Royal damage control: Why the queen left Prince Andrew to fight case as ‘private citizen’

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II’s decision to strip Prince Andrew of his military titles and patronages was a brutal and humiliating exercise in damage-limitation, royal experts said Friday.

The move to cast out Andrew, the 95-year-old queen's second son, came a day after a judge in the United States allowed a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual abuse to proceed. The Duke of York will fight the case "as a private citizen," Buckingham Palace said in an abrupt statement announcing the demotion.

The bombshell dominated British front pages Friday, even topping new revelations of an alleged lockdown-flouting party at Prime Minister Boris Johnson's home, with royal-watchers viewing the queen’s decision as an attempt to reduce the saga's ability to embarrass the palace further.

“It’s quite brutal in many ways — the queen is really putting a foot down and saying this cannot continue,” said David McClure, a royal commentator and author. “It has become tremendously damaging in terms of the reputation of the whole monarchy, not just Andrew, so the queen really did have to make a decision.”

It comes after a tough two years for the monarch, who lost her husband, Prince Philip, and saw Prince Harry leave the family for a new life in the United States with Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, amid accusations of racism that the family has vehemently denied.

Jan. 14, 202203:23

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Andrew will no longer be able to use “His Royal Highness” in any capacity, a royal source told NBC News. He will give up a dozen military titles and will no longer be patron of more than 100 organizations and clubs — though many had already cut ties with him. He retains his rank as vice admiral and remains ninth in line to the British throne.

Andrew served in Britain’s Royal Navy, flying missions in the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982. He comes from a long line of British royals who have served in the armed forces and forged close links to the military.

Hours before the palace statement Thursday, the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic released a letter signed by some 150 veterans asking the queen to “take immediate steps to strip Prince Andrew of all his military ranks.”

“We understand that he is your son,” the letter went on, but “these steps could have been taken at any time in the past eleven years. Please do not leave it any longer.”

She did not, with the failure of Andrew’s bid to dismiss the civil case raising the prospect of a long legal process.

Prince Andrew, seen here with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in June 2019, is the monarch's second son and ninth in line to the throne. Max Mumby / Getty Images file

Virginia Giuffre, now 38, alleges that Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell trafficked her and forced her to have sex with Andrew, now 61, in the 1990s. He has repeatedly denied the allegations and that he has ever met Giuffre, who was 17 at the time.

“It didn’t happen. I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened,” he told the BBC in 2019. “I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.”

If the case isn’t settled out of court or otherwise dismissed, Andrew could be forced to give evidence at a high-profile trial starting in the fall or winter.

“This is now about the protection of the royal family’s reputation,” BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said. “This is likely to do, and is already doing, considerable reputational damage — it’s being followed around the world.”

NBC News has reached out to Buckingham Palace and representatives for Andrew for comment.

A source close to Andrew said earlier this week, “This is a marathon not a sprint and the Duke will continue to defend himself against these claims.”

As the queen’s second son who was unlikely to ever see the throne, Andrew's active social life led to Britain’s tabloid press calling him “the party prince.”

But Giuffre’s allegations and Andrew’s relationship with Epstein and Maxwell have become one of the most toxic royal crises in decades.

The prince gave an interview to the BBC in November 2019 that he hoped would clear his name but was widely seen as a car crash that invited further ridicule. Perhaps most notably, Andrew claimed that Giuffre’s recollection of him sweating in a nightclub was untrue because an “adrenaline overdose” during the Falklands War meant he had lost the ability to perspire.

Prince Andrew says he had no recollection of this photo appearing to show Virginia Giuffre (then Roberts) with him and Ghislaine Maxwell at Maxwell's London home.

In the ensuing furor, Andrew announced he was stepping back from his public duties “for the foreseeable future.” And Buckingham Palace appeared to distance itself from him, declining to give statements on his behalf and referring journalists to his own lawyers for comment.

It was a rocky time for the monarchy elsewhere, with Harry and Meghan also stepping away from “the firm” in early 2020 after complaining about their treatment at the hands of the press and fellow royals themselves. They too were stripped of their patronages and titles.

Several royal commentators, as well as Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, have said Andrew was always the queen’s favorite son. He will be forever associated with the British crown, but the queen has now appeared to distance herself from him.

“The queen is saying enough is enough — a firm decision had to be made,” McClure said. “It was inevitable. The only question is whether it should have come earlier.”

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