Well. Let’s start at the end and work our way back, shall we? A couple of hours ago the Duke of York released a statement that the Queen gave her assent to a request that he be allowed to step down from royal duties for the foreseeable future. This news comes on the heels of several days’ worth of blistering coverage of his recent sit-down interview with the BBC on his former friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
My thought? Good.
The intention of Andrew’s interview last weekend was to “set the record straight” on the barrage of negative press he and the Queen have faced since this summer. And make no mistake, the Queen is absolutely being tarnished by the fallout. Part of that is because she ill-advisedly decided to show her tacit support for Andrew in August by riding with him to church on the Balmoral estate. And part of that is because she’s shown him blind leniency for over a decade in the wake of mounting evidence that he’s criminally stupid, and maybe even just criminal.
Because Andrew is Andrew, the interview failed to achieve its mission. Instead it showcased a man who is unspeakably arrogant, narcissistic, and again, once more for the people in the back, stupid. Perhaps worst of all, he showed absolutely zero remorse or empathy for Epstein’s victims. Well, that might not be fair: he did seem very sorry for himself, and he clearly identifies as a victim.
In the aftermath of the debacle, three things occurred. One was a wave of news article raking him over the coals, or going out of their way to debunk Andrew’s claims. There was his insistence that he wore a suit and tie in public when in London (false, per photos). Or that he didn’t sweat for several years thanks to his military service (false, per photos). Or that in deference to his position in the Royal Family, he didn’t engage in public displays of affection with women (very false, per several cringe-inducing photos).
The second was that several organizations of whom Andrew is patron severed ties with him and quietly removed all trace of him from their digital platforms. This one is more devastating (for him), because he can’t fall back on his charitable work if even the charities think him a liability.
The third was the public call for the Royal Family to make Andrew step down. In other words, today’s announcement didn’t come out of nowhere – it’s what people are asking for, and in the case of some people (myself included), they’ve been asking for months. Many of those calls have centered around Andrew’s older brother, the Prince of Wales, who has been out of the country this week with his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, conducting an official visit to New Zealand. And yes, Charles, has quite a bit of leverage within the family as the Queen’s heir. He could, in theory – and may well have – applied pressure on their mother to have Andrew step down. But he isn’t the sovereign. The Queen is still the final word, and I’ve found the public reticence to criticize her too harshly here to be interesting, if not surprising.
The result is that Andrew is out. As well he should be. He’s in no position to represent the Queen at home or abroad, and his actions have undermined the Royal Family in the midst of what has already been not a great year. Good riddance.
The spillover is where this may get interesting. The lesser casualty may well be his eldest daughter, Princess Beatrice, who announced her engagement in September. No wedding date has been announced, but I’ve already seen speculation that the affair will likely be a downgraded version of what her younger sister, Princess Eugenie, enjoyed last year. No television, no carriage ride, and no Windsor Castle fanfare…because there’s no public appetite for Andrew. None of this is Beatrice’s fault, of course, so it’s unfortunate if she’s punished for her father’s behavior. It’s possible things will die down with Andrew professionally put on ice, but it’s hard to see how a wedding in which he’s walking his daughter down the aisle doesn’t re-raise negativity.
The greater casualty, thus far, has oddly enough been the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Before we delve into that, let me first say that there’s absolutely no fair equivalency to be made between their respective actions. That said, neither the media nor the public has missed the point that Andrew and Harry hold similar positions in the matrix – younger sons – and both have given poorly-conceived interviews that landed them and the Royal Family in some hot water (to put it mildly). Some op-eds have gone so far as to say their actions make Charles’s point: the monarchy should be streamlined to focus on the sovereign and his or her direct heirs.
In Charles’s initial view this included Harry – and Meghan, now – for at least the length of his reign. And there’s no indication that the Royal Family, however mad they may be at the Sussexes’ recent actions, are pushing for them to step down. BUT, today’s news should be a red flag for all involved. A precedent is a precedent, and there’s no public appetite for tone-deaf privilege right now*.
*And yes, complaining about media attention against the backdrop of poverty, landmines, and very real human rights abuses is tone-deaf. I like them, I’m rooting for them, but that was a massive swing and a miss.
With that, we’ll return to regularly scheduled programming. Another recap of The Crown is due up tomorrow morning, and tomorrow evening we’ll cover the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Tusk awards engagement.