Andrew and the monarchy: an institution under threat?

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As his attempt to have the civil sexual assault case he faces thrown out of court fails, the Duke of York may wish he had ten thousand men to help him in the months to come. Prince Andrew – the supposed favourite son of his mother and ninth in the line of succession – has also had his military titles and royal patronages removed, and will no longer be addressed as ‘His Royal Highness’. What dangers does Andrew’s fall from grace pose for the wider monarchy?

Arguably, not as many as you might think. There has been fairly decisive action from within to associate Andrew as a private citizen rather than a public figure. Since 2019 he has withdrawn from public duties (becoming permanent in 2020) and the reaction to his ‘car crash’ interview with Emily Maitlis has mostly reflected on him rather than the Royal Family.

Andrew may have inadvertently helped his brother, Charles, in hastening some of his plans for the monarchy when (or if) he should ascend to the throne. Charles is in favour of a much-reduced public monarchy, in the style of other European monarchies such as Denmark. Reducing the focus to the direct line of succession would prevent the gaffes of distant cousins being as prominent, while also reducing the impact on the public purse of events such as the marriage of Zara Phillips.

The reputation of the royals has the weight of history and public emotion on its side

The reputation of the royals also has the weight of history and public emotion on its side. It is entirely possible that large swathes of the public will have barely known about or associated Andrew with the crown before his scandals came to light; for most people there is only one name coming before all others.

Queen Elizabeth II, a woman who up to a third of the British public has dreamed about, has been almost unquestionable in her dignity and sacrifice towards the United Kingdom and Commonwealth at large. Candidates for Prime Minister who are suspected of being insufficiently patriotic are often asked in public election debates what their views are on the institution of the monarchy, of which much of the legitimacy for the current generation rests on her actions. Her role is so decisive that Malcom Turnbull credited her personally as the cause of a slight defeat in Australia in a 1999 referendum on becoming a republic.

When she dies, will the monarchy be more or less at risk? If it carries on operating in the way it has under her, it’s unlikely to be significantly more threatened, but we cannot look into the future. Succession remains a period of weakness even without the political importance of pre-Glorious Revolution times, and there will be doubts. Her reign has seen 14 US Presidents, the slow decline of the British Empire, and the world change beyond recognition. The monarchy now faces public scrutiny from all angles; private agreements with the press carry less weight. Still, formalities are observed and ceremony carries power of its own, as the crowning of her successor will doubtless bring heads of state from across the globe.

Ultimately, the Royal Family will survive because it has to survive

Ultimately, the Royal Family will survive because it has to survive. Edward VIII’s abdication and more recently the departure of Harry and Meghan to America, events that damaged public faith have been endured and left a pillar of British society older than Magna Carta chugging along. In preparing for Diana’s funeral, well aware of the awkward fact that Charles would not receive a welcome reaction from mourners, and even fearing danger, the decision was made to make William and Harry follow their mother’s coffin in full view of billions of viewers worldwide. Both have since spoken about how difficult it was to do – but neither regrets it. William, reflecting on his private and public existence, spoke of “that balance between duty and family”, and understanding the weight of expectation on his shoulders. A child who has lost their mother has to put on a stiff upper lip and represent the House of Windsor before he can privately cry.

This sense of duty, exemplified by the Queen and hopefully carried on by her successors, is the core that sees the monarchy through crisis after crisis. Where it requires family to be ostracised and difficult choices to be made, it is that duty which has typically driven the House of Windsor beyond their failings in this modern era, and will be the burden of the next sovereign and whoever comes after them. Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown.

Image: Secretary of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

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