St George’s Chapel: The setting for a Covid-secure royal funeral like no other

Catherine Wylie and Aine Fox, PA
·5 min read

The Queen has bid a final farewell to her beloved husband in an intimate Covid-secure funeral like no other at St George’s Chapel.

The scene was set for the Duke of Edinburgh’s nearest and dearest to gather together – in a socially distanced manner and wearing face masks – for what was a unique royal occasion.

Duke of Edinburgh's funeral: seating plan
(PA Graphics)

As well as the traditional dressing of floral arrangements and family wreaths, bottles of hand sanitiser – a familiar mark of the coronavirus pandemic – sat next to a door in the vast nave area of the church.

The nave, which was packed with family and friends at three royal weddings in recent years, was an empty space filled only with the sunlight streaming in through the magnificent stained glass windows, four singers, a conductor, Royal Marine buglers and state trumpeters.

There were no rows of pews packed with mourners, but instead the sparse floor lay bare, allowing for the handful of singers and musicians to carry out their roles in a socially distanced manner.

The singers – three men (who are lay clerks of St George’s Chapel choir) and one woman (a soprano) – all live in nearby Horseshoe Cloister, forming part of what was an intimate and community-focused affair.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh during his funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire
Pallbearers carry the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh during his funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

During the national minute’s silence before the service began, only the soft sound of birdsong could be heard in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The flowers chosen for the service were low-key – reflective of the duke’s no-fuss attitude.

The blossoms in the wreath on Philip’s coffin were chosen by the Queen and included white lilies, small white roses, white freesia, white wax flower, white sweet peas and jasmine, while the flowers in the chapel incorporated white lilies and white roses.

Regalia, selected by the duke, sat in pride of place on the altar, in what was another personal touch for the funeral service he had played a major role in planning.

Duke of Edinburgh's medals
The Garter Collar and Greater George, and the Garter Breast Star and Lesser George sewn onto a cushion (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The medals and decorations conferred on him by the UK and Commonwealth countries – together with his Royal Air Force wings and Field Marshal’s baton – were positioned on nine cushions.

Philip also included insignia from Denmark and Greece – the Order of the Elephant and Order of the Redeemer respectively – in a nod to his birth heritage as a Prince of Greece and Denmark.

Slashed was the 800-strong guest list of royals, politicians and celebrities who may have been expected to descend on the town of Windsor for the historic send-off.

The Foot Guards Band are seen marching outside St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Berkshire
The Foot Guards Band marching outside St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle (Justin Tallis/PA)

Instead, the limited congregation of 30 had to abide by Covid-19 rules, with the Queen sitting alone in her usual position in the quire of the gothic chapel for the 50-minute service.

The Prince of Wales, the Queen’s eldest son and heir to the throne, sat opposite the monarch alongside his wife the Duchess of Cornwall.

Closest to the Queen and to her left was the Duke of York, and positioned down from him were the Princess Royal and her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence.

Seated on the same side as Charles and Camilla were the Earl and Countess of Wessex and their two children Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were seated directly opposite the Duke of Sussex, who travelled to the UK without his pregnant wife Meghan.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after their wedding (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Harry was likely to be reminded of his star-studded 2018 wedding in the 15th-century chapel, back when he was still a senior working royal and long before the couple’s bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview which made headlines around the world just last month.

The family, who are used to life milestones being shared with thousands of members of the public, instead experienced an intimate service, shared only by their closest loved ones.

Philip’s coffin proceeded through the nave to the quire, and passed over the vaults of Henry VIII and Charles I.

The chapel, steeped in history, has been the scene of many royal weddings and funerals, and Philip himself was closely involved in the life of St George’s.

It is situated in the lower ward of Windsor Castle precincts and is the resting place of 10 monarchs.

The remains of Henry VIII and the beheaded Charles I are entombed there, along with the bodies of the Queen’s parents, George VI and the Queen Mother.

A wreath sent by prime Minister Boris Johnson among the flowers outside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, Berkshire
A wreath sent by Prime Minister Boris Johnson among the flowers outside St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, Berkshire (Steve Parsons/PA)

Outside the grand chapel, wreaths were laid out from dignitaries, including one from Downing Street, which said: “In grateful memory of a man to whom the nation owes more than words can say. Sent on behalf of the nation. From the Prime Minister.”

Another wreath, a large display of daisies with a note saying simply “Daisy”, was from Queen Margrethe of Denmark who is known by the floral moniker.

Philip’s coffin was resting upon the Catafalque, which is made from wood and draped in purple velvet.

After a service which reflected the duke’s love of all things maritime and his lifelong association with the Royal Navy, The Last Post sounded, signifying that a soldier has gone to his final rest.