The Queen And The Duke Of York Visit The Honourable Society Of Lincoln's Inn
The Queen And The Duke Of York Visit The Honourable Society Of Lincoln's Inn

Mistake Queen might not recover from

COMMENT

This might soundly wildly counterintuitive but bear with me here: The modern royal family has been profoundly shaped by love.

King Edward VIII chose Wallis over ruling an empire, thus dramatically changing the course of young Princess Elizabeth's life; Prince Charles will always be remembered as the future monarch who obstinately waited 35 years to marry the woman he loved; and Prince Harry's love for a bi-racial American woman offered the tantalising prospect of a far more inclusive vision of the royal family in the 21st century.

And, the Queen? Her love for her second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York might prove to be the downfall of the monarchy.

This week has seen the duke thrust back into the headlines with news that US authorities have filed paperwork in the UK in an effort to compel the royal to give evidence about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein. The move sparked a war of words with Andrew's high-priced legal team who then hit back, insisting they had offered to help "on at least three occasions".

While there might be a brief cessation in hostilities here, know that this just a very temporary lull in a long and sordid saga.

December this year will be the 10-year anniversary of the duke's decision to fly to New York in 2010 for five days to say goodbye to his friend Epstein, because at the time he felt that was "the honourable and right thing to do."

Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein (top right), were long-time friends, here they are pictured with Epstein’s alleged pimp, Ghislaine (in the green outfit) at the Royal Ascat in June 2000. Picture: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images.
Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein (top right), were long-time friends, here they are pictured with Epstein’s alleged pimp, Ghislaine (in the green outfit) at the Royal Ascat in June 2000. Picture: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images.

In the nearly decade since that infamous US trip, public knowledge of Andrew's ties to the disgraced financier and the royal family's catastrophic attempts to manage this sordid chapter have left the monarchy mired in what must be its grubbiest chapter in a century. Time and again, the Firm has responded with a breathtaking level of incompetence and denseness.

If there is one thing that sums up how ineptly and obtusely the Firm has handled things, look at the events of early 2011. In February, photos of Andrew and Epstein walking in Central Park emerged, with the New York Post splashing them on the front page with the headline, "Prince and Perv".

Only a month later, the Queen made the decision to invest Andrew with the insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the highest honour she can hand out.

The move was a pointed show of support for embattled Andy, a means of trying to repel the opprobrium he faced at the time. Instead, the positively feudal gesture left the Queen looking woefully, if not wilfully, oblivious to community sentiment.

 

With the Andrew/Epstein imbroglio showing no signs of reaching any sort of conclusion, and the royal family's spectacular bungling (and that's being generous) of the situation having gone on for nearly a decade, the question now is, will the monarchy survive?

Consider the steps Buckingham Palace has taken to address not only the duke's ties to the disgraced financier but also the allegation that he had sex on three occasions with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, an alleged teen trafficking victim. Prince Andrew has "categorically" and repeatedly denied the allegations.

In 2015, when Andrew first faced claims of having "sexual relations" with Roberts Giuffre, Buckingham Palace took the then unprecedented step of issuing a statement, saying "It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation."

Weeks later, Andrew appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Then came 2019 and the unsealing of civil court documents which thrust Andrew's ties to Epstein back into the headlines, which was swiftly followed by Epstein's arrest in July. When Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell in August, the Queen responded by staging a very blatant show of support by having Andrew by her side as she made her way to church that Sunday.

In November, when Andrew sat down with the BBC's Emily Maitlis for his now infamous interview the symbolism was clear: Andrew ensconced in the bosom of Buckingham Palace. It was a powerful visual signal that he had the backing of the edifice of the monarchy and the monarch.

Then came 50-odd minutes of Andrew putting on a dismissive, arrogant performance during which he offered up sweating and an outing to a pizza restaurant to counter Roberts Giuffre's claims. Even the Queen, by all accounts his staunchest palace ally, knew that she had to act and days later the duke announced he was stepping back from his royal duties.

The Prince’s trainwreck interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis further soured the public’s perception of the royals. Source: BBC.
The Prince’s trainwreck interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis further soured the public’s perception of the royals. Source: BBC.

Taken together, over the last ten years or so, Her Majesty has wheeled out all the tools in her arsenal - awards, public appearances and even the grandeur of Buckingham Palace - in an attempt to buffer her beloved son from this growing media storm.

Not only have they all failed to quell the crisis, but they have stoked public anger, creating the impression of a monarch circling the royal wagons, deaf to the growing furore beyond the palace gates.

This vision of the Queen - out of touch, highhanded and obtusely putting her son before her country - could wreak long term damage on the house of Windsor.

For one thing, the handling of the situation has seemingly confirmed a slew of criticisms that have been previously lobbed at the Firm: That they are a bunch of profoundly out-of-touch, spoiled toffs who will do whatever they fancy.

Compounding the danger here is the timing.

When Diana, Princess of Wales died in 1997, the Queen faced a tsunami of anger in Britain over her handling of the situation including her initial refusal to fly the flag at half-mast at the palace and her refusal to come back to London. It took her years and years to gradually replace the picture of her as a cold-hearted autocrat unresponsive to the outpouring of her people and to morph into the grandmotherly figure beloved by the nation.

To be blunt, the Queen just does not have the time for that same sort of long term image repair. At 94 years old, her reign will end at some point in the next decade. In her final years on the throne, rather than basking in the warm glow of public admiration, confident the monarchy will thrive in the future, she could well be leaving it as a beleaguered, foundering institution.

 

When the sad day comes that the Queen is reunited with her corgis in the palace in the sky and Charles ascends to the throne, the royal family's fortunes don't look set to improve either. While his standing has steadily risen over the years, his long term commitment to environmental issues winning him a new generation of supporters, it is doubtful he will ever be a truly beloved monarch.

Assuming that Charles will live as long as his grandmother, the Queen Mother, who passed away at 101-years-old, it means it will be nearly 30 years until Prince William is crowned King. The uncomfortable question is, just what sort of state will the monarchy be in by that stage?

Sure, every adorable photo of the Cambridge kids slapped up on Instagram and every time Kate the Duchess of Cambridge turns up somewhere looking lovely gives the entire royal brand a good jolt PR-wise, is that really going to be enough to offset the damage already done by both Andrew and the Queen's attempts to tamp things down?

What seems certain is that in the coming years, William, Kate and their three kids will face an Everest-like uphill battle to shore up the Windsor brand and it will fall on their five very photogenic shoulders to not only make the monarchy seem appealing but, crucially, relevant and useful in British society.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.

Originally published as Mistake Queen might not recover from


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