After a morning of speculation and anticipation – and a somewhat surprising announcement that Prince Philip is stepping down from Royal duties – The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attended the Order of the Merit Service at St. James’s Palace.
National and international news crews covered the Monarch and Consort’s arrival at St. James’s Palace for the church service, eager to see the Duke following the news.
Word came after reports that an ’emergency’ staff meeting was to be held at the palace, with staff from all royal households, including Balmoral, Sandringham and Holyrood in attendance. This sense of urgency caused Twitter speculation, including false reports that the Prince had passed away.
At 11am, about an hour after the news, The Queen and Prince Philip arrived at their scheduled engagement.
95-year-old Philip was looking ‘just as sharp’ as usual as he accompanied The Queen. They were joined by a number guests including playwright Tom Stoppard at the Chapel Royal, where the service started at just after 11.30am.
The service is a gathering of all those who have received the order for ‘great achievement’ in the fields science, learning, literature and the arts. The service for the order is held every two years; in 2015 this took place at Windsor Castle. The dress code for the meeting is rather relaxed, with members required to wear a lounge suit and the red and blue enamel badge that makes up an eight-pointed cross surmounted by the Imperial Crown.
The back of the badge has the words, ‘For Merit’ in golden lettering. However, the badges are only on loan from the palace. Once a member of the order passes away, the badge is returned to Buckingham Palace, for it to be re-awarded to a new member.
The Order of Merit was founded in 1902 by Edward VII and members are chosen by the Sovereign. Previous members of the order have included Edward Elgar, T. S. Eliot, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa.
Following the service, the Royal couple joined guests for lunch, where one guest said to the Duke: “I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down.”
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His Royal Highness replied with his usual wit: “Well I can’t stand up much longer!”
The Queen and the Duke then posed for a photograph with members of the order.