Over the last decade people around the world have been exposed to the beauties of Anglican liturgy and music through a series of high profile weddings and funerals: The royal weddings of William and Kate at Westminster Abbey (2011), Harry and Meghan at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle (2018), Eugenie and Jack at St. George’s as well (2018), the 2018 funerals of Barbara Bush at Saint Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston and George H. W. Bush and John McCain at the Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal). Last Saturday, the world’s attention turned once again to St. George’s chapel in Windsor for the funeral of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Consort, and husband to Queen Elizabeth II. Even with the COVID minimized service, a royal occasion once again showed the world the beauty of the Anglican liturgical and musical patrimony. I will explain, as best as an American can, the various aspects of the Prince’s funeral, sorting through the things that were Anglican with those that were military and royal. You can view the service here, and the order of service here.
It must be noted first that this occasion was markedly different than what it could have been, for three reasons. First, Prince Philip was not a sovereign nor in the line of succession (like Charles, William, and young George), thus did not rate a full “state” funeral. Charles and William, both future kings, had grand state weddings at Westminster Abbey or Saint Paul’s Cathedral with grand parades and various events around London, while Harry and Eugenie had smaller weddings at Saint George’s. Second, COVID restrictions limited many of the normal traditions. I highly admire the Royal Family for upholding the very strict pandemic rules of their government. Only 30 people were allowed in the chapel. This left only the close members of the family sitting socially distanced in the quire and only a handful of people serving in the liturgy. The sad image of the Queen sitting in her stall by herself at her husband’s funeral will likely be one of the most symbolic images of this COVID pandemic. Third, Philip was notorious for not wanting all the “fuss” that normally came with royal life. Even if there were no COVID restrictions, it is likely Philip would have had a similarly simple funeral.
Windsor Castle is an official royal residence of the monarch, located just outside of London. Through most of the year the Queen spends the weekdays at Buckingham Palace and the weekend at the medieval-era castle. It is where Philip spend his last days. See a 360 degree tour of the chapel here.
Within the walls of the castle is Saint George’s Chapel, properly called The Queen’s Free Chapel of the College of St. George, Windsor Castle. It, along with Westminster Abbey (properly named The Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster), is one of two remaining and fully functional (non-cathedral and non-academic) collegiate churches in England. Both of which I have had the honor of worshiping in. A collegiate church is one that is ministered to by a group (or college) of priests, called Canons, and lay adult and child singers, under the leadership of a Dean. The current Dean happens to be a retired Bishop, but tha that is not a requirement for the position. They very much operate and feel like the British cathedrals, all of which are also have colleges of canons. Whereas a parish church‘s main mission is for the care of souls of the people in their area (village, estate, township, etc.), a collegiate church’s main duty is to observe daily (usually sung) Morning Prayer (Mattins) and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Both Westminster Abbey and St. George’s also happen to be Royal Peculiars, which are churches that do not fall under the authority of a bishop but rather to the Sovereign directly.
The chapel is much smaller than cathedrals and Westminster Abbey. Since it is not a parish church, there was no need for a large nave or transepts for parishioners or pilgrims. The quire is the largest part of the chapel, separated from the nave by a large stone wall (called a rood screen). It is the central part of any collegiate or monastic church or cathedral. The members of the college (or monks of a monastery) are assigned a stall in the quire, which are divided in two and facing each other to allow for antiphonal singing of the Psalms. Until 1840 there were up to 15 canons, now there are only five. The vacant canon’s stalls are usually filled with guests.
Saint George’s Chapel also serves as the Chapel for the Most Noble Order of the Garter, one of the chivalrous orders (knights and dames) of the United Kingdom. Like canons, each member of this order is assigned a stall in the quire. The multitude of brass plaques on each stall bears the names of the current and previous holders. Above each stall are a banner bearing the coat of arms of the assigned member. Also on top of each stall is the member’s sword, helmet/crown/coronet, and mantling (the decorative fabric that resembles a mantle cloak). Prince Philip was appointed to the Order of the Garter in 1947, so it is fitting that his funeral be held there. Many royals are buried at St. Georges, most notably and visible are King Henry VIII and Charles I (who was executed) in the middle of the quire floor.
It would be difficult to explain all the military aspects of the funeral, as the British military system is much more complex than that in the U.S. Most of the men of the Royal family actually have served actively in the British military. In Prince Philip’s case, he was in the British Royal Navy during WW2. Members of the family, including the women, are also given many honorary military ranks not just in England, but across the Commonwealth Realms (former colonial countries that still consider Elizabeth their sovereign). These appointments are mostly honorary, adding one more special uniform to that member’s wardrobe. Philip held 17 positions. Many of the units which Prince Philip was connected to were present for ceremonial honors before the service. None of the Royals wore military uniforms, as they usually would have for a military funeral, purportedly because Harry would not have been permitted to wear his after resignation from public Royal life. Rather, they wore their decorations on their morning dress, the traditional formal attire for morning and daytime events. At the end of the service, three bugle calls were played: The Last Post (equivalent to the American Taps), Reveille, and Action Stations (similar to General Quarters or Battle Stations in the U.S., a symbolic way of Philip telling the family to continue carrying about their important duties).
It should also be noted that the casket was covered not in a funeral pall, but Philip’s standard (flag) bearing his coat of arms. This is not abnormal for a royal, civic, or military funeral, even in the Anglican world. However, the practice at many Anglican churches is that inside the church a white (or black) pall is on the casket, with flags only being appropriate outside for military ceremonial honors. Philip’s sword and naval cap also rested on top.
