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RICHARD KAY's remarkable portrait of the Queen as a widow

She’s left Buckingham Palace for Windsor, is allotting mementoes from Philip to family, writing to friends on black-rimmed cards… and a ‘soft’ new regency by Charles has already begun. RICHARD KAY’s remarkable portrait of Her Majesty as a widow

They had spent their last weeks ‘reminiscing like mad’, sifting through family photographs and old cine camera film which the duke had had digitised.

Mostly they just chatted, especially after Philip’s return from hospital when his failing health meant he slept for much of the day.

Only once did they seriously disagree when the Queen suggested they might look at some of her husband’s oil paintings. Philip firmly refused.

But for the Covid pandemic which had brought them together in a protective bubble at Windsor, these precious moments might have been denied to them. Until last year, they had almost got used to not being together.

One day, not long after Prince Philip’s retirement and when he was living alone at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate, the Queen had remarked to one of her Windsor staff: ‘Do you know, I haven’t seen him for six weeks.’

They had spent their last weeks ‘reminiscing like mad’, sifting through family photographs and old cine camera film which the duke had had digitised, writes RICHARD KAY of the Queen and Prince Philip

Anyone who reaches the Queen’s great age must brace themselves for personal loss. And it is certainly true that she had been preparing herself for some time for the day Philip would no longer be there — not that it made it any easier when that moment came on Friday of last week 

Anyone who reaches the Queen’s great age must brace themselves for personal loss. 

And it is certainly true that she had been preparing herself for some time for the day Philip would no longer be there — not that it made it any easier when that moment came on Friday of last week.

For so long that phrase ‘my husband and I’ had been synonymous with the Queen and the loyal consort always at her side. 

Now, and for the rest of her life, she will reign alone — and many wonder what kind of monarch she will be for these twilight years of this second Elizabethan age.

The last widow on the throne was Queen Victoria but she was just 42 when Prince Albert died and for several years grief turned her into a virtual recluse.

As keenly as Philip’s death is felt, there will be no such lengthy period of public sorrowing for the Queen. Indeed there is every chance she will resume official engagements sooner rather than later.

But as we are discovering this will be a form of royal mourning unlike any other. 

Earlier this week the Queen returned to duty to pay a formal farewell to her lord chamberlain of the past 15 years, Earl Peel, when he returned his instruments of office.

And yesterday she carried out two more engagements on Commonwealth business, an electronic audience with the Canadian premier Justin Trudeau and the Governor-General of Australia, David Hurley.

There will be change, however. Much will depend on Prince Charles and Prince William who already have accumulated many of the Queen’s duties and will take on more. 

Charles, for example, is now keeping an eye on the running of the Duchy of Lancaster, the ancient estate of land, property and other assets from which the Queen’s private income derives.

One day, not long after Prince Philip’s retirement and when he was living alone at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate, the Queen had remarked to one of her Windsor staff: ‘Do you know, I haven’t seen him for six weeks’

Now, and for the rest of her life, she will reign alone — and many wonder what kind of monarch she will be for these twilight years of this second Elizabethan age

As keenly as Philip’s death is felt, there will be no such lengthy period of public sorrowing for the Queen. Indeed there is every chance she will resume official engagements sooner rather than later 

Both the Prince of Wales and his son have also been involved in the so-called ‘bridge meetings’ with senior palace staff who are overseeing this next chapter in the Queen’s life.

One thing is certain: Windsor now will become the centre of royal life. 

Staff have been told that the castle will be the Queen’s permanent home (barring Christmas holidays at Sandringham and summers in Balmoral) and that while she will return to work at Buckingham Palace, it is unlikely she will ever spend another night there. 

Queen finds comfort with her corgis: Monarch is seen for first time since Philip’s death as she drives to Frogmore Gardens to take her two new puppies for a walk on eve of his funeral

The Queen drew comfort ahead of her husband’s funeral by walking her corgi and her dorgi this afternoon as it was revealed she is ‘bearing up well’ despite grieving Philip after 73 years of marriage.

Her Majesty, 94, who was seen for the first time since his death, drove her green Jaguar X-type through the grounds of Windsor Castle, where the Duke of Edinburgh will be laid to rest at St George’s Chapel tomorrow.

In a poignant scene, a single Queen’s Guard stood to attention as the monarch drove away with her two puppies from the castle towards Frogmore Gardens, close to where her grandson Prince Harry is believed to be self-isolating at Frogmore Cottage.

