LONDON – As the world waited for Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex last month, many Britons’ eyes were on someone else: Prince Philip, Harry’s grandfather, who had been hospitalized with heart disease a few weeks earlier was.
The front pages of British newspapers in February featured Prince Charles getting out of the bed of Philip, his father, his son’s eyes bloodshot as he was evicted. The Daily Mail castigated Harry and Meghan for comments about their departure from royal roles, which the tabloid described as disrespectful in the face of Philip’s illness. “Don’t you have any respect?” yelled a headline.
This period of national concern about Philip’s health brought sympathy to the royal family during an unusual dusting off within the institution, which brother versus brother when Harry accused his family of racism and emotional abandonment in an interview with Mrs. Winfrey.
With this conflict still raging, Philip’s death on Friday at the age of 99 opened a new and uncertain chapter in the turbulent life of the House of Windsor. It has the potential to repair fences or sow deeper discord.
Especially in the minds of royal watchers, the private funeral planned for Philip is planned. Will Harry reunite with his brother, Prince William, after a month-long feud? Will Meghan participate?
“Harry will come home and a meeting between the brothers and maybe, with luck, a reconciliation over their dead grandfather might be a possibility,” said Penny Junor, a royal historian.
“It will go one way or the other,” said Ms. Junor. “There is a kind of war going on in the family that is fought out in public. It was everything the family doesn’t want. “
The warming of these tensions during Philip’s hospital stay created an uncomfortable split screen with Buckingham Palace defenders attacking Harry and Meghan for doing anything that could harm the patriarch’s health.
In the couple’s explosive interview, Meghan referred to Philip’s illness after Ms. Winfrey asked about regrets. She said she woke up that morning to find out that Philip had been hospitalized.
Even so, she and Harry offered a painful account of their lives in “The Firm,” the family institution that Philip tried to preserve for much of his life.
They said family members have raised concerns about how dark the skin of the couple’s then-unborn child, Archie, would be. Meghan said her mental health efforts had been rejected by palace officials who were concerned about possible harm to the monarchy. And Harry said that his own relatives were “trapped”, speculating aloud whether they too were grappling with painful thoughts.
The comments echoed across the UK, sparking open conversations about racism and the country’s colonial heritage. Philip’s own history of bigoted utterances has often been cited as an example of anachronistic attitudes that have been claimed to prevail within the family.
Harry was so concerned about how the interview would affect Philip and Queen Elizabeth II that he contacted Ms. Winfrey shortly after it aired.
“He wanted to make sure I knew, and when I had the opportunity to share, that his grandmother or grandfather wasn’t part of those conversations,” she told CBS News, referring to the comments on Archie’s skin color.
The interview was barely featured in wall-to-wall coverage of Philip’s death on UK news channels on Friday. And for some in the country, it was a time to leave the royal turmoil of the past few months behind.
“Obviously there was so much scandal over the Meghan and Harry thing,” said 18-year-old Lottie Smith, who heard of Philip’s death on a train ride to London on Friday and came to Buckingham Palace to pay her respects. “I think his death will somehow leave that alone now.”
Her friend Catherine Vellacott, 19, stepped in in hopes that she “might unite the nation more”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson saw it that way too. He tossed Philip’s death as a reminder of the glue that held Britain to its monarchy for so long.
“Like the seasoned carriage driver that he was,” said Mr Johnson outside Downing Street on Friday, “he has helped steer the royal family and monarchy so that they remain an institution that promotes balance and happiness is undeniably important to our national life. ” ”
Even so, the greatest test of whether Philip’s death can reunite his warring family seems likely to come at his funeral.
According to Philip’s wishes and the Covid-19 restrictions for large gatherings, he will not be in the state, a ceremony where the public should have seen his coffin. His funeral at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle will be private.
A government website said Friday that a period of mourning would last eight days and end with a funeral on April 17th, but those details were later deleted. Buckingham Palace is expected to announce the final arrangements in the coming days.
As for Harry, UK news outlets reported that he was preparing to make the trip from California, where and Meghan live, for the service. It’s not clear if Meghan, who will give birth to the couple’s second child this summer, will attend.
Mandatory self-isolation periods for anyone traveling to England could make reunification difficult, although there are ways to cut quarantine if they pay for private coronavirus testing upon arrival.
Few elements of the conflict between Harry and the rest of his family have tormented the British as much as his strained relationship with William, with whom he was once very close.
“If there is a gathering at the funeral and the boys, the brothers, can talk to each other and forgive and forget, then I believe the hope is that Philip’s death could end something that might otherwise have been going on for decades,” said Ms. Junor, the historian, who wrote, “The Company: The Troubled Life of House Windsor. “
“But that hasn’t happened yet, and it can’t happen,” she said. “I definitely hope so.”
Royal commentators suggest that although Philip had stepped down from his busy public schedule in recent years, he continued to play an active role in major problems faced by the family, with Harry and Meghan departing.
The Queen is the UK’s head of state, but analysts say Philip served as head of the royal household for a long time. He has been credited with giving television cameras an early glimpse into the family’s private life in the 1960s and introducing efficiency improvements at Buckingham Palace.
Still, his administration of the royal household was not without its difficulties. Known for cracking the whip and delivering confrontational messages, he also wounded Charles, his eldest son, with frequent disparities.
He has also been partially blamed for the family’s seemingly reluctant response to the country’s grief over the death of Charles’ wife Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in Paris in 1997.
However, the British looked at him forgivingly on Friday.
Beverley Pilkington, a self-described royalist from Crystal Palace in south London, traveled to Buckingham Palace to pay her respects – but without her two daughters, whom she said refused to join. Palace guards had posted a note of Philip’s death on the gates, only to be removed a short time later as a precaution against the formation of a crowd.
“He has a turbulent past,” Ms. Pilkington said of Philip. “But in death you just have to forgive.”
Geneva Abdul contributed to the coverage.