The Daily Telegraph

St George’s has served family in its hours of grief

- By Hugo Vickers

It would be unthinkabl­e that he should go on his last journey without The Jubilate

The last time I saw Prince Philip was in the North Quire Aisle of St George’s Chapel, after the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor in May 2019.

The Duke was just short of his 98th birthday. His valet could be credited with his immaculate­ly pressed suit, the flower in the buttonhole, tiepin and brilliantl­y shining shoes. But to him went the credit for his ramrod back, hand behind the back in familiar manner and the defiance of years well into his tenth decade. He walked like a man of 45.

Prince Philip loved St George’s Chapel, where I have been a lay steward for 51 years. I am sorry not to be present at his funeral but whereas one of the roles of lay stewards is to assist at royal events, they will not be on duty today – none being in the isolated bubble that has protected the castle since March last year.

In the foreword to my history of the chapel (2008), he described it as “an architectu­ral marvel”. Citing it as the burial place of monarchs and their families, parish church for castle residents and the Royal family, and home of the Order of the Garter, he wrote: “This curious mixture of domestic and national functions gives St George’s Chapel a very special character. Not least it demonstrat­es the continuity of our national history.”

He and the Queen had opened some rooms in the castle in 1952, decided they liked Windsor and used it ever since as a weekend home. In 1966 he founded St George’s House and an enjoyable feature of the annual lecture (whose distinguis­hed speakers have included president FW de Klerk of South Africa, archbishop­s and ambassador­s) was to see him reach for his pen to make a note for his succinct summing up as the hapless speaker sat down. I was present when he celebrated his 80th and 90th birthdays at special services in the chapel. For his 90th in 2011 some 42 members of his own family flew in from all over the world. They were so happy to be with him for, unlike a funeral, he was there in the flesh and it was a subtle way of thanking him for his manifold kindnesses to them.

I have been present at innumerabl­e services at Windsor (including every Garter ceremony since 1965). St George’s Chapel has always done its absolute best for the Royal family in its hours of grief, right back to the days of Edward IV. The first such funeral I attended was the private service for Princess Marina in 1968. She had died of a brain tumour to the great shock of the nation, on 27 August. I sat in the organ loft with the choir and gave the signal to Dr Sidney Campbell when the Royal family came in. The most striking moment was when the Queen led the royal mourners in, and in followed the Duke of Windsor, with his sad eyes, and slim figure, still dapper enough to wear the same tailcoat in which he had married over 30 years before. Throughout the morning the choir had rehearsed God be in my Head, later to be sung so beautifull­y in the service itself. A year later the organist took me into the chapel to see it laid out in readiness for the funeral of Princess Andrew of Greece – I was then unaware that one day Prince Philip would assign me the task of writing her biography.

I was on duty for many hours at the lying in state of the Duke of Windsor in 1972, at which members of the public trooped by. I remember an old soldier dropping some flowers, hoping his homage would not be noticed. At the funeral the Queen had the Duchess next to her and helped her find her place in the service sheet. There was a procession right up through the Nave, the men of the Royal family following, including King Olav of Norway.

At the end of the service Garter King of Arms read out the Duke’s styles and titles, as will happen today.

When the Queen’s last uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, died in 1974, he was accorded a gun carriage procession through the streets of Windsor, with royal mourners following. As the coffin was carried out of the chapel, a lone piper of the Scots Guards marched down the South Nave Aisle, playing a lament so haunting as to send a shiver down the spine.

The Queen had agreed the details of the Duchess of Windsor’s funeral long in advance. After her service in 1986, Princess Ghislaine de Polignac said: “There was the Queen and the Royal family, and the chapel beautifull­y lit and the choir singing. It was everything the Duke would have wanted for the Duchess.” She was laid to rest beside him at Frogmore.

Princess Margaret’s funeral in 2002 included her many friends, some flying in from far and wide. It was memorable as the last event attended by the Queen Mother, who came in by the North Door, in a wheelchair, unseen by the majority of the congregati­on. The coffin left by the Nave and the West Steps. The organist said later that, when he finished playing, there was an intense silence and he thought all the mourners had left. But when he looked down, they were still there. Complete silence had been created by the music and the emotion of the moment.

Prince Philip had considerab­le input into today’s service. Although there will be no choristers, some men of the choir will sing. It would be unthinkabl­e he should go on his last journey without The Jubilate he commission­ed from Benjamin Britten, specially for St George’s Chapel, in 1961. Despite the toned-down simplicity – ever a hallmark of Prince Philip’s approach – the day will be choreograp­hed to perfection, down to the last route liner, and the service intensely moving.

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 ??  ?? The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh talk to the Duchess of Windsor after the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972 at St George’s Chapel
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh talk to the Duchess of Windsor after the Duke of Windsor’s funeral in 1972 at St George’s Chapel

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