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A muted mourning for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s longtime consort, as Covid-19 changes funeral plans

Gun salutes took place across the United Kingdom and in Commonwealth countries on Saturday in tribute to Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband for more than seven decades, who died on Friday at the age of 99.

Tributes have flooded in from the UK and abroad for Philip — known officially as the Duke of Edinburgh — who was the UK’s longest-ever serving consort, a term used for the husband or wife of a reigning monarch.

Saluting batteries fired 41 rounds, at one round per minute, at Windsor Castle where the duke died, as well as by the Tower of London in the capital and at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, among other locations. Australia, a Commonwealth nation, also paid its respects with a gun salute outside Parliament House in the capital, Canberra, on Saturday morning.

The duke had recently spent a month in two London hospitals, undergoing heart surgery and treatment for an infection, before returning in mid-March to Windsor Castle.

The duke’s death will be marked in a somber fashion, as the royal household and UK government have asked the public not to gather or leave flowers at royal residences, as the country remains under strict Covid-19 restrictions.

The College of Arms, which oversees many ceremonial aspects of the royal family’s work, said in a statement Friday that the funeral would be held at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, in line with the duke’s wishes, and that he would not receive a state funeral or lie in state, which could have seen thousands of members of the public lining up to view his coffin.

CNN understands that plans for royal funerals have been in place for many years, but ceremonial elements have had to be altered due to the pandemic. Current Covid rules limit the number of people who can attend funerals to 30, and original plans for public processions for the duke may not go ahead

Paying tribute in a televised statement, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the duke had “earned the affection of generations here in the United Kingdom, across the Commonwealth, and around the world” and had lived by an ethic of service.

“Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the royal family and the monarchy so that it remains the institution indisputably vital to the balance of our national path. He was an environmentalist, and a champion of the natural world, long before it was fashionable,” Johnson said.

But the duke was also a controversial figure. For many Britons, his defining characteristic was not his public service but his off-the-cuff and often offensive comments, including some that were undeniably racist.

The BBC said Friday it was receiving complaints about too much air time dedicated to the duke’s death, after the public broadcaster canceled hours of its usual programming to make way for wall-to-wall coverage of Philip’s life and death.

The BBC set up a dedicated feedback form within hours of the news from Buckingham Palace because of the high volume of complaints.

The special coverage had meant some of the UK’s most-watched shows, including soap opera EastEnders and the final of cooking competition MasterChef, were taken off air.

A low-key funeral

Philip’s death comes as many across the country and the world grieve the loss of loved ones during the Covid pandemic, and restrictions mean the usual mass expression of grief won’t be possible.

Just a few dozen bunches of flowers were seen outside Windsor Castle on Saturday, as people have been urged to stay away from royal residences in line with Covid-19 regulations, and to make charitable donations instead.

After the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, huge banks of bouquets were left by well-wishers outside Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle and elsewhere.

More than 200,000 people filed past the coffin of the Queen Mother — who preceded Philip as royal consort — as she lay in state in April 2002, and many thousands lined the streets to pay their respects as her funeral procession passed.

More funeral arrangements for Philip are expected to be confirmed by Buckingham Palace on Saturday, according to a royal source.

“The funeral arrangements have been revised in view of the prevailing circumstances arising from the Covid-19 pandemic and it is regretfully requested that members of the public do not attempt to attend or participate in any of the events that make up the funeral,” the College of Arms statement added.

But there will be other signs of mourning. Players in the English Premier League will wear black armbands, and “there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off at all Premier League matches … across the weekend,” the organization has announced.

An online book of condolence was launcghed on the royal family’s official website, as they joined the British government in asking that “members of the public consider making a donation to a charity instead of leaving floral tributes in memory of the Duke of Edinburgh.”

The bells of London’s Westminster Abbey, where Prince Philip married Queen Elizabeth more than 70 years ago, rang 99 times on Friday evening in his honor, while the British flag — the Union Jack — is flying at half-staff on government buildings.

Tributes to a life of service

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, said Prince Philip would be “greatly missed” in a statement following news of the death of Harry’s grandfather.

Posted on the front page of the couple’s Archewell charity website, the message simply reads: “In loving memory of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, 1921-2021. Thank you for your service … you will be greatly missed.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said the “whole nation will be united in sadness at the passing of Prince Philip,” adding he should be recognized “as a remarkable and steadfast support to the Queen over so many years” but also “celebrated in his own right as a man of foresight, determination and courage.”

Tributes for the duke also flooded in from all over the world, including the Commonwealth nations of India, Australia and Canada. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had had a “distinguished career in the military and was at the forefront of many community service initiatives. May his soul rest in peace.”

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Philip “embodied a generation that we will never see again.” Canada’s Justin Trudeau said: “Prince Philip was a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others. He will be fondly remembered as a constant in the life of our Queen.”

US President Joe Biden said Philip had “gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK, the Commonwealth, and to his family,” and that his legacy would live on “not only through his family, but in all the charitable endeavors he shaped.”

‘Constant strength and guide’

Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, following distinguished service in the Royal Navy during World War II. Together, they had four children — Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward — eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

When Elizabeth ascended the throne in February 1952, on the death of her father, George VI, Philip’s lifetime of service as royal consort began.

Over the decades, Philip often accompanied the Queen on royal engagements, and conducted thousands of his own solo appearances. He once referred to himself as “the world’s most experienced plaque unveiler,” while the Queen lauded him as her “constant strength and guide.”

Philip continued making public appearances well into his 90s, retiring only in August 2017.

He was seen in public only infrequently from that point, notably at the Windsor Castle wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018, and at the nuptials for Princess Eugenie in October 2018 and for Princess Beatrice in July 2020.

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