Only three times before has Buckingham Palace pressed what for the British monarchy is the “nuclear button” and transformed a royal into a mere private citizen.
After a 90-minute meeting with his mother, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, followed by a terse public communique, Prince Andrew—who is battling a civil sex case trial in the U.S. over allegations of sexual assault—last week became the fourth member of the Windsor family to be stripped of the right to be styled a Royal Highness.
The first to suffer the humiliation was the former King Edward VIII after abdicating the throne in 1936 to marry an American divorcée.
Edward’s demotion was an act of punishment, say royal historians. Andrew’s, though, is being seen as a ruthless move of self-protection by a monarchy that has decided it can’t wait to see if Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, will be able to clear his name in court.
The queen reportedly made the decision after discussions with her eldest son, and heir apparent, Prince Charles, who’s third in line of succession, and his son, Prince William. Andrew is ninth in line. Charles ignored reporters Friday when they shouted questions at him about Andrew and the decision to demote him.
The removal last week of HRH status is another stage in the queen’s endeavor to distance Britain’s monarchy as far away from Andrew, age 61, as she can—for both political and legal reasons—as he defends himself against sex abuse allegations leveled against him by Virginia Giuffre.
Giuffre claims Andrew “committed sexual assault and battery” upon her on three occasions in 2001. Andrew vehemently denies the allegations. The 38-year-old Giuffre, formerly Virginia Roberts, says she was trafficked by the late, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with Andrew when she was 17 years old, allegations Andrew says are not true. Andrew remained an Epstein friend after the financier was convicted of child abuse offenses.
Court documents released Saturday reveal that one line of defense being considered by Andrew’s lawyers in the forthcoming New York trial is to argue that Giuffre “may suffer from false memories.”
“Brutal,” tweeted royal commentator Peter Hunt on the release of the two-sentence communique announcing Andrew's military titles and royal patronages have been returned to the queen, and that he will stop using His Royal Highness title.
The move came after a New York court ruled midweek a civil action over sexual assault allegations can proceed and likely will be heard in a few months. The second sentence of the statement from Buckingham Palace read, “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”
“The Windsors have shown that when the institution is under threat, dynastic preservation trumps flesh and blood,” Hunt added.
Other royal commentators said the demotion is a clear sign the queen has lost patience with Andrew, who often is described by Britain's tabloid press as the favorite of her four children.
The decision must have been personally painful for the elderly queen, who this year will be celebrating her platinum jubilee on the throne, according to Valentine Low, a reporter with The Times of London.
“The most important thing for the queen, however, is the preservation of the monarchy. She takes her role and the concept of royal duty incredibly seriously. She believes that she is there to serve the country and the rest of the royal family are there to back her up in this role. Nothing else matters,” he wrote.
Low noted, “To strip Andrew of his military affiliations and to tell him that he was no longer to use his HRH style ‘in any official capacity’ was, therefore, a very hard decision for her to take.” He said, “She would know that Andrew, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands conflict, took his military roles very seriously. He is also someone who does not hesitate to stand on his royal dignity.”
The move was in some ways inevitable and a case of bowing to public opinion, say other observers. Some question whether the queen should have moved earlier.
More than 100 Royal Navy, British Army and RAF veterans wrote to the queen to demand Andrew be removed from the honorary military positions, including that of colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Last year, she ordered Prince Harry, her second-born grandson, to give back his military titles and stop using the HRH title after moving to California with his American wife Meghan Markle and wanting to have a “half-in, half-out" arrangement with Buckingham Palace.
Palace insiders say the Royal family is determined to ensure that Andrew’s legal battles don’t overshadow the queen’s platinum jubilee. But there may, too, have been a legal motivation behind Andrew’s demotion. It could be a signal to Giuffre’s legal team that the royal family won’t assist in paying Andrew’s legal costs or contribute to any out-of-court settlement, if one is negotiated, a former palace official told VOA.