The Queen was RIGHT to axe Prince Andrew for the sake of the monarchy, but more royal dead wood STILL needs the chop if ‘The Firm’ is to survive in the long-term, Her Majesty’s biographer AN WILSON argues
Prince Andrew has finally been stripped of his honorary military titles, and of his royal patronages. He has also agreed to no longer to use the honorific HRH.
The Queen has been extremely reluctant to wield the axe but, as her predecessor Henry VIII knew, monarchs sometimes need to use the execution block on London‘s Tower Hill, or its more humane modern equivalents, to preserve the institution of monarchy itself.
For years now, friends of mine who belonged to regiments or squadrons of which Prince Andrew was an honorary officer, have cringed.
The Grenadier Guards, in particular, have had to watch such glorious ceremonies as Trooping the Colour with their royal Colonel in Chief parading in their uniform, when everyone had the image in their mind of him walking through Central Park with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Or grinning at the camera in Ghislaine Maxwell’s Belgravia house, his arm round a 17-year-old’s midriff.
The Queen has been extremely reluctant to wield the axe but, as her predecessor Henry VIII knew, monarchs sometimes need to use the execution block on London’s Tower Hill, or its more humane modern equivalents, to preserve the institution of monarchy itself. (Above, Andrew in full regalia at Trooping The Colour in 2019)
The utter humiliation of Andrew is long overdue, but it does pose some worrying questions. The first is, how come the Royal Family still contains such black sheep?
Apart from Andrew, of course, there’s his ex-wife Sarah, with whom he still lives and who cheerfully got Epstein to pay a debt.
And though the Prince will no longer be styled HRH, their two daughters are still accorded this honour even though neither is technically a working royal.
What of Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s son, taking large sums from Chinese company Bright Dairies to appear in a milk advert, in which he is described as a British Royal Family member?
Then there are the truly appalling Sussexes over in America, seemingly doing their best to embarrass the Queen and undermine the monarchy with their every utterance —while shamelessly milking their royal connections.
They whinge about the constraints of Harry’s royal upbringing and profess a desire to live out of the limelight in their nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom, luxury Californian pad while expecting their children to be termed HRH.
The utter humiliation of Andrew is long overdue, but it does pose some worrying questions. The first is, how come the Royal Family still contains such black sheep? What of Peter Phillips, Princess Anne’s son, taking large sums from Chinese company Bright Dairies to appear in a milk advert (above), in which he is described as a British Royal Family member?
Harry was left an extremely rich man after legacies from his tragic mother and grandmother, and it is as absurd as it is offensive for him to complain that his father cut him off without a bean.
So, although the Queen, in the year of her Platinum Jubilee, has done the right and necessary thing by axing Andrew, there is still a lot of dead wood in the Royal Family waiting for the hacksaw and the bonfire.
At any moment this year, when it might be hoped that we can celebrate the monarchy and the Queen’s magnificent custodianship of this cherished institution, one of these bad smells can waft up, and we shall have our attention diverted from all the good which Her Majesty does.
Prince Harry’s biography is due out later this year. And there will certainly be the drip, drip, drip of bad news from New York lawyers’ offices and court rooms, reminding us of the sleazy company Prince Andrew has kept.
Perhaps it is not surprising, as he chose to marry the toe-sucking daughter of ‘raffish’ Major Ferguson, once revealed as a patron of the Wigmore Club where Ghislaine-style massages were on the menu.
Even if Andrew persuades a jury of his innocence in the civil case brought against him by Virginia Giuffre, we will be reminded of how this over-privileged, extravagant, stupid individual — so ready to exploit his position for personal advantage — has been part of the royal story for so many years.
What makes things particularly treacherous for the monarchy right now is that we are at a critical juncture given the Queen’s great age and the death of Philip.
Then there are the truly appalling Sussexes over in America, seemingly doing their best to embarrass the Queen and undermine the monarchy with their every utterance —while shamelessly milking their royal connections
While ‘The Firm’ was run by them, it was possible — just —to overlook the stench given off by the rotten apples in the barrel. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were doing such a superb job we could all see the point of having a constitutional monarchy.
Monarchists like me still fervently hope Prince Charles will be able to carry on this idea when he becomes King.
Alas, in many ways, it has been difficult to be optimistic on this score. The Queen and Prince Philip always displayed the old wartime spirit of just ‘getting on with things’. You never felt with either of them that being royal was an ego trip.
You were not made aware of their opinions about things, nor about their personalities.
With Prince Charles, in contrast, the role of Prince of Wales has all too often seemed to be about him — about his worries, his feelings, his peevish foibles, his obsessions.
Marriage to Camilla Parker Bowles has at least humanised him, and given us more hope for his reign. She is just what the monarchy needs to help it over the next difficult years. She is humorous, stylish, natural and unpompous.
Beyond these two, the same is true of Kate Middleton. Together with Prince William, she seems to understand why so many of us want the monarchy to continue — how it can perform a role in a modern society which is unifying and uplifting when we quite rightly despair of our politicians .
