World·Royal Fascinator

Royal Family's attempt to get distance from Prince Andrew is an act of self-preservation

Buckingham Palace's 42-word announcement that Prince Andrew had lost his military affiliations and royal patronages was remarkably terse, but it was also remarkably symbolic, representing how far his reputation has fallen in recent years, along with how focused the institution of the monarchy can be as it looks toward its future.

U.S. court rejected bid from Queen's second son to toss sex abuse lawsuit filed against him

Prince Andrew, shown here at a commemoration service at Manchester Cathedral marking the 100th anniversary since the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016, in Manchester, England, has lost his military affiliations and royal patronages. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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The statement from Buckingham Palace was remarkable in its terseness.

But the 42-word missive announcing that Prince Andrew had lost his military affiliations and royal patronages was remarkably symbolic, too, representing how far his reputation has fallen in recent years, along with how focused the institution of the monarchy can be as it looks toward its future.

The two-sentence statement came the day after Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son and the ninth in line to the throne, lost his attempt to have a sexual abuse lawsuit against him tossed out in a New York City court.

In some ways, the statement was a reflection of a streamlining already going on within the upper echelons of the Royal Family and showed just what they will do to try to protect the public image of the institution if it appeared threatened. 

"There's a very strong emphasis in the public iconography of the Royal Family on the direct line [to the throne] and an emphasis on distancing themselves from more junior members of the Royal Family if they are creating controversy," Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author, said in an interview.

There is little doubt Andrew, 61, has been creating controversy.

Prince Andrew will no longer be part of official royal occasions such as this, when he was standing along with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, and other members of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in June 2019. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

He has vehemently denied the allegations at the heart of the lawsuit that alleges that two decades ago, he sexually assaulted Virginia Giuffre, a 17-year-old American who says she was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein, the late convicted sex offender who died by suicide in jail in 2019 and was a friend of the prince.

The court of public opinion, however, has been moving toward its own judgment. An interview Andrew did a few years back with the BBC regarding his friendship with Epstein was widely regarded as a train wreck.

"For a number of years, certainly after that disastrous [BBC] interview in 2019, it's been very clear that he's not going to be able to return to an active public role within the Royal Family," said Harris.

It's a notable fall for a member of the Royal Family who Harris says was once reasonably popular, especially after his military service during the Falklands War in 1982. 

But some of the sheen wore off over the years, with tabloids dubbing him Air Miles Andy, given the expenses-paid travel he racked up as a U.K. trade envoy. 

WATCH | Prince Andrew loses patronages and military affiliations:

Prince Andrew stripped of royal titles, patronages

4 months ago
Duration 1:59
Prince Andrew has been stripped of his military affiliations, royal patronages and the title 'His Royal Highness' a day after a New York judge rejected his bid to throw out a sexual abuse lawsuit against him.

Then came the controversy and questions of his judgment over his friendship with Epstein, and the allegations from Giuffre now at the heart of the lawsuit.

It all adds up to a reputation that has been in "steep decline" for a couple of years, Harris said.

"Certainly, a number of his patronages made clear they wanted to distance themselves from Prince Andrew going forward following that disastrous interview …. so the announcement that he will formally no longer have this public role, that he will not use the title of [His Royal Highness], comes across as the culmination of a very long process."

But why now, exactly? The court decision that the lawsuit would continue certainly appears to have been a catalyst — or perhaps the final straw?

The wording of the announcement doesn't indicate exactly what happened behind closed palace doors. Speculation has been rampant about who decided what and which senior royals may have been involved. 

But it's all been widely interpreted as the Queen stripping Andrew of the honorary military titles and patronages, most likely with significant input from her eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, and his elder son, Prince William. (A BBC headline summed it all up as "Ruthless royals move to limit the damage.")

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew attend Royal Ascot 2017 at the Ascot Racecourse on June 22, 2017, in Ascot, England. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Chris Ship, royal news editor for ITV and host of the Royal Rota podcast, told CBC's Front Burner podcast that the Queen "had to put clear blue water between [Andrew] and the rest of the Royal Family."

Otherwise, the lawsuit and the ongoing controversy connected to it could continue to cast a darker cloud over a significant royal milestone: this year's marking of her 70 years on the throne.

"I think they needed to see that if it was going to proceed in the way the judge ordered last week, it had the potential to overshadow the Queen's Platinum Jubilee," said Ship.

LISTEN | Front Burner: Sex abuse lawsuit looms for Prince Andrew:

As a U.S. judge has ruled a sex abuse lawsuit can proceed against Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth, who last week was stripped of his military titles and royal patronages. The lawsuit is being brought by Virginia Giuffre, who has long claimed she was sex-trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and that she was raped by Andrew as a teenager. Maxwell was convicted of sex trafficking late last year. The prince denies the allegations against him. Today, ITV royal news editor and host of the Royal Rota podcast Chris Ship explains what's led up to this moment, what can be expected as the case moves forward, and what it means for the legacy of the Royal Family during the Platinum Jubilee year.

There are few if any direct precedents for what is unfolding here. Royals in generations past have hardly been immune to scandal or becoming involved in court proceedings, but Andrew's case — particularly, the allegation of sexual abuse involving a minor — is unique.

"The ones that come to mind are the financial scandals or …  marital scandals," said Harris. "The precise circumstances that Prince Andrew is facing and the legal proceedings that are underway do not seem to have a direct parallel."

All this also transpires as the Royal Family focuses on a smaller central core of senior working members, something thought to be a priority for Prince Charles, particularly when he becomes King.

WATCH | Prince Andrew High School in Nova Scotia will get a new name:

Nova Scotia high school plans to remove Prince Andrew’s name

4 months ago
Duration 2:03
Not wanting to be associated with the disgraced Duke of York, Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth, N.S., is planning to change its name.

