If Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has had a bad week, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and the second son of the Queen, can only be grateful that reports of multiple lockdown parties at 10 Downing Street have marginally overshadowed the latest developments in his own grubby performance as a high-profile member of the British ruling class. Prince Andrew, who is sixty-one, stands accused in a civil suit of having sexually abused Virginia Giuffre when she was a teen-ager, twenty-odd years ago. Giuffre’s suit alleges that she was pimped to Andrew by the prince’s former friend Jeffrey Epstein, the late convicted pedophile and sometime partner of the convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime pal of the Prince. Prince Andrew insists that he is innocent of all charges, and has sought by various legal means to escape the suit’s reach, with his lawyers most recently claiming that the terms of a settlement Giuffre agreed to with Epstein, in 2009, shielded Andrew, by extension, from further legal action. On Wednesday, January 12th, Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the case in New York, where it has been filed, rejected that argument, thereby denying Andrew the inglorious strategy of using a dead convicted sex offender as a human shield. Kaplan ruled that, short of a settlement, the case would go to trial later this year, leaving the Prince—in the coruscating phrase used by the Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to describe Boris Johnson, in the House of Commons on Wednesday—as “a man who has run out of road.”
In the wake of the judge’s ruling, the Prince was dealt another humiliation at home in the U.K. By the end of the day on Thursday, the Queen had stripped Andrew of his military roles and royal patronages, almost the last vestiges of his official royal privilege. In a two-sentence statement, Buckingham Palace announced that, “with The Queen’s approval and agreement, The Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to The Queen.” The demotion is surely a painful one for the Prince, a former helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy who spent more than twenty years in active military service, and who was, until this week, the honorary commander of eight regiments or units, including the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Grenadier Guards. It’s irresistible to dramatize the scene, as if from a forthcoming episode of “The Crown”: a sullen, jowly Andrew resentfully handing over a package of medals to his diminutive, regal mother, the commander-in-chief of the Army, Navy and Air Force, wreathed in maternal disappointment and unimpeachable rectitude.
Andrew had already stepped back from performing public duties as a member of the Royal Family, in the aftermath of a disastrous interview that he gave to the BBC, in late 2019, conducted with forensic aplomb by Emily Maitlis. In that stupefying attempt at self-exoneration, Andrew revealed himself to be both charmless and gormless. He claimed, variously, that he had no memory of ever meeting Giuffre; that he couldn’t have danced sweatily with her at Tramp, a night club for toffs, as she alleged, since he lost the ability to sweat during combat in the Falklands War, in the nineteen-eighties; and that he couldn’t have been with her on the occasion she cited, since he had that afternoon taken his two young daughters to the chain restaurant Pizza Express in the suburban town of Woking. This last outing was an occurrence so far beyond the realm of Andrew’s typical experience, he claimed, that it was indelibly memorable—apparently unlike his acquaintance with Giuffre, captured in a photograph taken at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell in which the Prince is shown with his arm familiarly encircling the young woman’s waist, and for which he has been unable to give any explanation.
The final severing of links between the Prince and the British military forces was conclusively determined by the outcome of Judge Kaplan’s ruling. But, even before this week’s events, objections to Andrew’s continuing tenure of his military roles had been building among military professionals, culminating in the issuance, this week, of an extraordinary open letter sent to the Queen. Signed by over a hundred and fifty veterans, the letter accused Andrew of having been for more than a decade “uncooperative and less than truthful” about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. “It is hard not to see, when senior officers are reportedly describing him as ‘toxic,’ that he has brought the services he is associated with into disrepute,” the letter read.
In addition to being stripped of his military titles, the Prince has undergone a further diminution in royal status: Buckingham Palace sources also let it be known that henceforth he would no longer use the honorific His Royal Highness, or H.R.H., in public. Being thus downgraded, Andrew joins the ranks of other royals who, for one reason or another, have lost this ultimate burnish: Princess Diana, who lost her H.R.H. after her divorce from Prince Charles; Andrew’s former wife, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, who lost hers after the Yorks’ own marriage foundered; Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who agreed to cease using their royal titles publicly after their self-sought exile from roles as working royals. Unlike Diana and Sarah, Harry and Meghan retain the honorific—and may, one assumes, address each other that way in the privacy of their Montecito home, should they so choose. Prince Andrew, too, remains an H.R.H., even if the title—like a regimental uniform tailored for a slimmer former incarnation—is no longer fit to be seen in public. The Prince will, the Palace noted in its brief announcement, defend the case against him as a private citizen.
The coming year promises to be a demanding one for the Queen. Next month will mark the seventieth anniversary of her coronation: her Platinum Jubilee. Earlier this week, a call was issued by Buckingham Palace for Britons to devise a recipe for a “Platinum Pudding” to be consumed nationwide during the Jubilee celebrations that are scheduled to be held this summer. Those festive plans will be preceded by a more sombre commemoration: the one-year anniversary of the death of Prince Andrew’s father, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died last April, at the age of ninety-nine. By the end of this tumultuous week in Britain, the public had been freshly reminded of the Queen’s conduct at her husband’s funeral, last spring, at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor: dressed in a black coat and black mask, she sat alone in the choir, in strict observance of social-distancing regulations then in effect. On Friday, the Telegraph reported that, the night before the funeral, staffers at Downing Street engaged in yet more boozy socializing, with one employee dispatched to a nearby supermarket to fill a suitcase with bottles of wine, and others migrating from a basement room to the garden for fear of spoiling the carpet with spillage. “While No 10 staff partied, the Queen was preparing to grieve alone,” the newspaper wrote.
With 10 Downing Street turning out almost to rival Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion on East Seventy-first Street for loucheness, the Prime Minister, despite being personally absent from his London residence while his staff were wheeling wine crates along Whitehall, remains embattled. After the latest news of revelries broke, Downing Street issued a statement saying that it had apologized to the Palace, and that it was “deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning.” Meanwhile, the Duke of York is receiving a stiff lesson in what it is to become slightly less entitled than one once was, His Highness having been brought low—and, with preparations for a trial in New York now definitively underway, heading, quite possibly, lower still.