She has, of course, been preparing herself for some time for the day Philip would no longer be there, but that doesn’t make it any easier. To her, they have spent an entire lifetime together.
Lilibet was, after all, only 13 when she first properly met him, and from that very moment, in the words of her oldest and closest friend Mrs Margaret Rhodes, she was ‘a one-man woman’.
So today, one can only try to imagine the depth of loneliness of the Queen without the man she married in 1947 and who, as she lovingly declared on their golden wedding anniversary, ‘has been my strength and stay all these years’.
It will be daunting for her to continue her reign without his companionship and advice, but reign she will. Nor is there any question of her withdrawing from public life in the manner of Queen Victoria after she lost her beloved Albert — the stricken Victoria was only 42.
How will she cope? She has, of course, been preparing herself for some time for the day Philip would no longer be there, but that doesn’t make it any easier. To her, they have spent an entire lifetime together
‘Obviously there will be a gap while she is getting over it,’ says a lady-in-waiting, ‘but she has faced the possibility in her own mind and the vows she made at the Coronation (“my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service”) are still with her.
‘The real Elizabeth is a very humble person. Her secret, that she divulged to me a very long time ago, is acceptance.’
What is likely to happen is that after the eight days of official mourning, with flags on major public buildings and military establishments — especially Naval ones given the Prince’s service in the Royal Navy — flying at half mast, the Queen will spend a further 30 days mourning in private.
After that — with that characteristic acceptance — she will quietly resume her official life.
But how will she cope? Philip, after all, may have been a dutiful step behind her in public, but in private he was head of the family.
He wore the trousers. Through the arduous round of official and often boring duties, there was always the energising Philip to return to.
One can only try to imagine the depth of loneliness of the Queen without the man she married in 1947. Pictured: Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in a wedding photograph
Lilibet was, after all, only 13 when she first properly met him, and from that very moment, in the words of her oldest and closest friend Mrs Margaret Rhodes, she was ‘a one-man woman’. Pictured: The couple during their honeymoon in Malta in 1947
She was never bored in his company, whether they were watching the Antiques Roadshow or re-runs of The Two Ronnies, as they increasingly did in recent years, or dining together, just the two of them, on simple fare at Buckingham Palace when they were free of their engagements.
Philip was the one who paved the way for her at so many functions when — surprisingly, really — she still often has to gather herself before plunging into a room full of people, knowing all eyes will be on her.
Philip’s role, when he recognised the signs, was to ‘take over’ and make sure everything went off smoothly. His method was simple: he made people laugh.
Indeed, he told the distinguished artist Michael Noakes, who has painted the Queen several times, that he could make people laugh ‘in 15 seconds’. That made them relax, and that relaxed the Queen. He was the ice-breaker.
But the fact is, in the four years since Philip stepped back from official duties, she has become accustomed to fulfilling official life on her own. What is perhaps more surprising is how, when off duty, she has equally grown used to life without Philip.
The Queen waves from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, with the Duke by her side, after her Coronation in June 1953, with their children Prince Charles and Princess Anne
It will be daunting for her to continue her reign without his companionship and advice, but reign she will. Pictured: Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh smile as they arrive at Baldonnel Airport in 2011 for their historic trip to Ireland
Philip’s role, when he recognised the signs, was to ‘take over’ and make sure everything went off smoothly. His method was simple: he made people laugh. Pictured: Philip and the Queen at the Royal Highland Games at Braemar in September 2003, in front of Tony and Cherie Blair
In recent times, he had preferred to remain at Wood Farm, the couple’s bolthole on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, which he has turned into a homely retreat. What we can be certain of is that Philip’s death has not come as an immense shock to the Queen.
‘She has been prepared for it,’ said an old friend. ‘She also has her faith to sustain her. It is central to her life and it means she looks confidently forward to the time when she and he are reunited.’
But in these early months, the Queen will need someone to take on that ‘warm-up’ role when she returns to work. For only a Queen can understand that peculiar kind of regal loneliness.