It came as an emotional Prince Edward, his wife Sophie and their 17-year-old daughter Lady Louise Windsor arrived at Windsor to support the Queen and inspect floral tributes left for Prince Philip by mourners outside the church where he will be laid to rest tomorrow.

MailOnline can reveal that Her Majesty is ‘bearing up well’ as today she personally signs-off on the final preparations for her husband’s funeral having ordered William and Harry not to walk shoulder to shoulder behind their grandfather’s coffin when he is laid to rest.

The estranged brothers are both in the small party of close family members – all male apart from Princess Anne – who will follow the Duke of Edinburgh’s body, but they will be separated by their cousin, Peter Phillips, on the eight minute walk from Windsor Castle to church.

If weekly audiences with the Prime Minister are permitted post-Covid to resume, this means Mr Johnson will have to travel from Downing Street to Windsor, while ambassadors and high commissioners may also have to present their official credentials there too.

But to smooth diplomatic channels this is one function that with the greater authority conferred on Charles, he may take over and handle himself from Buckingham Palace. 

One thing the Queen won’t do is step down in favour of her son; there are no plans for a regency. 

But the virus which forced the Queen and Prince Philip to retreat from public life for long periods shielding at Windsor with a small staff known as HMS Bubble, has meant adjustments.

Tellingly it was Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall who carried out the first royal engagement this year, visiting a hospital named after his mother. 

Was this the beginning, perhaps of a soft regency in which the Queen does not technically stand down but Charles takes on ever more of her responsibilities?

In one of his few public comments on this controversial issue the prince has insisted his mother should only retire in the event of mental or physical incapacity. 

‘Queen Victoria in her 80s was much loved, more known, more revered than at any time in her reign,’ he told the writer Kenneth Harris. ‘Much would have been lost had she stepped back before her prime.’

He might easily have been talking about his mother. As for the Queen, the constitutional expert Dr Robert Morris once said: ‘As long as she can raise her hand or twitch an eyebrow, that should be enough.’ 

And in the sunset of her reign it is certainly the case that she has seemed more accessible, more witty and more wise than perhaps at any time.

Nothing illustrated her unique ability to divine the mood of the nation better than that televised broadcast she made in March last year with the country gripped by fear of the pandemic.

Her message of reassurance and calm was down to her innate sense — born of long experience — of what to do and say. 

And then there is humour. Just the other day she brought laughter to a group of scientists during a Zoom meeting after they asked her what Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was like when she met him 60 years ago. 

‘Russian,’ she deadpanned before breaking into a smile.

Inevitably, with the death of Philip, Britain is tiptoeing towards thoughts of a new reign.

The funeral today, choreographed by her late husband but tweaked by the Queen to avoid rancour – the instruction for mourners not to wear military uniforms to avoid a furore over Prince Harry, for example – will reflect that changing order.

 For the Queen Philip’s absence will be profound. In the days and weeks ahead the goodwill and gratitude that people feel for her personally after nearly 70 years on the throne will perhaps be her greatest comfort

One thing is certain: Windsor now will become the centre of royal life. Staff have been told that the castle will be the Queen’s permanent home 

While she will return to work at Buckingham Palace, it is unlikely she will ever spend another night there 

The funeral today, choreographed by her late husband but tweaked by the Queen to avoid rancour – the instruction for mourners not to wear military uniforms to avoid a furore over Prince Harry, for example – will reflect that changing order 

The minute-by-minute arrangements for Prince Philip’s funeral on Saturday have been revealed and are shown above, starting at 11am and finishing just after 3pm

Intriguingly, over the course of lockdown many of Her Majesty’s private papers have been brought from London to Windsor and this will now include personal possessions.

For the next month at least the Queen will draw on a supply of black-edged writing paper for all her correspondence, in line with royal tradition, and just as she did after the death of the Queen Mother in 2002.

There will be a lot of letters of condolence to acknowledge. The postbag is said by staff to be huge and growing every day.

She will wear black clothes and observe court mourning — but not for long. One idea among courtiers is of an exhibition to highlight the Duke of Edinburgh’s contribution to the life of the nation. 

This could mean those fabled oils he was reluctant to look at again being put on show.

What won’t change, of course, will be the royal in-tray. 

The fallout from Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal life amid their incendiary claims of racism and the unsettling future of Prince Andrew over his friendship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Even after his retirement and unwillingness to be directly involved, Philip was a consoling figure in all these dramas.

