His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh died on 9 April aged 99. Today Parliament will meet to pay tribute.
This Insight looks at this afternoon’s proceedings, Prince Philip’s constitutional role and arrangements for his funeral on Saturday.
Tributes in Parliament
Under Standing Order 13, the Prime Minister last week requested a recall of the House of Commons for tributes to be paid to Prince Philip. The Speaker said it was in the public interest to do so.
The motion put forward by the Prime Minister moves that a humble address be presented to Her Majesty expressing the:
Heartfelt thanks of this House and this nation for [Prince Philip’s] unfailing dedication to this Country and the Commonwealth exemplified in his distinguished service in the Royal Navy in the Second World War; his commitment to young people in setting up The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a scheme which has touched the lives of millions across the globe; his early, passionate commitment to the environment; and his unstinting support to Your Majesty throughout his life.
There is a precedent for a recall following the death of a senior member of the Royal Family. In 2002, MPs were recalled during the Easter recess to express their “deep sympathies and condolences” to the Queen upon the death of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
Constitutional role and titles
Prince Philip had no constitutional status, but as the longest-serving royal consort in British history, he had a significant role in UK public life.
Philip was granted the style and title of Royal Highness on 19 November 1947. The following day, he was created Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich.
These peerages were hereditary and have now passed to The Prince of Wales. When Prince Charles succeeds to the throne, these and his other titles will revert to the Crown. In 1999 it was announced that Prince Edward would be granted the title Duke of Edinburgh.
Philip was introduced to the House of Lords on 21 July 1948. He remained a member until most hereditary peers were expelled from the Upper House on 11 November 1999. Philip sat as a crossbencher, but does not appear to have given a maiden speech. He and other royals were offered life peerages in 1999 but declined.
Philip was also a member of the Privy Council, and his death leaves The Queen as the only surviving member to have been appointed by King George VI. The then Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten were sworn of the Council on 4 December 1951.
Following the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, Sir Winston Churchill proposed making Philip “Prince Consort” (a position held by Prince Albert while married to Queen Victoria). Another suggestion was that he become “Prince of the Commonwealth” or “Prince of the Realm”. Despite widespread discussion between the UK Government, Buckingham Palace and members of the Commonwealth, none of these proposals were granted.
Modernisation of the Monarchy
Instead, Philip was made a Prince of the United Kingdom by Letters Patent (a written order) by the present Queen, dated 22 February 1957. A declaration on the same day stated Her Majesty’s will and pleasure that her husband be known as “His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.”
Prince Philip has been identified as an influential figure in the modernisation of the monarchy since 1952. He chaired the Queen’s Coronation Committee, arguing for it to be televised, he presented several television programmes and, in 1969, supported the idea of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, broadcast as “Royal Family”.
Prince Philip was also clear that a constitutional monarchy could only exist with popular consent. Visiting Ottawa in 1969, he observed that it was:
a complete misconception to imagine that the Monarchy exists in the interests of the Monarch – it doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people…if, at any stage, people feel that is has no further part to play, then for goodness sake let’s end the thing on amicable terms without having a row about it.
Period of national mourning and funeral
A period of national mourning began on Friday and will continue until the end of Saturday 17 April. Union and other official flags flying from royal residences and government buildings were half-masted on 9 April and will remain so until 8am on 18 April.
Plans for the funeral at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, are in line with Prince Philip’s personal wishes. It will be a ceremonial royal funeral, the same as for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, rather than a state funeral, which is generally reserved for monarchs. It will begin with a national one-minute silence at 3pm.
The Queen will resume her public duties after 30 days. One of the Monarch’s first public engagements is likely to be the State Opening of Parliament due to take place on 11 May 2021. Prince Philip accompanied the Queen to the State Opening on several occasions between 1952 and 2016.
About the author: David Torrance is a researcher at the House of Commons Library, specialising in devolution, monarchy and religion.
Photo by UK Parliament on Flickr.