The House of Windsor is no stranger to a good scandal: The abdication crisis. Charles and Camilla. “Megxit.”
But far from an episode of “The Crown,” which contains the fallout within a neat 58 minutes, all of these crises have had long-term repercussions for the institution of the monarchy. Specifically, they have undermined its image as being the paragon of those quintessential British values: probity, having thick skin and above all, steadiness.
Yet, for all these issues, Queen Elizabeth II still reigns, Buckingham Palace still stands and the Commonwealth remains an important political force in the world. Indeed, the British monarchy is matched only by the Vatican as a centuries-old institution that has maintained its stature in a rapidly changing world.
That was, of course, until Prince Andrew.
New revelations emerged this week about the Duke of York’s efforts to stymie a sexual abuse suit launched by one of Jeffrey Epstein’s accusers. For years, the Royal Family has been rocked by Andrew’s long-time association with the convicted sex offender. And for years, Andrew has done the bare minimum to deny any wrongdoing.
But now, as his legal team pushes back hard against accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the charade seems to be ending.
Having botched his primary attempt to publicly refute the claims — an interview with BBC heavyweight Emily Maitlis — Andrew has instead tried to weasel his way out of the conversation altogether.
First, he tried to avoid being served with legal papers.
Failing that, his team now contends that Andrew is immune from the civil suit under the restrictions of a previous Epstein settlement.
To make their point, they have claimed that Andrew qualifies as a “potential defendant” in Giuffre’s earlier case against Epstein. For all the legal complexity of the assertion, it seems to put the lie to Andrew’s claim to never having met Giuffre.
No one who has seen Andrew’s BBC interview will be surprised. As time goes on, his excuses grow more brazen, contrived and bizarre. What’s more, the tactics of his legal team represent a new low for the monarchy in their depravity and detachment from reality.
And therein lies the real problem.
In the past, when scandals have thrown the royals’ unsavoury private lives into public view, the moral and religious authority of their brand has been eroded. But the stain of Andrew’s accusations is something different. Unlike the litany of affairs, divorces and other human failings, his alleged behaviour appears criminal — and his response, simply unacceptable.
Rather than clear his name, the duke seems content to feign indignation at the idea that he should be accountable to anyone. In doing so, he has left his family with little alternative but to remain silent about the allegations. The result makes them appear entirely out of touch at a time when they urgently need to appear modern and suited for the moment.
For example, Andrew retains his military titles and remains a member of the Royal Family — albeit one removed from public life. This seems bizarre given his nephew, Prince Harry, was stripped of his own military titles for abdicating his royal duties and leaving Britain.
It stinks of hypocrisy.
All this takes place amidst a major shift for the House of Windsor. Nearly 70 years into her reign, many are certain it will be impossible for the queen’s successor to enjoy the same popularity and presence on the world stage. After all, the British royals are the exception, not the norm, among a litany of European monarchies whose faces are entirely unknown outside their own borders.
If Prince Andrew settles his case with Giuffre — likely to the tune of millions of pounds — he and his family could ultimately pay a much greater price. Not only does the duke run the risk of being confirmed as a sex offender, but he could also potentially be confirmed a liar. And what’s even worse, one whose own family abetted his lies.