I tend to stay away from the York family, and for good reason. With the exception of Princess Eugenie’s wedding last year, all too often the stories swarming around them are pretty negative. This week is no different in light of news that disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested, bringing back into the spotlight his longstanding relationship with the Queen’s second son, the Duke of York.
For the more casual royal watchers, let’s catch up. The Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is long-rumored to be her favorite child. Once upon a time, he attracted headlines for his string of girlfriends and military service, but his star rapidly dimmed as the 1980s wore on. In 1986, he married Sarah Ferguson, and with her had two daughters, Princess Beatrice (b. 1988) and Princess Eugenie (b. 1990). The couple separated in 1992 following the publication of photos showing Sarah (“Fergie”) cavorting on the beach with her American boyfriend, an act which earned her the still-burning enmity of her ex-father-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, if rumor is to be believed.
Divorcing from the Royal Family is tricky, particularly if you had hitherto been working on their behalf. The late Diana, Princess of Wales was well-taken care of in her own divorce thanks to the fact that 1) the Prince of Wales has more money than his brother, 2) Diana was the mother of a future king, and 3) her reputation basically demanded it. There was also a fourth reason, which is that it would have been unseemly for Diana to have to go “make money.” That common sense didn’t extend to Fergie, and she was basically left out in the cold, putting her in the position of seeking all sorts of commercial deals and other money-making schemes embarrassing to the Royal Family.
My sympathy ends right about there, since among her attempts have been a tell-all book that leaned heavily on her relationship with Diana and selling access to her ex-husband. Whether Andrew knew what Fergie was doing beforehand remains open to debate, though Buckingham Palace denies it. She also regularly gives cringe-inducing interviews and was completely bizarre on social media when Eugenie’s engagement was announced. Simply put, she remains tone deaf to the extreme.
But Fergie is the lesser of two evils, since at the end of the day, she’s not a member of the Royal Family anymore. Andrew is. He’s been accused of abusing his one-time position as the UK’s Special Trade Representative, cultivating relationships with corrupt individuals abroad, abusing royal perks, and, of course, maintaining a friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender.
In 2011, a woman claimed to have been groomed by Epstein while still a minor and to have had inappropriate engagement with Andrew. The Palace denied this, however they can’t deny that Andrew met the woman in question since there’s a photograph of them circulating in the ether. The claims came just days after Andrew and Epstein were photographed walking through a park, and were followed by news that Epstein paid Fergie £15,000 at Andrew’s request. Fergie confirmed that this was true as part of a private arrangement to help her reduce her debts.
It’s worth calling out that despite Epstein’s now-ongoing legal issues, Epstein has been a convicted sex offender since 2008, which means that the Queen’s second son entered into and publicly touted a friendship with him knowing that full well.
A few months later it was relayed that Andrew cut ties with Epstein…news then trumped by reports that Fergie had been selling access to him, and then added to with fresh accusations of inappropriate international meetings, including with Colonel Gaddafi’s son. In response, he was removed as the UK’s Special Trade Representative.
The Epstein issue was re-raised in 2015 via testimony from the same woman in a Florida-based civil case. Lawyers requested that Andrew provide a statement under oath, which (as far as we know) was ignored. Eventually, a judge ruled that allegations against Andrew had to be removed from public records.
Epstein has now been arrested and charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors, which to-date has nothing to do with Andrew…however there’s quite a bit about their relationship that remains unknown, and given the history of allegations, may well include him at some point. In the meantime, Andrew has continued to position himself as closely as possible to the throne. He’s always been a fixture at his mother’s elbow, but his public presence has significantly increased since his father retired from public duties in the summer of 2017. His daughter’s wedding last year was a big media moment for the Yorks, and with that has come increased scrutiny that he means to re-marry Fergie, perhaps after his father’s death. Then, let’s not forget his rumored displeasure at his brother’s plan to streamline the monarchy, effectively punting the Yorks into oblivion.
So, where does all of that leave us? With a minefield. Andrew is said to have promised his mother in the spring of 2011 that there’s no truth to claims he engaged women (or girls, as the case may be) in Epstein’s circle, but even if you accept his word, there’s still a distinct possibility more damaging information will come tumbling out. That’s a problem because this is more than just a “scandal” – it’s a matter of whether an extremely senior member of the family who regularly represents the Queen knowingly engaged in illegal activity. And if he didn’t, then there’s still the question of his judgment, which is at best deeply flawed.
Unfortunately, the best case scenario is what’s already happening – Andrew’s name and former relationship with Epstein being repeatedly referenced in news stories throughout the UK and the U.S.
As such, it’s no small surprise that Charles seeks to focus the spotlight on him, his wife, and his sons and daughters-in-law. The worst controversies they’re ginning up is splitting up The Royal Foundation, which is child’s play in comparison.
This leaves us with whether it makes sense for Andrew to continue playing the role that he is. It’s long been accepted that the Queen has a blind spot for her second son and that issue will be eliminated once Charles takes the throne, but a lot has changed since 2015…namely significantly less tolerance for men who take advantage of their privilege and power at the expense of women. Epstein’s arrest has basically lit a match among a bunch of dry leaves, and I sincerely hope someone within Buckingham and St James Palaces has a game plan, because Andrew’s time may well be up.