If anyone can fill that void it will be Princess Anne, so like her father, sharply focused and sharing his confident manner, and witty in a way seldom displayed in public. She has always been closer to the Queen than most people realise, and will now spend more time by her mother’s side.
In recent years, the Queen has increasingly turned to her only daughter, especially since suffering the double blow of losing her closest confidantes — her mother, and her sister Margaret — in the space of six weeks in 2002.
But for his humiliation over the Epstein scandal, Prince Andrew might have found his role enhanced alongside a mother who has always indulged him. But until the shadow of the allegations surrounding his involvement with Virginia Roberts are lifted, that seems very unlikely.
But the fact is, in the four years since Philip stepped back from official duties, she has become accustomed to fulfilling official life on her own. Pictured: The monarch at her last engagement on March 31
Then there’s Prince Edward. At a time of such sadness, how consoling it must be for the Queen to know that her husband’s title Duke of Edinburgh — given to Philip by George VI on their wedding day — will, in time, settle on her youngest child. Fitting, too, as Edward has taken over the running of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards.
The youth achievement scheme that Philip founded in 1956 has become a world leader, operating in 140 countries, and for some years leading up to Philip’s retirement, Edward had been playing a shadow role alongside his father.
As for Prince Charles, in recent years, as his parents moved towards and into their 90s, he had already assumed a ‘chief executive’ role in the Firm, and the Queen will look to him more than ever now for leadership.
‘She has been prepared for it,’ said an old friend. ‘She also has her faith to sustain her. It is central to her life and it means she looks confidently forward to the time when she and he are reunited.’ Pictured: Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in November 2020
The last photograph of Philip with the Queen was in November 2020, where the Duke and Queen looked at their homemade card, given to them by their great-grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis for their 73rd wedding anniversary
He will take on even more of his mother’s official duties, dispensing honours at Palace investitures, receiving ambassadors and perhaps even reading the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament — a task performed by the Lord Chancellor on the only two occasions of her reign when she couldn’t do so because she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and later Prince Edward.
Talk of a regency, however, are premature. In the months before Philip’s death it was being suggested that when the Queen reaches the age at which Philip retired — 95 — she, too, would stand down, allowing Charles to assume the role of Regent.
Yet friends insist that unless she is incapacitated by ill health she will not. As for the immediate future, the Queen will spend less time at Buckingham Palace and base herself increasingly at Windsor Castle, the place where she has always felt most at home. She is bound also to want to spend more time at Balmoral, a place of many happy memories of family barbecues presided over by Prince Philip.
Memories, of course, are everywhere, many of them noted in the diary that she has kept since she was a girl, updating it every day, last thing at night.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex and wife of Prince Edward will now assume a greater significance in the Queen’s life. She is the companion of choice when the Queen rides, so gently these days, mainly at Windsor (pictured together in 2019)
Whatever private thoughts and observations, fears and expectations she puts in it, we do know that it is so detailed in assiduously recording events and incidents that friends such as the late Mrs Rhodes, when writing their own memoirs, have turned to her for help with facts, and been ‘sorted out’.
Two other women, neither of them born royal, will also now assume a greater significance in the Queen’s life.
One is Sophie Wessex, the middle-class former PR girl daughter of a tyre company salesman who became Edward’s wife. The other is three-times-married Angela Kelly, whose father was a crane operator at Liverpool docks.
Sophie is a very good listener. Angela, the Queen’s former dresser turned all-powerful personal assistant, is her ears below stairs. She tells her things.
Now 56, the Countess of Wessex has become the easy company to whom the Queen turns for a quiet chat about nothing in particular. She is the companion of choice when the Queen rides, so gently these days, mainly at Windsor.
This is a very special relationship, especially since Sophie’s mother, Mary, died in 2005.
As for Angela Kelly, who makes the clothes the Queen wears, it became clear that preparations for the future were being made when her grace-and-favour house was changed several years ago from London to Windsor, where it soon became a frequent refuge for the Queen. More than ever now.