Why Buckingham Palace is defending Andrew so stoutly

With global headlines screaming allegations that Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son, had sex with an underage U.S. girl more than a decade ago, the Palace came out with all guns blazing.

Royal officials have vigorously denied sex allegations against fifth in line to the throne

In papers filed to a Florida court, an unidentified woman alleges an American financier forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island when she was under the age of 18. (Sang Tan/Associated Press)

In past royal scandals, Buckingham Palace has most often been decidedly British in its response, keep calm and carry on and all that. 

Not this time, though.

With global headlines screaming allegations that Prince Andrew, the Queen's second son, had sex with an underage U.S. girl more than a decade ago, the Palace came out with all guns blazing.

"I can't remember such rebuttals and three denials to date, which in royal parlance is a record I think," says Mark Borkowski, a British public relations expert who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Mikhail Gorbachev.

"The prince is driving them pretty hard to … refute these allegations and that's what they're doing."

The unseemly headlines, which broke late last week, involve Andrew's former friend Jeffrey Epstein, a disgraced U.S. financier and convicted child-sex offender, and a now-30-year-old woman who media outlets and the Palace have identified as Virginia Roberts.

Some elements of the story aren't new — Vanity Fair laid out many of them nearly four years ago — but they've now turned up in a U.S. civil suit against Epstein in Florida.

The 54-year-old prince is not a party to those proceedings, but he, along with famed U.S. defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz, is named in the papers. In them, one of the women bringing the suit has stated that she was forced to have sex with the Duke of York in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island as part of "an orgy with numerous other underaged girls."

The Palace has "emphatically" denied the claims about Andrew, and that may be having an effect as some British media are now starting to question whether the allegations have any basis in fact. 

No big dent yet

It seems clear that the appearance of Andrew's name in an American legal case is behind the Palace's strong response, suggests Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and blogger.

Prince Andrew marches with members of the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm as veterans of the Falkland Islands conflict take part in a 25th anniversary march for veterans in London on June 17, 2007. (Alastair Grant/Associated Press)
And that's a bit unexpected, as Andrew isn't a royal attracting much public attention these days.

He "isn't an A-lister" in the Royal Family, and has become the "slightly embarrassing uncle," says Borkowski.

He also hasn't "had to manage his brand in the way the others have to."

In fact, "he's not someone who has the energy or the tenacity to be bothered with engaging with the media to do something more positive about himself," Borkowski adds.

So far, this episode doesn't appear to have made much of a dent in the reputation of the House of Windsor, which has weathered its fair share of royal turmoil and sexual controversy over the years.

That could have something to do with the fact that Andrew, once second in line to the throne, isn't so close to the crown anymore.

"With the arrival of a second child for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge [expected in April], Andrew will slip further down the line of succession," notes Harris, and land in sixth place.

Another factor behind the Palace's repeated rebuttals of the allegations may be because the House of Windsor has been enjoying a run of relatively good publicity of late, much of it centred around the arrival of the Duchess, Kate Middleton, who married second-in-line Prince William in 2011, and their young son Prince George.

The celebration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012 also garnered positive headlines. But even then, Andrew wasn't front and centre with the higher-profile royals like the Queen and Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, William, Kate and William's brother Harry.

Questionable choices

Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution and served 13 months in jail. (Palm Beach Sheriff's Office/Associated Press)
Andrew has, in the past, made questionable choices about the company he keeps.

"Considering the public scrutiny of the Royal Family, Prince Andrew has shown extremely poor judgment regarding his past friendships," says Harris, noting he was seen walking in New York City with Epstein in 2010, after the disgraced billionaire was released from jail. Epstein had been convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.

Andrew later said the friendship with Eptstein was a mistake, and he stepped down from his post as a trade ambassador for the U.K.

He was also criticized during his time as trade ambassador for associating with world leaders accused of human rights abuses, Harris says.

It wasn't always that way for Andrew, who studied at Lakefield College School in Peterborough, Ont., in 1977.

He was initially seen as a dashing young prince fighting for his country in the Falklands War, and won praise during the conflict in the early 1980s.

Prince Andrew chats to his former girlfriend Koo Stark during a reception at the Victoria & Albert Museum on May 19, 1998. (Reuters)
Still, controversial headlines found their way to him. Before marrying Sarah Ferguson in 1986, he was "Randy Andy," a prince with such girlfriends as Koo Stark, an American actress. Their relationship ended after it was revealed she had appeared in a 1976 erotic film.

More recently, he's been criticized for perceived extravagance.

"While other junior members of the Royal Family, such as his siblings Princess Anne and Prince Edward, are known for their charity work, Andrew's philanthropy has been overshadowed by his reputation as 'Air Miles Andy,' playing the golf courses of the world and insisting on expensive security for his daughters," says Harris.

In recent days, Andrew has found support from Ferguson, his former wife who described him earlier this week as "the greatest man there is."

Also, London Mayor Boris Johnson had kind words.

"Prince Andrew does a huge amount of unsung and unheralded work for this country," the BBC reported Johnson saying. "People go on and on about air miles but I have seen that guy get out there and sell this country, trying to help British firms to get business around the world."

Borkowski says Andrew has recovered from controversy before. "The question is where is it likely to go."