Others may be curious about all the jewelry, awards, and decoration on the altar. This might seem odd or even sacrilegious, but it is something that is done. Many churches, for instance, display all of their fine silver (communion wear, etc.) on the altar on high holy days and other special occasions. In this case, a selection of Philip’s personal regalia (awards, gifts, medals, insignia, etc.) he has accumulated over the years were displayed.
Due to COVID, only one of the five canons of the college was present, the Dean. The Dean of Windsor, The Right Reverend David Conner, KCVO, presided at the service. He has been serving since 1998 and had a very close relationship with Philip. He happens to be a retired bishop, but it not a requirement for this position nor was he dressed as a bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, shared in the liturgical duties; though he technically does not have jurisdiction in this Royal Peculiar. Both of them were in a bishop’s version of choir dress, a rochet and black cuffs (no chimere because of the cope), with black copes and matching stoles. Many older institutions in England continue the older tradition of black at adult burials, rather than white as many Anglicans use today. The Dean is also wearing (what appears to be) a medal of the Victorian Order as well as white preaching bands (though most properly for this occasion he could have worn mourning bands, essentially a pleated version of the regular ones.). A verger with a wand (or virge) led the two, wearing scarlet cassock (a color only used by chapels and churches of the royal household) and a verger’s gown (similar to an academic gown).
Because of COVID, there was only a choir of four singers, three of which are regular lay clerks (non-ordained singers) of the much larger college choir of men and boys. All are wearing scarlet cassocks and surplices. Notice the director wore a “winged” surplice (a slit down the sleeve to allow unhindered arm movements), which are often worn by music directors and organists. A lady soprano joined them for some of the music. This small group sang wonderfully, though it was sad not to see the larger choir that usually graces the chapel space. This small ensemble can serve as a model for churches who may desire good choral music but cannot build a large choir.
Historically, there are three times that bells are rung at the time of someone’s death. The first is the “passing bell” rung while someone is still dying. The second is the “death knell” at the time of death, sometimes rung with certain numbers corresponding to age and/or gender (so people who hear it from afar may know who it is for). The third is the “lych bell” , more commonly called “funeral toll”, rung at the start of a funeral (when the casket passes under the entrance, or lych gate, of the churchyard. Bells rang all over when Philip passed. On Saturday, churches all over the UK were also instructed to ring their bells 99 times (one for each year of Philip’s life) or for a full minute right before the funeral. You may have noticed that the bells of Windsor (tolled along with artillery blasts outside before the service) sounded rather different than normal bells, less crisp. That is because that the clapper was muffled with leather, signifying a time of mourning. Clappers can be fully muffled (only in the death of a Sovereign in England). Though more often they are half-muffled, ringing muffled when it is inverted and normally when it falls back down. The difference between muffled and non-muffled is more evident in change ringing, such as in the video below:
If you were flipping through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Common Worship, or other prayer books to find the liturgy used, you will be hard-pressed to find it. Prince Philip planned the service himself, and COVID certainly altered many of those plans. It was an amalgamation of different liturgical books, military ceremonies, royal traditions, and personal preferences.
- The Sentences: Once inside the chapel, the choir began to sing the scripture sentences at the start of the burial service, as prescribed in the Book of Common prayer. Music was written by William Croft (d. 1727)
- Bidding Prayer: A special prayer written for this special burial service.
- Hymn Eternal Father: The hymn of naval services in many countries. Fitting for Philip as both a naval officer from World War Two and Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom (ceremonial head of the British Navy).
- The Lessons
- The Jubilate: Psalm 100 is a canticle from the Prayer Book Morning Prayer service. This version was written, at the request of Prince Philip, by Benjamin Britten, who famously composed the War Requiem service for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral (the previous building had been destroyed in WW2).
- Psalm 104: Written at the request of Prince Philip by William Lovelady for the Prince’s 75th birthday.
- The Lesser Litany and The Lord’s Prayer: From the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
- The Responses: From the 1980 Alternate Services Book
- The Collect: From the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
- The Prayers: Various special prayers written for Philip as prince and as a member of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.
- The Anthem: This piece, translated from Russian, was included as a nod to Philip’s baptism into the Church via the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece. Philip was born as “Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark”, heir to both thrones. He was sent away from Greece in the 1920s when the monarchy was deposed.
- The Commendation: This prayer, called the Proficiscere is from a poem written by John Henry Newman in 1985, called “The Dream of Gerontius“.
- Styles and Titles: The various titles and styles that Philip held were read out loud. This was read by an oddly dressed man called The Garter Principal King of Arms, Thomas Woodcock, the man responsible for record-keeping, researching, and granting coats of arms and noble titles in the United Kingdom. The colorful coat he is wearing is called a herald’s tabard. It is emblazoned with the heraldic arms of the person they represent, in this case, those of the Queen. These garments, which were worn so they could be identified from far away, are where the term coat of arms comes from.
- Bugles and Trumpets: Various military calls were sounded, the last of which was Action Stations as discussed above.
- Blessing and National Anthem: After the final blessing the National Anthem, God Save The Queen, was sung as is a tradition at any royal occasion or church service. What many missed during the anthem was the lowering of Philip’s casket into the floor by a mechanical lift. The platform on which it sat lowered into a square opening in the chancel floor, delivering it to the crypt below. This contraption was added in the 20th Century.
Overall, this service was beautiful and fitting for Prince Philip. While the military aspects were more elaborate, the liturgical elements were simple. Instead of the dozens of normal liturgical servers, there were eight: two clergymen, one verger, and five musicians. Yet, the service didn’t feel small or simple at all. Even though there was no sermon, I do believe that the Scripture, the words of the liturgy, the magnificent space, the elegant dress, the rich sacred music, the reverent comportment of the ministers, in fact, proclaimed the Gospel around the world once again. That is power the ancient faith and tradition, through the divine works of the Holy Spirit, at its best.