It should have been a day of joy for Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, who were marking their 72nd wedding anniversary. Instead, Wednesday culminated in the 93-year-old monarch sanctioning her second son’s retreat from royal duties, after a disastrous interview about his friendship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein engulfed the family in an unprecedented crisis.
Prince Andrew’s lack of regret over associating with a convicted sex offender was one thing, but it was his apparent lack of empathy for the victims that has drawn the most criticism. The onslaught from the British media was unrelenting, while numerous organizations distanced themselves from the prince and his charitable efforts.
The situation was clearly intolerable for Buckingham Palace. Prince Andrew, whose official title is the Duke of York, was pictured arriving at the Queen’s residence on Tuesday, and by Wednesday evening, he was out of a job.
In what amounted to a resignation statement, the duke was decidedly more contrite than in his BBC interview of a few days earlier. Notably, Andrew added that he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.” So far, no formal requests have been made by US authorities but if they come, they will provide the next chapter in this sorry royal saga.
The decision to “step aside” was presented as the duke’s. A royal source said that the Queen had been involved in the discussions, as well as his brother Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. The source told CNN that the outcome was regarded as the best way forward because nothing was more important than the institution of the monarchy itself. The implication: That he had become a liability and had to go.
British media outlets reported Thursday that Andrew’s resignation will mean he will no longer receive an allowance from the sovereign grant, essentially an expense account funded by the government that covers the costs of travel, staff, bills and the upkeep of royal palaces.
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said that Andrew would still work on his business charity – just not with official support. “The Duke will continue to work on Pitch@Palace but will look at how he takes this forward outside of his public duties, and outside of the Palace,” the spokeswoman said. “Naturally there will be a transition period while this takes place.”
The news is unlikely help dampen the firestorm that has enveloped Andrew. That will continue until he’s seen to have shown sufficient penance and, more importantly, empathy to the real victims here – the women Epstein preyed upon.
In the meantime, the institution into which the prince was born has gone into damage control.
“This has damaged the royal family,” royal commentator Peter Hunt told CNN Thursday. The duke was “toxifying the brand of the House of Windsor,” Hunt said, and that “the Palace will be desperately hoping that that toxicity will now disappear because they sacked Prince Andrew.”
Public engagements for other members of the royal family have continued. Despite her matrimonial milestone on Wednesday, it was business as usual for the Queen, who presented an award to renowned nature broadcaster David Attenborough in London. Meanwhile, Prince Charles – the heir to the throne – and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall soldiered on with their official tour of New Zealand. Yet another royal tour had become overshadowed by family drama back home.
But don’t expect to see any risks taken with open-ended media interviews for quite some time.
“Many people’s judgment has been called into question over this, not least the Queen for allowing the interview to take place,” says Hunt.
The interview could not have taken place without the monarch’s permission, Hunt said. “She will been told about the interview, will have agreed to the interview and her great misstep and her misjudgment was to allow it to happen and to be filmed inside Buckingham Palace. And inside the palace you had Prince Andrew talking about the actions of a pedophile.”
Everything that happens now is designed to protect the Queen. Andrew is still her son, the blood bond is unbreakable, but his actions have undermined her, and she had no option to withdraw her professional support for him. A sovereign’s primary duty is to leave the crown in a stronger state than when they received it, and Andrew had created a dent.
The Queen only wears the crown by virtue of her majority support in Parliament, which is the only body with the authority to remove it. That’s where Andrew created a vulnerability for her and it became apparent in another TV moment this week.
During the first general election leaders debate on ITV, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his main opponent, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, were asked if the monarchy was “fit for purpose.” That would have been enough to prompt gasps within Buckingham Palace – without even hearing the answer.
“The sacking of Prince Andrew, as it is, is unprecedented. We have to go back to the abdication of Prince Edward VIII in 1936 to see anything vaguely comparable,” said Hunt.
“The position of the monarch is now up for question in 2019 which it wouldn’t have been just a few weeks ago. It’s being raised in debates during the British general election campaign. It’s being raised in debates on phone-ins across the UK on British radio stations. That is pretty unusual and that is why the British monarchy has acted as it has done and acted so speedily in removing Prince Andrew from public life.”
The British tabloids are convinced that Andrew was nudged before he was able to jump from his position in “the firm.” On Thursday, “ANDREW SHAMED INTO STEPPING DOWN” was splashed across the front of the Daily Express while the Daily Mail’s headline simply said “OUTCAST.”
If it is indeed the case that the Queen forced Prince Andrew to step aside, it is a decision that would have been taken in the spirit of her long reign which is always to put duty above all else. She’s proved more times than she would care to remember that she can recover from a crisis. It’s still a crown worth inheriting.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Milena Veselinovic and Simon Cullen contributed to this report.