In stripping her son of his titles, Her Majesty did what was necessary to protect the institution – a decision her grandmother also faced.
It was with customary understated efficiency that the Queen delivered Prince Andrew’s final humiliation on Thursday, as the prospect of a civil trial in New York developed from a headache for the Royal family into a thumping migraine.
After a judge ruled that a settlement deal which his accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, had made with Jeffrey Epstein did not release the Duke, 61, from an unsavoury court battle over allegations of sexual assault – allegations that he vehemently denies – the guillotine was brought down on the his royal career in a 90-minute meeting with his mother.
Stripped of his military affiliations and royal patronages, Andrew is no longer able to use his HRH and now, as a private citizen, must defend his case without the bullet-proof protection of the palace.
It must have been unbearable for the Queen in the twilight of her impeccable reign, and preparing to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee, to have had to choose between being a monarch or a mother. Yet, her decision should come as no surprise.
Although it is often said that Andrew is her favourite child, the regal code of duty – country first, familial devotion second – is imprinted in her DNA. Like her grandmother, Queen Mary, who overrode her own maternal instincts to save the monarchy at the time of Edward’s VIII’s abdication in 1936, the Queen, now 95, will do whatever necessary to preserve the institution to which she has pledged her entire life.
It is no exaggeration to say that the reputational damage of Andrew’s staggeringly ill-advised friendships with convicted paedophiles Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell looks set to shake the foundations of the monarchy with force not seen since the abdication crisis in 1936.
Queen Mary responded to her eldest son’s decision to give up the British throne for American divorcee Wallis Simpson with granite resolve. She simply could not understand his dereliction of duty. As Edward wrote in his memoirs, for his mother: “the monarchy was something sacred and the Sovereign a personage apart.”
So deeply hurt was Mary by her son, and the decisions he made, that despite sending him a birthday gift every year, she was unable ever to welcome him back into the familial fold.
Queen Mary explained her attitude to the Duke of Windsor in a letter written in July 1938. “You will remember how miserable I was when you informed me of your intended marriage and abdication and how I implored you not to do so for our sake and for the sake of the country….I do not think you have ever realised the shock, which the attitude you took up caused your family and the whole Nation.”
She concluded: “My feelings for you as your Mother remain the same, and our being parted and the cause of it, grieve me beyond words. After all, all my life I have put my Country before everything else, and I simply cannot change now.”
That our Queen faces a similar tension, more than 80 years on, could appear to be a case of royal history repeating itself. And with an uncanny echo, Andrew follows his great uncle Edward into exile from royal life. Although he will remain holed-up in Windsor, as opposed to living abroad, the curious netherworld between his background of privilege and alien status as a private citizen is sure to prove no less easy to navigate than it was for the Duke of Windsor.
The problem when royals become mere mortals is that they suddenly find themselves with little to give ballast to their lives. Andrew first had a taste of exclusion from The Firm in November 2019; in the wake of public outrage at his car-crash Newsnight interview, he issued a statement saying that he was stepping down from life as a working royal due to his “ill-judged” association with Epstein. If he ever entertained the idea that he might make his way back to public life, it seems certain he will never return to the packed itinerary and pump-handling (as Edward referred to it) of royal engagements.
After the abdication, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were stunned when it became clear to them that their previous existence was unrecoverable. “They are like people after a cataclysm or a revolution, valiantly making the best of infinite luxury,” said the writer James Pope-Hennessy. Alas, far from a sybaritic future, it was Prince Andrew’s money problems that drew him into multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s vile orbit in the first place. Just as Edward was obsessed with never having enough money, Andrew now has huge legal bills and security costs to foot.
It will be interesting to see if Andrew accepts his non-royal fate ad infinitum or whether, like the Duke of Windsor, he pesters Charles for leniency once he becomes king. This seems unlikely, as Andrew is not rumoured to be close to his eldest brother and it is believed that Charles and William – both future kings who favour a slimmed-down monarchy for its survival – worked in concert with the Queen to decisively remove Andrew from royal life. It was heartbreaking for the Duke of Windsor when his brother, King George VI, instructed the switchboard at Buckingham Palace to stop putting Edward’s calls through.
Where Andrew is more fortunate than Edward is that privately he has remained close to the Queen. Since the death of Prince Philip, last April, he has been the most frequent visitor out of her four children. There is no doubt that the Duke loves his mother and is embarrassed by the scandal and shame threatening to engulf her jubilee year, having apparently already understood that he could play no public part in the celebrations.
And in a reversal of fortunes for his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York – from whom he has been divorced for 26 years but still lives with in Royal Lodge – the Queen is grateful to her ex daughter-in-law, of whom she has always been fond, for her support.
Queen Mary, by contrast, refused to ever meet Wallis Simpson, and hurt her son by retaining this intransigence until she died. Still, Wallis, who was married to Edward for 35 years, remained utterly loyal both to her husband and the Crown. She never once spoke out against the Royal family and held a reverence for the Queen, who showed tremendous kindness to her at the Duke of Windsor’s funeral.
Similarly, Sarah, despite not having spent a Christmas with her daughters since her divorce in 1996, when she was banished from Sandringham by Prince Philip, has never spoken ill of the family. She has endlessly praised the Queen, explaining that she understands royal protocol.
She once showed me kindness, too. When I was writing my book on Wallis Simpson, I wanted to go to Royal Lodge and sit in the drawing room where Edward and Queen Mary had their last evening before the abdication. Sarah arranged this for me. She was away at the time, so we were welcomed one Saturday afternoon by the Duke of York and some podgy Yorkshire terriers.
Andrew was an affable host. Royal Lodge is a complete shrine to his ex-wife. Every surface is crammed with photographs of her, a paean to their once gilded family life.
Unlike the Windsors, who were unable to have children, Andrew and Sarah have Beatrice, 33, and Eugenie, 31 – and now grandchildren, too. The princesses have said nothing in public. In private, insiders say, they are mortified. Beatrice, in particular, is said to be “absolutely devastated” that her 18th birthday ball was besmirched when a photograph came to light of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell standing in the Windsor grounds.
Prince Andrew’s legal team are expecting to discover, possibly as early as this weekend, which members of his family will be asked to give evidence under oath. It could well be the case that Beatrice will be called, given her father gave a party he had taken her to at Pizza Express, Woking, as his alibi on the night of one of Giuffre’s alleged assaults.
Yet, like Wallis and Edward, the Yorks are tight-knit, loyal to their core. As other royals distance themselves over the dark days that lie ahead for Andrew, they may be all he has.