There are moments in national life — of rejoicing and of grief — where the monarch’s role is irreplaceable. Think of Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph without the royal presence. How bleak it would be if the only non-military figures laying wreaths were dud politicians.
Think of the sheer joy given by royal visits to schools, hospitals, factories, and compare this with the boredom, or embarrassment, of being visited by a Cabinet minister. You only have to make that contrast in your mind to see what we would lose if the monarchy were abolished.
But we should not take the durability of the institution for granted.
At the end of World War I, when Russia, Germany, Austria and many other European nations were replacing their monarchs with forms of government in every way more tyrannical and bloody, George V, our king, once quietly remarked: ‘I’m going to have to work hard to keep my job.’
He and his wife, Queen Mary, did indeed work to develop the concept of constitutional monarchy.
Far from endangering parliamentary democracy, it strengthened it. With a monarch as head of state, there is continuity and stability — it is no accident we remained a democracy when countries without kings or emperors ended up with leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Franco.
Apart from Andrew, of course, there’s his ex-wife Sarah, with whom he still lives and who cheerfully got Epstein to pay a debt. (Above, the Yorks in Switzerland in 2001)
Though the Prince will no longer be styled HRH, his two daughters are still accorded this honour even though neither is technically a working royal. (Above, the Duke with Beatrice and Eugenie in 2016)
Our Queen learnt her craft from ‘Grandpa England’ as she called George V. It is a difficult craft — as it involves keeping the monarch’s personality in the background. I am an optimist, and I think that, with Camilla at his side, Prince Charles can grow into kingship, and leave the old Charles — self-pitying and self-opinionated — behind.
I think there is every chance that Kate and William, if and when they succeed, will be ideal carriers of the flame.
But I do believe that if The Firm is to continue, it can only do so by a radical rethink about its fringe members, and its loose cannons.
Sensible members of the Royal Family have never wanted to parade their titles or exploit their connections with the Queen for commercial gain. Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon — vilified in some quarters but not by me — got it right.
Their two children, both devoted to them, grew up as talented individuals who lead private lives.
We could walk past them in the street and not be aware of the fact. They do not try to sell dairy produce for the Chinese, or insist on being called Princess This or That, or claim the honorific of Royal Highness.
It was a great mistake for Prince Andrew’s children ever to be given these privileges, and they should do the decent thing, even at this late stage, and be known as Mrs So-and-so and Mrs Thingy.
The Royal Family has always had losers and ne’er-do-wells within it. The British only escaped by the skin of their teeth having the Duke of Cumberland as King instead of his niece Queen Victoria. This was a man who made Prince Andrew’s private life look like a scented rose garden, and who, among his other crimes, was suspected of murdering his valet!
He coveted the British throne and had he not become King of Hanover, could easily have been our king. So awful was he that the British would without doubt have chosen to become a republic.
Edward VII, when he eventually became king, had a sordid history of repeated adulteries behind him, and you could see why his mother, Queen Victoria, felt he was going to bring the monarchy down.
That he did not do so was largely down to the fact that he had many qualities which Prince Andrew lacks. For he had great personal charm, and his many girlfriends tended to be the wives of his raffish aristocratic friends.
Hindsight is easy, especially if you are a writer like myself, as opposed to sitting on the throne and trying to ensure the monarchy’s future.
We can nevertheless see that the Royal Family should have been pared right back decades ago and limited to the immediate five or six possible heirs.
In this case: the Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and their children. In my view, all the others should stop using royal titles as from now.
There is absolutely no reason why they should be given grace-and-favour royal residences to live in. Above all, they should not be a drain on the British taxpayer.
Prince Charles himself has called for some such paring down, but there is one area which he still persistently fails to grasp — as do all the rest of the royals.
It is the matter of their private wealth. The Queen and her family, thanks to the good luck and stinginess of Queen Victoria, are heirs to enormous riches.
They have two palatial (but ugly) residences at Balmoral and Sandringham which are their personal property, as are large amounts of family jewels and treasures.
They also benefit from the vast income of estates such as the Duchy of Cornwall. In the year 2019/20 it provided Prince Charles with more than £22 million.
Most of the family are, by the standards of the rest of us, super-rich. Even a junior member such as Zara Tindall, for example, is worth far in excess of £15 million. Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is worth about £10 million.
Given this wealth, there should be a great deal less reliance on the taxpayer and Government to fund the monarchy through the Civil List (now called the Sovereign Grant). In my view the vast revenues from the Duchy of Cornwall should not go to Charles but be in the hands of the state (as governments have tried to make them since 1837!).
A combination of paring back the institution to its key members and reducing its reliance on the Sovereign Grant would give our monarchy more than a fighting chance of long-term survival.
In the meantime, I will continue to sing God Save The Queen — by which I will mean, among other things, God Save Her from certain godawful members of her own family.