The royal flag didn’t fly half-mast for Diana, and it wouldn’t for Prince Philip either
Twitter was on fire with wild rumours and speculation over the health of Prince Philip ahead of an emergency meeting called by the Queen’s most senior officer (it turned out to be just Philip retiring from public life).
One of the most popular ones was that the Royal Standard, the flag representing the monarchy that flies outside Buckingham Palace, was at half-mast in sign of respect and mourning for the death of Philip:
The rumours are Prince Phillip has died. Buckingham palace flag is at half mast.
— Crystal (@CostellCostello) May 4, 2017
Many people and media outlets pointed out that it wasn’t actually flying half-mast, posting pictures outside the palace. No death in the Royal Family then, you might think. But there is more.
Those reports are actually misleading because, as noted by British commentators, the Royal Standard is NEVER flown at half-mast — unlike the Union Jack, for example.
It would be inappropriate for the Royal Standard to fly half-mast because it represents the Monarchy, which is continuous.
Rumours about the flag at Buckingham Palace being flown at half-mast. The Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast, but the Union Jack is.
— Sarah McPhee (@_SarahMcPhee) May 4, 2017
I think the worst rumour from this Buckingham Palace stuff is that the flag was at half staff. The Royal Standard does not fly at half staff
— Ned Donovan (@Ned_Donovan) May 4, 2017
It’s not half-mast even in the case of the Queen’s death, as there is always a sovereign on the throne. Prince Charles will automatically become King upon the Queen’s passing.
The Royal Standard, which takes precedence over all other flags in the United Kingdom, is flown when the Queen is in residence in one of the Royal Palaces, on the Queen’s car on official journeys, and on aircraft.
“If the Royal person is to be present in a building, the Lord Chamberlain’s Department or the Royal person’s private secretary should be consulted. They will advise on the flag to be flown,” says the UK’s National Flag Charity.
After Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the Royal Family was criticised for refusing to fly the flag at half-mast over Buckingham Palace.
The Queen was not in the palace at the time. She was staying at Balmoral in Scotland, therefore no flag was displayed.
To calm the controversy, the Queen proposed to fly the Union Flag, for the first time, at half-mast from Buckingham Palace during the Princess of Wales’ funeral.