over the past few years. But if they are botched – not least by the continued presence of the Duke of York – then the ignominy that has been building around the House of Windsor will continue. Prince Charles may find that he inherits a throne amid far more open calls for republicanism than have previously been heard.