"They have to slim down the Royal Family — Prince Charles's project as King — and in some ways it's being done for him," British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview.

"The country will not accept the same amount of money being spent on the Royal Family, and [the controversy around Andrew] is a really bad look."

The ongoing controversy "was focusing more questions on the royal household" every day, Borkowski said. "What they're saying is [Andrew] doesn't represent us. He is his own man, and what he's done we don't accept."

The Royal Family is attempting to prove "that they're going to get stronger," Borkowski said, something he said also happened after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. 

As long as there's no further scandal going on that we don't know about, Borkowski says, "they're going to come out … being a very different monarchy under Charles and a very different monarchy under William and Kate."

Not just new portraits

The 40th birthday of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was marked by the release of three new portraits, including this one, by Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi. The portraits will enter the permanent collection of Britain's National Portrait Gallery, of which Kate is patron. (Paolo Roversi/Kensington Palace/The Associated Press)

When Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, turned 40 the other day, three new portraits were released.

The pictures — two in black and white, one in colour — by Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi feature Kate in Alexander McQueen dresses (the same fashion label that designed her wedding gown). They've garnered a lot of positive buzz, with descriptions ranging from "glamorous" (BBC) to "ethereal" (Vogue).

While the release of portraits to mark a royal birthday is nothing new, there is also little doubt there is more going on here than photographic recognition of a personal milestone.

"Often when there are controversies within the Royal Family, we see new images released to try to reset the conversation or to refocus the public gaze," said Harris.

And there is certainly controversy these days (see above, re Prince Andrew, and also the concerns raised by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, after they stepped back from official duties).

In this case, the attempt to refocus the public gaze lands on a member of the family who has been seen as growing in confidence in her role since her marriage to Prince William in 2011.

The "joyful tone" set by the photographs emphasizes Kate "having found fulfilment as a member of the Royal Family at a time when there have been other women who have left the Queen's family," said Harris, noting departures either through stepping back from royal life or the breakdown of marriages.

The portraits caught the eye of the New York Times, with chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman calling them "the latest salvo in a narrative about the evolution of the House of Windsor." They offered "a balm on the roiled seas of royalty," Friedman said. "A decorous embrace of the requirements of joining 'the Firm' bathed in the sepia tones of fairy-tale escapism, rather than a rejection."

The portraits had people making all sorts of comparisons to past royal images, including those of a young Queen Elizabeth by Cecil Beaton, the society photographer of the day.

"There's also been some comparisons to 19th-century royal women who were sometimes photographed with long, flowing hair right at the dawn of photography," said Harris, who noted that Kate also has an interest in 19th-century photography.

"She has a degree in art history and wrote her thesis on the photography of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, so it's likely that she would have been aware of some of these 19th-century antecedents and this Victorian esthetic to some of the photographs."

It's also likely the photos of Kate won't be the last new portraits to come out this year. It's highly likely there will be new images of the Queen for the Platinum Jubilee, and Prince William turns 40 himself on June 21.

Planning for the Jubilee

While Queen Elizabeth will officially be 70 years into her reign on Feb. 6, the major commemorations of the unprecedented milestone are scheduled for later in the year.

Plans for marking the Platinum Jubilee in the U.K. range from big and formal (a parade, a service of Thanksgiving and other public events over a four-day weekend in early June) to smaller and more prosaic (there's a national contest to create a Jubilee pudding).

A Platinum Jubilee souvenir plate featuring an image of Queen Elizabeth is displayed in a shop on Jan. 16, 2022, in London, England. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

In Canada, there has been little official mention so far of how the Jubilee might be marked.

In an email response Friday, a spokesperson for the Department of Canadian Heritage said a series of initiatives "to mark the Queen's remarkable 70 years of service to our country" will be announced on Feb. 6. That will include the release of a Canadian Platinum Jubilee emblem. 

One federal initiative launched last November will see the government offer funding of up to $5,000 for community projects or celebrations in honour of the Queen's reign. The deadline for submissions has passed and a list of activities that will be funded through the initiative will be announced later in the winter.

Funding for larger-scale projects with a national scope was also made available last fall through the Commemorate Canada program because the Platinum Jubilee is an anniversary of significance in Canada for 2022, the spokesperson said. The deadline for submissions for that program has also closed, and a list of activities that will receive funding through it will be announced within a couple of months.

On the department's website, it said the community projects would give Canadians opportunities to "learn about the role of the Crown in Canada, celebrate Her Majesty's 70 years of steadfast service to Canada and highlight Canadian achievements over the last seven decades."

The community program aims to support projects that "offer Canadians an opportunity to learn about our history and symbols, particularly in relation to the role of the Crown in Canada," highlight how the country has evolved over the past 70 years, look to its future and "commemorate the long-standing relationship between the Crown and Indigenous Peoples."

Royally quotable

"I know how you feel." 

Prince William, during a visit to a centre for vulnerable people, as he comforted an 11-year-old boy whose mother died last year. William, whose mother Diana, Princess of Wales, died when he was 15, also told the boy that things will get "easier."

Prince William, right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, meet with Deacon Glover, 11, whose mother has died, during a visit Thursday to a charity in Burnley, England. (Danny Lawson/Getty Images)

Royal reads

  1. The office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized to the Queen for staff parties held the night before Prince Philip's funeral, when she sat alone at the front of St. George's Chapel because of physical distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus. [CBC]

  2. Prince Charles has commissioned portraits of seven of the last survivors of the Holocaust for a special exhibition. And in other royal art news, watercolour paintings Charles has done himself over the years have also gone on display in the largest-ever exhibition of his work. [ITV, Evening Standard]

  3. Prince Harry is in a legal fight with the British government as he seeks to be allowed to personally pay for police protection when he and his family are in the United Kingdom. [BBC] 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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