The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Image of Queen Elizabeth II sitting alone at Philip’s funeral breaks hearts around the world

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip, the man who had been by her side for 73 years. (Jonathan Brady/AP)

LONDON — It was an image that broke hearts as it was televised to the world: Dressed all in black, her head bowed, Queen Elizabeth II sat isolated and alone inside the chapel of St. George’s as the royal family gathered under stringent coronavirus restrictions to say goodbye to Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

After 73 years of marriage and a loving union that saw her husband often by her side or two steps behind, the British monarch cut a lonely figure as the coffin entered the venue. To many she appeared vulnerable — perhaps for the first time in a long reign that has frequently seen her hailed as a pillar of strength in the country throughout myriad crises and periods of darkness.

Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family bade farewell to Prince Philip on April 17 at a funeral that celebrated his seven decades of service. (Video: Reuters)

On social media, many said they were heartbroken and deeply saddened at scenes of the monarch sitting by herself during the funeral, while others said the images were a nod to her strength of character — as a woman, wife and queen.

The image of a family forced to gather as a small group to say goodbye to a loved one is a shared experience in the brutality of the coronavirus pandemic: Millions of families around the world have had to honor their loved ones under stringent rules and regulations that are designed to keep people apart.

“A reminder of how this pandemic has changed all our lives. The Queen sits alone, with a mask on, as she says farewell to her ‘strength & stay’ for so much of her life,” read one tweet, while others hailed the monarch’s bravery in the face of grief.

The term “seeing the queen” trended in the United Kingdom on Saturday as many wrote about their feelings at seeing her majesty grieving and isolated as a result of covid-19 restrictions. “Seeing The Queen sat alone, head down, is just heartbreaking,” tweeted journalist Dan Whitehead.

“I suspect the majority of the country is thinking of the queen today,” one self-proclaimed royalist told a Washington Post reporter outside Buckingham Palace on Saturday.

As the funeral ended, some watchers said they had never seen the queen, who usually dresses so colorfully, look so somber and dejected.

For Saturday’s service, the monarch wore all black — including a dark face covering and black gloves. Her mourning outfit was a stark contrast to the usual outfits the public is accustomed to seeing her in. The queen, who is considered by some as a style icon, frequently wears colors such as powder blue, luminous greens and bright yellow.