This Saturday’s funeral rites for patriarch and Britain’s official Grand Old Man will be filled with much protocol—not the least of which will be the British armed forces’ celebrated roles within the Windsor Castle walls. But, much to the detriment of the ceremony and to its historical role and meaning, one thing we will not see is Prince Philip’s direct male heirs in uniform.
Neither Princes Charles, William, Edward, nor certainly and more pointedly, Harry or Andrew, will be in military dress, it was announced late on April 14. All will be in mufti. It’s those last two members of the family who have driven the decision, reportedly reached by the Queen herself late in the day.
That Prince Philip thought himself a Navy man to the end of his life is perhaps best evidenced by an hilariously dry barb he tossed upon being asked an innocuous question more than a half-century in, that he was, as the lifelong consort to the Queen, on “leave” from his Navy job. Philip didn’t just look the part of a Navy officer, he was one, and a pretty fair one at that, gauging from his war record in the North Sea, where he chased Hitler’s submarines, in the Mediterranean, where he participated in the landings on Sicily, and in the Pacific, where he witnessed, from his ship in Tokyo Bay, the surrender of the Japanese onboard the USS Missouri. Deeply attached to his service, and a graduate of the naval academy at Dartmouth, he was a completed man: The work inhabited him, and he it, for the rest of his life.
Philip’s funeral on Saturday will be a largely military circumstance, as befits the man. He will, according to his carefully-worked plan, be buried in naval dress, his coffin will be borne by various honor guards, and the ceremony will feature drills and tattoos by favored regiments from all services, whose connections to the Duke of Edinburgh are long standing. Charles, Anne, and Edward have not served in the military, but each of them bear a host of close long-standing military patronages that permit military kit.
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Prince Philip’s two direct descendants that do have sterling military records — who are also combat veterans with longstanding connections to their units as well as to many other military units — are, of course, the princes Andrew and Harry. For very different sets of reasons, both Andrew and Harry present problematic figures for the royal family and for the courtly administrators of the funeral to put in uniform at any official royal family engagement, let alone one of Saturday’s extreme rarity and gravity. Until late on the evening of April 14, therein lay the rub.
The Queen’s decision came late in the day on the 14, but it was nevertheless swift and, in its way, mercilessly democratic. From the outside, the decision that the entire family will appear in civilian, albeit formal, day dress may seem just another of the thousands of entertaining protocol curlicues that will be in play on Saturday, but it signifies much that is worth decoding, and the deliberations behind it were not small or taken lightly.
Because: The decision represents an acknowledgement by the family and its courtiers charged with the program that the various dilemmas presented by the continued, uneasy and frankly strange status of the princes Harry and Andrew matter, and not just on Saturday, but for the future. A military uniform means an active, working royal. Whatever their future status may or may not be, Harry and Andrew are not now empowered to send that signal.
That the entire family will be in mufti at the celebration of its most military patriarch — effectively brought about by his only two direct descendants with solid combat records, who were, also, both combat helicopter pilots — is, also, one of the several ironies that the ceremony will bear. The ironies have piled up because at the heart of the uniform debate lie the life choices and difficulties that, in their distinct ways, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry have each laid before the Queen.
In that way, the considerations leading to the Queen’s decision are instructively tangled. A strong quotient in the Queen’s decision would be that very concern for the future, aka, in royal protocol, the thorny concept of “precedent.” While the monarch as well as her spouse, the honoree and the architect of much of Saturday’s ceremony, would have very much wanted the entire family to show up in full regalia, the precedents of allowing two offically “retired” members of the family back into the uniforms that they are expressly no longer allowed to wear would not have sent the best signal to the country, and it would have reversed the decisions the monarch has made to date.
For his part, Harry proved hard to put in uniform for his recent actions in actively kicking away from the family. Not the least of these moves was the March 7 Oprah Winfrey interview, which not only aired during Philip’s long hospitalization preceding his death, but it also aired during the month in which Harry’s long-scheduled status review of his life within the royal family was slated. Among the many messages that the Oprah Winfrey interview sent to London, in effect, the broadcast also sent the concrete message that Harry and Meghan Markle would not be engaging in any slated review process with Buckingham Palace. Harry stated as much to Oprah Winfrey on camera, saying generally that he and Meghan Markle could see “the writing on the wall” concerning how that review process would be going.
The Queen, Charles and Buckingham Palace’s immediate response to the announcement of the broadcast was to strip Harry of his remaining patronages, of which the most dear was his title as Captain General of the Royal Marines, a post given to him upon Philip’s retirement in 2017. Bottom line: Harry has plenty of uniforms left in his closet that will mean a lot to him, but none he could wear legitimately, to an official function, that bears any live, current connection to a military unit. That is the minimum requirement for a British royal in uniform. There has to be some working connection to the unit. In Harry’s case there is none left.
What that meant in terms of his grandfather’s funeral was that he’d — yet again — be the odd man out: Both his brother and his father would be in uniform.
Andrew’s retirement from public life has been more of a gradual groundhog-esque fading operation back into his burrow, as opposed to the more energetic, jousting exercise of Harry’s kicking back from the family in California. As part of the heavy defenses built around Andrew’s heavy retreat, it was reported that Andrew asked to be able to wear Navy dress — that of his current honorary rank, a Vice-Admiral — to his father’s funeral.
But Andrew’s most uncertain status — within the royal family — in light of Ghislaine Maxwell’s upcoming trial, his ongoing lack of cooperation with the FBI, and his denials in the public relations swirl surrounding Jeffrey Epstein present problems of a different order to the monarchy. Militarily speaking, Andrew left the British Navy to become a full-time working royal, but his connections to and involvement with the Navy remain close, and he continued to receive ceremonial ‘promotions’ to mark various occasions, including on his birthdays, to reinforce and to celebrate the connection. Like his father, Andrew was a Navy man, and until 2019, when Jeffrey Epstein opened the Pandora’s box of his past by committing suicide in detention, the British Navy, Buckingham Palace, and Andrew were happy with that.
On his 55th birthday in 2015, Andrew was made an honorary Vice-Admiral. On 60th birthday last year, he was slated to be kicked up a rung, to that of Rear Admiral, but since his birthday arrived after his disastrous televised BBC interview that triggered his retirement, he was pressured to “defer” the honorary promotion until such time as it would be deemed appropriate to accept it. It would not do for the Palace to be seen promoting one of its admittedly favored sons while he is under accusations of the sort that Epstein victim Viriginia Roberts Giuffre has leveled at Andrew. In that deferral lay more than just Andrew’s retirement from public duties, however temporary or permanent that may turn out to be. In it lay a great gulf of ambiguity around the question of whether Andrew will be allowed back into the fold of public life in Britain at any point in the future.
The unflinching “democracy” element in the Queen’s decision to have the entire family appear in mufti subtracts from Andrew’s chances of a return. He won’t be happy with it, since he spends quite a lot of his time nursing hopes of a comeback. But his mother’s decision was, also, a statement of beneficence, providing a bit of camouflage for both Harry and Andrew as well as for Buckingham Palace: If these two would “stand out” in civilian clothes — as they certainly would if Charles, Edward, and William were in military dress — then it is better for the monarchy for all in question to put the scarlet tunics with their blue flashings and gold braid back into the closet.
The benefit of this for Buckingham Palace is quite sophisticated — it is the absence of a negative. Bluntly put, it is far better not to point out, with the powerful semaphore of uniforms or the lack thereof on different heirs’ backs, that there are pressing problems among the living on this day of honoring the dead.