On Saturday, when the nation comes to a halt for the funeral of one of the last bona fide heroes of World War II, none of Prince Philip’s family will be dressed in military uniform.
Instead, his sons, daughter, grandsons and cousins - who are entitled by appointment or distinguished service to regimental or navy dress – will wear mourning garments: Tailcoats for the men and black crepe dresses for the women.
There will be no flash of ceremonial gold stripe nor a navy blue sash to be seen, no decorated flip caps to be raised and lowered as required by protocol and no spirited salutes.
So how did it get this far?
A delicate compromise was how it was seen in Palace circles last night, an attempt to avoid the possibility of another internal family feud.
But for many it will be less like a concession and more like a capitulation. Centuries of tradition have been overturned in the blink of an eye.
The reason? A matter of uniforms for two royal dukes.
The two dukes are, of course, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, both semi-detached from royal life, but both with a compelling grasp of military heritage.
On Saturday, when the nation comes to a halt for the funeral of one of its last bona fide World War II heroes, none of Prince Philip’s family will be dressed in military uniform.
The two dukes, Prince Andrew (left) and Prince Harry (right), are both semi-detached from royal life, but both have a compelling grasp of a military heritage
As the Daily Mail reported yesterday, Andrew – who has retired from official duties due to his friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein – had made it clear that he wanted to wear an admiral’s uniform, the rank he was given by the Queen at the age of 60. . birthday and which he offered to postpone at the time.
But while this has sparked unrest in and around the office of the Lord Chamberlain, who oversees the formality of the funeral, the main focus is on the position of the Duke of Sussex.
Harry’s decision to give up royal life and move to California with his wife Meghan and their son Archie meant he had to give up his treasured military honorary titles.
So this has opened the very real possibility that Philip’s grandson would have been the only senior male royal not in uniform at the warrior prince’s funeral.
It’s hard to escape the irony of this. Of all the people in Philip’s immediate family, only two – like him – had seen active service, his son Andrew and his grandson Harry.
In the 1982 Falklands conflict, Andrew was a daring helicopter pilot who flew dangerous decoy missions to lure deadly Argentinian Excocet missiles away from British warships. No one doubted his courage at the time and he left the Royal Navy after 22 years of impeccable service.
Philip’s sons, daughter, grandsons and cousins will be in mourning clothes: tailcoats for the men and black crepe dresses for the women
Harry showed bravery on not one but two tours of Afghanistan, once as an infantry troop leader on the ground and the second time around flying flights behind the wheel of an Apache helicopter. He too was selfless in his service.
Harry and Andrew – both second sons, remember, who have spent much of their lives as heirs to their older brothers – have been troubled by what they consider their exclusion from military affairs. How this has hurt; both hardened by battle, but crushed by disappointment.
Andrew has long maintained ties with other veterans and survivors of the South Atlantic conflict, while Harry turned his support for wounded soldiers into the Invictus Games.
No wonder this has triggered a crisis in the palace. Imagine the scene as the royals follow the coffin of the patriarch of the family down the hill on Saturday afternoon from Windsor Castle to the resting place at St George’s Chapel.
There’s Harry, and possibly Andrew, in civilian clothes next to Prince Edward, who left the Royal Marines just weeks after his grueling commando course, but who holds a handful of military honorary titles that allowed him to don a uniform, and Princess Anne, who also have a handful of Army and Navy appointments, but no service experience.
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry watch it fly by from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Color, Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday parade on 14 June 2014 in London
It is hard to imagine Philip saying he had never left the Navy, but was only on permanent leave and was anything but bothered by this extraordinary turn of events.
Here was a man, the youngest officer promoted to first lieutenant during the war, mentioned in reports during the Battle of Cape Matapan and a witness to the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, now denied the kind of broadcast, with his eruption of ceremonial color, he had been in charge so many times.
When the Queen Mother was buried in 2002, it was Philip who led the funeral procession in his Royal Navy ceremonial uniform. And it was the same in 1979, when Count Mountbatten of Burma, the uncle he lost at the hands of the murderous IRA, was sentenced to death.
He also wore a military uniform for the funeral of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.
And he certainly had expected nothing less in his own farewell: that those who were entitled to wear uniforms would. He might have helpfully argued that if Harry and Andrew could not wear the dress of the senior and honorary positions they held, why not the uniform of the ranks with which they left the service?
In the case of Andrew in 2001, it was as commander. Harry attained the rank of Captain, who was automatically promoted to Major upon retirement.
But Philip was also the great pragmatist of the royal family. Couldn’t he have guessed how much better he was if his funeral was a means of reaching agreement rather than dissent?