Bells won’t ring in Westminster Abbey on 19 February to mark the 61st birthday of Queen Elizabeth’s second son, Prince Andrew, due to coronavirus restrictions, Newsweek reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
"There won't be any bell ringing at least until March and even then it would be very dubious I would have thought,” an Abbey insider revealed.
The ringing silence would be particularly noticeable this year following a backlash the Abbey came into last February after the bells jingled to celebrate the prince turning 60. But the occasion was far from conventional, as just three months beforehand, the Duke of York stepped down from his official royal duties after he publicly spoke to BBC’s Emily Maitlis about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
During the interview, the prince defended the association and tried to clear himself from accusations that he had sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, Epstein’s “masseuse”, on at least three occasions while she was still underage. British popular opinion did not find his excuses convincing enough.
Despite the prince’s disgraced departure from his palace roles, his birthday was 'loudly' celebrated in Westminster Abbey, which is directly supervised by the Queen.
According to Nigel Cawthorne, author of the biography Prince Andrew, Epstein and the Palace, the Government also requested local councils to mark the occasion last year, something he said had caused “an enormous uproar”.
“In the end it didn't happen, though the bells of Westminster Abbey did ring,” Cawthorne told the Daily Express.
The event produced a wave of discussions that the bell-ringing ceremony should only be employed to celebrate birthdays of the Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George. But a schedule for ringing events, revealed during this summer, still included a mention that the bell-ringing for the Duke of York was still planned for February 2021.
"Although the Queen is the supreme governor of the Anglican church, she cannot tell the churches what to do on her own. The exception is Westminster Abbey, which falls directly under her responsibility,” Cawthorne explained.
He believes that it would be “a major sign of displeasure” if the Queen had failed to ring the bells in her second son’s honour this year, however, the coronavirus pandemic had intervened.
With a record number of 60,916 daily COVID cases recorded in the UK on Tuesday following the discovery of a new, a more transmissible strain of coronavirus, the country has now entered a third wave of lockdown, effectively forbidding outdoor outings and public events.
"Following the latest guidelines from the Church of England and the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, ringing at the Abbey by our volunteer bell ringers is currently suspended during the coronavirus outbreak,” the Abbey website reads.
As anti-COVID measures are expected to run through February, the royal family will not face a tough choice on whether to direct or not direct the London’s Collegiate church to ring in Prince Andrew’s 61st. However, it remains unclear whether it would have been the case if it wasn’t for the pandemic, as reports have emerged that the prince was planning a return to public duties at some point in the future.