Lying in state tradition broken for duke who disliked fuss

Philip was not interested in his own legacy.

The Duke of Edinburgh
The Duke of Edinburgh

The fact that there was never – in a break with tradition – due to be a lying in state for the Duke of Edinburgh is typical of the kind of man he was.

Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, such an event, attracting thousands of people and requiring a mass police presence, would have been unthinkable.

Philip could never bear a fuss and his own wishes will have played an important part in the funeral plans being put into place.

“He doesn’t see himself as important enough for that,” an aide once said when asked about the duke’s opinions on lying in state.

The Queen and Philip
As the Queen’s consort, Philip would have been entitled to lie in state (Bruce Adams/Daily Mail/PA)

Uninterested in his own status, Philip was also unconcerned with his own legacy.

When asked once about The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, he remarked brusquely: “Legacy? … It’s got nothing to do with me. It’s there for people to use. I couldn’t care less.”

The honour of a lying in state has been bestowed upon the last three sovereign’s consorts.

Both the Queen Mother, the wife of George VI, in 2002 and her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, the wife of George V, in 1953, lay in state in the vast, medieval Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster.

Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII, lay in state in Westminster Abbey in 1925.

Queen Mary's lying in state
The coffin of Queen Mary rests on the catafalque at the lying in state in Westminster Hall, London, in 1953 (PA)

During a royal lying in state, the coffin is draped in a royal flag, usually a personal standard, and rests on a catafalque – a decorated platform, covered in purple cloth, flanked by military guard around the clock.

In 2002, an estimated 200,000 people turned out to pay their respects to the Queen Mother, filing slowly past her coffin, which lay in state for more than three days in Westminster Hall.

Queues stretched at their longest across Lambeth Bridge and all the way along the South Bank to Southwark Cathedral, with people being warned to expect a wait of up to 12 hours at peak times.

After the Queen Mother's death
The queue to view the coffin of the Queen Mother in 2002 doubled back on itself all along the South Bank between Westminster and Lambeth bridges (Ben Curtis/PA)

At one stage, the Queen Mother’s four grandsons, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Earl of Wessex and Viscount Linley, stood guard in honour of the royal matriarch – a tradition which has been called the Vigil of the Princes.

On the Queen Mother’s coffin was her priceless coronation crown, set with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a hand-written message from her daughter the Queen, “In loving memory, Lilibet”.

Like Philip, Queen Victoria insisted she did not want a public lying in state.

When she died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in 1901, a semi-private lying in state was arranged for three days to allow Victoria’s servants and friends to pay their respects.

The Prince of Wales stands vigil beside the Queen Mother’s coffin while it lies in state at Westminster Hall
The Prince of Wales stands vigil beside the Queen Mother’s coffin while it lies in state at Westminster Hall (PA)

Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, also insisted she did not want to lie in state, stating that it would not be “appropriate”.

Philip was always a practical man and his thinking may have also been to limit both the disruption and the costs incurred following his death.

The Queen Mother’s lying in state is estimated to have cost the Houses of Parliament about £825,000, in addition to policing costs.

The Duke of York meeting the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, who served refreshments to the public queuing to view the Queen Mother's coffin
The Duke of York meeting the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, who served refreshments to the public queuing to view the Queen Mother’s coffin (PA)

Such were the numbers of people waiting that Scout volunteers were called in to help and the London Ambulance Service issued warnings to people to wrap up warm and bring a hot drink.

The first monarch to lie in state in Westminster Hall was King Edward VII in 1910, as did two prime ministers – William Gladstone in 1898, and Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, which attracted hundreds of thousands of people.

There was even a lying in state for the abdicated Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, whose coffin stood in the nave of St George’s Chapel in Windsor for two days in 1972.

Churchill's lying in state
The lying in state of Sir Winston Churchill (PA)

In 1930, there was an unusual lying in state in Westminster Hall for the 48 victims of the R101 Airship disaster.

The experimental rigid British airship caught fire as it crossed northern France, killing all but six of the 54 people on board.

There was no lying in state for Diana, Princess of Wales, who was not an HRH when she died, nor a sovereign’s consort.

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