THE Duke of Edinburgh was described at his memorial service on Tuesday morning as a “man of faith” who could not be understood apart from that aspect of his life.
The service in Westminster Abbey was attended by the Queen — despite fears that she would not be mobile enough — and other members of the royal family, in a congregation that was about 60 times the size of that assembled for his funeral in Windsor during the lockdown restrictions (News, 23 April 2021).
It filled the Abbey and included many European crowned heads, the Prime Minister and other parliamentarians and public figures, and representatives of the many charities of which Prince Philip was a patron.
The Dean of Windsor, the Rt Revd David Conner, in his short address, described Prince Philip’s “intriguing and attractive” personality, and said: “We do not understand the man unless we see him, at the heart, to be a man of faith.”
Bishop Conner said that Prince Philip’s motto, inscribed on a brass plate on his stall in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was simple: “God is my help.”
The Duke’s faith was “never dogmatic, sentimental, or paraded, and, as it went in search of understanding, was frequently questioned and examined”, the Dean said, but the Duke’s faith was “real and it endured, inspiring and shaping a lifetime of commitment to the making of this world a better place”.
Prince Philip would, however, “hate to think that I should paint a picture of him as a plaster saint”, the Dean said. The Prince could be “abrupt” and “somewhat sharp in pricking what he thought to be bubbles of pomposity. . .
“Like the rest of us, he was part of flawed humanity. Unlike most of us, however, he was one of those rare people who remained true to, and guided by, what you might call ‘an inner spiritual compass’; a sense of being called to play a part in the making of a God-intended world.”
His faith “was a heartfelt trust in a loving God whose intention for this world is glimpsed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ; such trust, such hope, as could unite people in a common endeavour”.
The Dean referred to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) scheme, founded in 1956, as an example of Prince Philip’s devotion to “a host of down-to-earth enterprises”. The service included a tribute from Doyin Sonibare, a holder of a Gold DofE, who said that the scheme had given her the confidence and experience to do things that “I never thought I could do”.
Before the service, there had been speculation about whether the Queen would be there, given her apparent reluctance to use a wheelchair.
A small crowd of onlookers waited outside the Abbey, hoping to witness her arrival, while among the reporters seated inside there was confidence that she would attend: police outriders had, apparently, been spotted at the Palace.
There was a growing sense of expectation among the congregation as the clock ticked down. Then the bells were silenced, the organ music swelled, and six liveried trumpeters took their places before the sanctuary.
On television, viewers watched as the Queen entered through Poet’s Corner, holding Prince Andrew’s arm. Most in the abbey itself, however, could only assume from the fanfare that she had arrived — unless they were among those keeping an eye on their phones.
The service began with the first of several rousing hymns, “He who would valiant be”, and a bidding prayer in which the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd David Hoyle, spoke of the Duke’s “life of willing duty and spirited service”.
Readings by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Isaiah 40.25-31) and the Bishop of London and Dean of the Chapels Royal (Philippians 4.4-9) were separated by William Byrd’s setting of the Prayer Book collect “Prevent us, O Lord”. Everything was in traditional Prayer Book language.
Bishop Conner’s address was followed by the Britten Te Deum in C, to which the Jubilate commissioned by Prince Philip, sung at his funeral, was composed subsequently as a companion piece.
The Minister of Crathie and the Rector of Sandringham were among the clergy who led the prayers, which concluded with the General Thanksgiving. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the blessing.
Reminding the BBC before the service of the Duke’s dislike of services that went on longer than necessary, the former Archbishop of York Lord Sentamu suggested that if people went “on and on and on and on” at the memorial service, the Duke would probably say: “You could have done that in two sentences.”
The service of thanksgiving was done and dusted in 45 minutes: time enough for six chukkas in Prince Philip’s beloved sport of polo.