LONDON – Buckingham Palace said Saturday that Prince Harry would be returning to the UK for Prince Philip’s funeral this coming weekend to spark feverish speculation over whether the reunion would fix fences in the royal family or sow deeper discord.
The visit, Harry’s first since stepping down as high-ranking king last year, will force a meeting with his brother, Prince William, and father, Prince Charles, whom Harry said in an explosive interview last month was in one trapped in unhappy palace life. But Harry will be traveling without his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who, according to palace officials, would stay at the couple’s California home by order of the doctor because she is in the latter stages of pregnancy.
For weeks while the world waited for Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Harry and Meghan last month, many British eyes were on the health of Philip, Harry’s grandfather, who had been hospitalized with heart disease.
The newspapers pictured Prince Charles getting out of bed of Philip, his father, in February – the son’s eyes bloodshot as he was evicted. Harry and Meghan have been scourged for comments about leaving their royal roles, which critics found indecent in the face of Philip’s illness. “Don’t you have any respect?” yelled the Daily Mail.
This period of national concern about Philip’s health brought sympathy to the royal family during an unusual dusting off within the institution that 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. Among the first acts of the post-Philip era was the announcement that Harry would attend his grandfather’s funeral, slated for April 17, a scaled-down ceremony that palace officials said would be limited to 30 people.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will not be among them: in order not to take a family member’s seat, Mr Johnson will not attend, his office said on Saturday.
No question bothered royal watchers more than whether Harry would make peace with his brother, Prince William, after a month-long feud.
“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 hospitalization created an uncomfortable split screen with Buckingham Palace defenders attacking Harry and Meghan for doing anything that could harm the patriarch’s health.
In her interview, Meghan referred to Philip’s illness after Mrs 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.
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 on Friday as a reminder of the glue that held Britain to its monarchy for so long.
“Like the seasoned coachman that he was,” said Mr Johnson of Philip outside Downing Street, “he has helped steer the royal family and monarchy so that it remains an institution conducive to 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.
In keeping with Philip’s preference to avoid fuss, as well as Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings, he will not be in the state, a ceremony where the public should have seen his coffin. The 30-person limit for his funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle was in line with state restrictions and forced him to cut back a guest list that would normally be several hundred people.
Palace officials said Saturday that his coffin would be carried around the palace grounds in a Land Rover. The plans for the television ceremony that Philip approved a few years ago have been scaled back because of the pandemic.
Members of the royal family and military personnel will take part in the procession.
Gun salutes marking Philip’s death were fired from cities in the four nations of the United Kingdom and at sea on Saturday. This tradition goes back centuries. In London, among other things, 13 pounder field guns from the First World War were fired, which were also fired at the wedding of Philip and Queen Elizabeth II in 1947.
Prince Charles also offered a video tribute to his father.
“My dear papa was a very special person who I think would have been amazed most of all by the reaction and touching things that were said about him,” he said in the tribute received from his Highgrove home was filmed in the southwest from England.
While Philip’s service in the British Navy during World War II, he was credited with devising a plan in 1943 to save the lives of crew members when they were shot at by German bombers.
Harry told James Corden, the talk show host, about video chatting with his grandfather and Archie during the lockdown in late February when Philip, instead of pressing the red button at the end of the call, opened the lid of the laptop.
Travelers to England need to self-isolate, although private coronavirus testing can shorten it. Harry’s representatives said he would follow the protocols.
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 think 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.
If the Queen is Britain’s head of state, commentators say, Philip was the head of the royal household. He has been credited with giving television cameras an early glimpse into the private life of the family 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, he wounded Charles, his eldest son, with frequent disparities. And while Philip took upon himself to steer the family through marital problems, he was blamed in part for the palace’s seemingly reluctant response to grief over the death of Charles’ wife Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in Paris in 1997.
Geneva Abdul and Stephen Castle contributed to the coverage.