Sustained by her deep faith, she will doubtless be a study in regal composure throughout today’s sad event. 

Although she has spoken to her children and grandchildren this week, she has spent much of the time alone.

For the next month at least the Queen will draw on a supply of black-edged writing paper for all her correspondence, in line with royal tradition, and just as she did after the death of the Queen Mother in 2002

But this has been her choice and it has allowed her to have moments of prayer in the private chapel, barely a minute’s walk down the Green Corridor from her rooms, where Philip’s coffin has rested.

For now everything is as it was just over a week ago. But in time there will be activity in the suite of rooms which adjoins her as an inventory is compiled of her husband’s property, uniforms and clothes. 

‘I think she will want to keep a lot of familiar things in place which seems only natural,’ says a source.

Practical as ever Philip had handled much of this sorting out himself in recent years, checking through papers he felt should go to the Windsor archive and destroying those that should not.

‘He always said she must carry on and I am sure that is exactly what she will do,’ says a lady in waiting. 

There are bequests to arrange, special mementoes that Philip has left not just for his children and grandchildren but also for members of his German family, who will be represented at the funeral.

Princess Anne, for example, is said to have been earmarked a painting of her with her father during a Cowes regatta week. 

There will be decisions to take over Philip’s devoted servants who the Queen acknowledges made her husband’s final years the comfortable retirement he had deserved. 

Some will retire while others will be offered positions elsewhere in the royal household.

And when it comes to conducting herself, there is a template, that of the Queen Mother.

She, of course, was a widow at 52 with decades of life ahead of her. The loss of her husband also meant the surrendering of her status as Queen and the trappings of monarchy.

One of the first things she did was to buy her own home, the Castle of Mey, which became a refuge in her grief. 

Then at the urging of her daughter, who so badly needed her guidance and of the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the Queen Mother put aside personal desolation to continue with her life of service and duty. 

Somehow it seems unlikely Boris Johnson will be asking the Queen to resume work. She will do so anyway.

But on a personal level, Philip’s death robs her of the man who was not just her husband, confidant and wise counsel but also her gatekeeper. 

‘Who now will protect her when Prince Andrew comes asking for more money?’ says one of her long time aides.

‘When the Queen complained out loud of her children, ‘Why do they always bring their troubles to me?’ Philip always stepped in.’

Theirs was a relationship quite unlike any other. When her children and adult grandchildren come to call, it is always with formality — a kiss and a curtsy or a bow, even in private. Only Philip put his arm around her.

In this last year, brought together because of the covid crisis and before Philip’s most recent illness, they were as close as they had been for years.

For one palace aide who found himself called in to wait on the couple because of staff shortages caused by the pandemic, it was an eye-opener. 

‘They bickered with one another. It was sweet but so unexpected. On one occasion I heard the duke say ‘Oh do shut up you silly woman’ and the Queen replied ‘I am not a silly woman, I am the Queen!’

‘I couldn’t believe my ears but I was told this was how they always were with one another.’

Often at this time of year, a week ahead of her birthday, the Queen liked to slip away from the formality of Windsor for Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed, to stay with Jean, the dowager Countess of Carnarvon.

Often at this time of year, a week ahead of her birthday, the Queen liked to slip away from the formality of Windsor for Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed, to stay with Jean, the dowager Countess of Carnarvon

But her death two years ago was one of a number of close friends who have passed away in recent times. 

In the past year alone she has lost Lady Mary Colman and Lady Elizabeth Anson, both cousins and both close friends, and Lady Vestey, Prince Harry’s godmother.

Two new companions, a gift from a family member, however, have become close friends — her dogs Fergus, a corgi-dachshund cross and Muick, a pure bred corgi, pronounced Mick and named after a loch on the Balmoral estate.

Later today if she is not too tired she will don headscarf and raincoat and take the dogs for a short walk. For years it has been her way of coping with domestic misfortune and great unhappiness.

Constitutionally the death of Prince Philip changes nothing. His death is not the end of a reign even if it does, momentarily, feel like it. 

But it does signal the start of a change. Losing your beloved partner of 73 years would be a blow for anyone let alone a woman of almost 95 who has to go on being monarch.

For the Queen Philip’s absence will be profound. In the days and weeks ahead the goodwill and gratitude that people feel for her personally after nearly 70 years on the throne will perhaps be her greatest comfort.

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