Royal experts said on Friday that Queen Elizabeth II’s decision to strip Prince Andrew of his military titles and patronage was a brutal and humiliating exercise in damage control.
The move to remove Andrew, the Queen’s 95-year-old second son, came a day after a US judge allowed a civil case accusing him of sexual assault. Buckingham Palace, in a surprise statement announcing his demotion, said the Duke of York would fight the case “as an ordinary citizen”.
The bombshell dominated the British front pages on Friday, even topping the new revelations of an alleged party violating Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s home closure, with royal watchers viewing the Queen’s decision as an attempt to limit the saga’s ability to embarrass the palace further.
“It’s absolutely brutal in many ways – the Queen is really setting foot in and saying this can’t go on,” said David McClure, royal commentator and author. “It had become very damaging in terms of the reputation of the entire monarchy, not just Andrew, so the Queen really had to make a decision.”
It comes after two difficult years for the Queen, who lost her husband Prince Philip and saw Prince Harry leave the family for a new life in the United States with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, amid accusations of family racism. Strongly denied.
A royal source told NBC News that Andrew will no longer be able to use “His Royal Highness” in any capacity. He will relinquish dozens of military titles and will not be a sponsor of more than 100 organizations and clubs – although many have already severed ties with him. He retains his rank as Vice Admiral and remains ninth in line to the British throne.
Andrew served in the British Royal Navy, and undertook air missions in the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina. He belongs to a long line of British royals who served in the armed forces and forged close links with the military.
Hours before the palace’s statement on Thursday, the anti-royal group The Republic released a letter signed by about 150 veterans asking the Queen to “take immediate steps to strip Prince Andrew of all his military rank”.
“We understand he is your son,” the letter continued, but “these steps could have been taken at any time in the past eleven years. Please do not leave him any further.”
She did not, with Andrew’s failed attempt to dismiss the civil case raising the possibility of a lengthy legal process.
Virginia Joffrey, now 38, alleges that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell trafficked her and forced her to have sex with Andrew, now 61, in the 1990s. He has repeatedly denied the allegations and that he met Joffrey, who was 17 years old at the time.
It did not. “I can say categorically that it never happened,” he told the BBC in 2019.
If the case is not settled out of court or otherwise dismissed, Andrew may be forced to testify at a high-profile trial beginning in the fall or winter.
“Now it’s all about protecting the reputation of the royal family,” said Nicholas Witchell, the BBC’s royal correspondent. “This could potentially, and does, do significant reputational damage – it’s being watched all over the world.”
NBC News has reached out to Buckingham Palace and Andrew’s representatives for comment.
A source close to Andrew said earlier this week, “This is a marathon and not a sprint and the Duke will continue to defend himself against these allegations.”
As the Queen’s second son who is unlikely to see the throne, Andrew’s active social life led to the British popular press calling him the “Prince of the Party”.
But the Joffrey allegations and Andrew’s relationship with Epstein and Maxwell have become one of the most toxic royal crises in decades.
The prince gave an interview to the BBC in November 2019 in which he hoped to clear his name, but it is widely seen as a car accident that called for more ridicule. Perhaps most importantly, Andrew claimed that Giuffre’s recollection of him sweating in a nightclub was incorrect because an “adrenaline overdose” during the Falklands War meant he lost the ability to sweat.
In the ensuing anger, Andrew announced that he would be stepping back from his public duties “for the foreseeable future”. Buckingham Palace appeared to distance itself from him, refusing to speak on his behalf and referring reporters to his lawyer for comment.
It has been a tough time for the monarchy elsewhere, with Harry and Meghan also walking away from “the company” in early 2020 after complaining about their treatment at the hands of the press and members of the royal family themselves. They, too, were stripped of their patronage and titles.
Several royal commentators, as well as Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, have said that Andrew has always been the Queen’s favorite son. He will be linked to the British crown forever, but the Queen now appears to be distancing herself from him.
“The Queen says enough is enough,” McClure said. “A firm decision had to be taken.” It was inevitable. The only question is whether he should come before that.”