GOD save the Queen! On 6 February 2022, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her other realms and territories (stretching around the world from Australia to Tuvalu) will celebrate her platinum jubilee – 70 years on the throne. On that day, the Queen will be just two years and 110 days behind history’s longest ruling monarch, King Louis XIV of France.
A royal mess
While the Royal Court celebrates, the Queens second (many say her ‘favourite’) son, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, could end up in civil court in the United States defending himself against charges by Virginia Guiffre. She claims that the prince sexually abused her on three occasions (in London, New York and the US Virgin Islands) when she was under the age of 18 and Andrew was 41.
Guiffre says that she was sex trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein when 16. Epstein and his then girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell introduced her to Andrew in 2001. Epstein committed suicide in police custody in 2019 following his arrest for sexual abuse of dozens of underage girls between 2002 and 2005. Maxwell was convicted, in December 2021, of trafficking underage girls for Epstein. Andrew and Epstein were introduced to each other by Maxwell. The two men had a controversial friendship that began in 1999. Over 12 years they met at least 10 times. In 2006, Epstein attended the 18th birthday party of Andrew’s daughter, Princess Beatrice. Andrew and Epstein were also photographed together in New York in 2010. The previous year Epstein had been released from prison after serving 13 months for procuring a girl below the age of 18 for prostitution.
Andrew strongly denies Guiffre’ s allegations and says that he has no memory of meeting her. According to Andrew, a photo of him with his arm around a young Guiffre’ s waist may have been ‘faked’. She insists the photo is genuine. An interview Andrew gave to the BBC, in 2019, to explain his side of the story went badly wrong. After the interview, the Queen relieved Andrew of his public royal duties.
Andrew has tried to stop the case going to court. His lawyers argued that when Guiffre accepted a legal settlement of $500,000 from Epstein in 2009, she also agreed not to sue any ‘potential defendant’ connected to Epstein. A New York District Court ruled that the agreement did not prevent Guiffre’ s case against Andrew from going ahead. By14 July 2022, Andrew and Guiffre need to submit to the court completed depositions outlining all the evidence for a trial to take place, possibly, in autumn 2022.
At best, a deposition and any trial would be an unwelcome distraction from the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations, at worst it could threaten the monarchy. The British monarchy has lasted almost a thousand years. It has survived rebellions, civil wars and a beheading, but it remains an anachronistic institution and its hereditary succession sits uneasily with modern democracy. The Queen has dedicated her life to preserving the monarchy, sometimes known as ‘The Firm’, and its validity rests on avoiding any scandal that could tarnish its reputation and legitimacy.
During her reign the Queen has steered ‘The Firm’ through enormous economic, social and political change, as well as several family scandals. The most damaging was the troubled marriage and divorce of her oldest son, and heir to the throne, Prince Charles with Princess Diana. The Royal Family’s ‘unemotional’ response to Diana’s death in 1997 drew widespread criticism. Charles has spent the last 35 years trying to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the British public. He has partly succeeded but will never enjoy the popularity or allegiance shown to his mother.
More recently, following differences with ‘The Firm’, including allegations of racism, Charles’ and Diana’s son, Prince Harry and his African-American wife, actress Meghan Markle, gave up their ‘royal’ status. They now live, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, in the United States as private citizens. Harry is expected to publish a book, in 2022, that may contain damaging revelations about his relationship with his father and his older brother Prince William, who will be king after Charles.
In the Queens’ jubilee year, gossip about dysfunctional family relations is one thing, having her son found guilty of sexually assaulting an under-age young woman is a different matter entirely. Recognising this, the Queen has distanced herself from Andrew, who will contest the court case as a private citizen. She has also taken away his honorary military titles, royal patronages and the title ‘His Royal Highness’, although Andrew remains the Duke of York. Losing his military titles will hurt Andrew who served in the Royal Navy as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War.
A Queen’s ransom
Andrew will not go to jail. The alleged incident was too long ago to be tried as a criminal case. If she wins her civil case, Guiffre will be awarded damages, which could add up to millions of dollars. To stop details becoming public, Andrew could try to settle out of court but Guiffre wants her story known. Persuading her not to go to court could be very expensive, although at this stage, Andrew has also ruled out such a settlement.
Andrew may sell his luxury ski lodge in Switzerland to help pay his legal fees but may not have enough money to pay any damages awarded against him. This raises the unseemly prospect of the Queen paying for her son’s wrongdoing. If she pays, the Queen would do so out of her personal fortune, but it could be a sad end to her jubilee and damage ‘The Firm’. Support for the monarchy in the UK remains strong but is falling. In 2021, 53% of adults aged between 25 and 49 supported the monarchy, down from 58% in 2019. Among those aged 18 to 24, only 31% support the monarchy. A tawdry sex scandal could accelerate its decline.
Under Queen Elizabeth II, the monarchy will survive, but in due time responsibility for keeping ‘The Firm’ alive will pass to Charles and William. Louis XIV’s famous quote, ‘apres moi le deluge’ is associated with a prediction of the disaster and revolution that would follow his departure. Queen Elizabeth II will be a tough act to follow. Her heirs need to be careful if the British monarchy is to avoid the same fate as the French.