A significant piece of the York puzzle last week was the absence of the Duke’s elder brother, the Prince of Wales. Charles was in the midst of a long-term tour of India, New Zealand, and the Solomon Islands with his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, while Andrew sat down for his disastrous BBC interview that roundly ended his royal career. An interesting narrative is now emerging from the fallout – amidst the rubble of whether Andrew will be roped in by the FBI, or whether his daughter’s wedding will be downgraded, and who exactly from his camp should be blamed, Charles’s hands are remarkably clean and his popularity is on the rise.
There’s been a lot of speculation over what role Charles played from abroad in getting his brother fired. Likewise, there’s been conflicting reports of how much the Queen knew about the interview beforehand. That the interview went forward from Buckingham Palace unfortunately means that whether or not she had the full picture of what her son had planned, she’s at least partially responsible. Them’s the breaks when you wear the crown…and such.
But for Charles, this is playing out like some long-term vindication, at least publicly. For years it’s been said that his image of the monarchy saw a slimmed-down Royal Family, one that focused on the sovereign and his or her direct heirs, excluding uncles/aunts, cousins, and potentially siblings from public work – and thus public funding. A generation ago, all of the Queen’s grandchildren could have expected to serve as full-time working royals; today, only the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex do. Indeed, perhaps with an understanding that this was the model coming, the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex eschewed royal titles for their own children.
Andrew was the only sibling who did not, which has always seemed telling. A few years back, the big drama was Charles and Andrew butting heads over what role Andrew’s daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, would have, with the result being both young women have found private employment. It was a clear sign that Charles’s vision is of increasing importance to not only the intangible entity of the “Royal Family,” but to the courtiers who run the institution’s mechanics, and to the Queen herself.
Thus, when this latest fiasco began to unfold, it was telling that there was more attention paid to whether Charles would cut his tour short and with whom he was in contact than there was on the responsibility of the Queen. Well, Charles is back now, but instead of heading straight for Buckingham Palace, he instead went to the Sandringham estate in Norfolk. The first round of headlines concluded that he was going to conference with his father, the retired Duke of Edinburgh, but in fact, he has had a long-standing appointment on the estate and he and Camilla spend most weekends in Norfolk this time of year.
The point being that this matter is considered resolved at the moment. The Duke of York will turn 60 in February of next year, but there won’t be a marked, public celebration the way there was last year when Charles turned 70. Likewise, Andrew’s name was excluded from the list of royals who will attend the NATO anniversary reception at BP, though the rest of his siblings and more junior members of the family will. (On that note, the Duchess of Cambridge will be on fully display on the evening of Dec. 3). He has apparently vacated his office space within the Palace, while his staff – or what’s left of it – being funded privately.
The significance of that is that the Royal Family moved swiftly, with an efficiency that points one towards Charles and not the crown itself, though it’s a safe bet the Queen pulled the trigger. Notably, Charles and William are believed to have been in close contact over the matter, which makes sense. As the next two kings in line, how “the firm” handles an errant royal sets a precedent with which they each need to be comfortable.
Of even more importance, there is now a clear-cut visual of Charles managing royal business from behind-the-scenes, making it all the more clear that 1) he can and 2) he has been. More and more articles are raising the question of whether the Queen will step aside in a more official capacity when she turns 95 in 2021, with The Sun reporting that courtiers are openly speculating that she will follow her husband into retirement.
She may, she may not, but the fact remains that Charles has come out of this looking like a man who is king in all but name – a remarkable trajectory given the dismal opinion polls taken around the anniversary of his ex-wife’s death just two years ago.