The Downfall of Prince Andrew: Here's What You Need to Know

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Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre, who accuses him of raping her as a teenager, and Ghislaine Maxwell. (Southern District of New York via The New York Times)

He was a dashing helicopter pilot and war hero who captivated millions of Britons during the Falkland Islands War. Royal watchers liked to say he was a favorite of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

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These days, however, Prince Andrew, 61, is drawing global infamy and revulsion over accusations that he raped a teenager in 2001.

The prince has repeatedly denied the accusations. But this week, his once-glittering royal life was shattered irreparably after a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that a civil case related to the sexual abuse accusations could proceed.

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The reaction from Buckingham Palace was swift and punishing. Just a day later, the prince’s 95-year-old mother stripped him of his military titles and royal patronages. Going forward, the prince will no longer use the title “His Royal Highness,” a symbol of his status as a senior member of the royal family. The Sun, a popular British tabloid, summed it up: Andrew had been “effectively banished.”

Looming over the case is the prince’s friendship with former financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who the accuser, Virginia Giuffre, claimed had trafficked her to the prince. Epstein killed himself in prison in 2019.

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The case has deeply shaken the royal family, already buffeted by scandal and the rancorous departure of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan. The timing could hardly be worse: Elizabeth is poised to celebrate her 70th anniversary on the throne this year, and the monarchy — the symbol and unifier of an often restive nation — has been seeking to burnish and renew its brand for future generations.

Raising questions about class, entitlement and toxic masculinity, the accusations against Andrew have also laid bare the changing face of Britain during the #MeToo era.

And while the monarchy has outlived previous crises — war, abdications, revolutions, murderous kings — the latest one has also underscored how a resilient and venerable institution can still be battered by the bad behavior and poor judgment of its royal members.

Who is Andrew?

Born on Feb. 19, 1960, Andrew attended Gordonstoun boarding school in Scotland, his father’s alma mater. He appears to have inherited his father’s adventurous bent and went on to a distinguished military career.

A spare, rather than the heir, to the throne, his busy bachelorhood — linked to actresses and models, among others — was tabloid fodder, earning him the nickname “Randy Andy” and a reputation as a playboy prince.

When he married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, he became the Duke of York. The marriage ended in divorce a decade later amid accusations of infidelity. But the couple, who had two daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, remained close. They continue to share a home at Royal Lodge, a residence near Windsor Castle.

While as a young man Andrew was known as something of a rake, he earned respect after training as a naval officer and serving as a helicopter pilot during the Falkland Islands War. His appetite for risk was evident in 2012 when, to raise money for charity, he abseiled down the side of the Shard, an iconic London skyscraper, from the 87th floor.

Before becoming ensnared by scandal, Andrew’s royal duties included serving as a trade representative for Britain, a role that brought him into the orbit of the superrich. He was a patron of dozens of charities and had eight British military titles.

Royal watchers had seen him as the queen’s favorite, possibly because of a jokey personality and a substantive military background that have echoes of his father.

Why is Andrew in trouble?

Andrew’s woes are largely the result of his association with Epstein, who was being held on federal sex-trafficking charges when he died, and Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently found guilty of conspiring with Epstein to recruit, groom and abuse underage girls. The accusations against Andrew surfaced in 2015 during a federal lawsuit against Epstein in Florida. One accuser, Giuffre, claimed that the prince had raped her when she was 17.

After a disastrous BBC interview, broadcast in November 2019, in which he tried to explain his friendship with Epstein — and spurred a backlash after characterizing the behavior of the convicted sex offender as “unbecoming” — the prince announced he was indefinitely stepping away from public life. During the interview, the prince said he had “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre.

But he could not explain a widely published photograph taken in London that showed him with his arm around the girl’s waist. He told the BBC that he had no memory of the photograph “ever being taken.” He also made several bizarre claims to deflect his accuser’s charges, among them that he was medically incapable of sweating. Giuffre has asserted that the prince was sweating profusely during one of their meetings.

In August 2021, Giuffre filed a lawsuit against Andrew in federal court in Manhattan, New York, repeating her accusations. His lawyers have tried to get the case dismissed, but on Jan. 12, a judge allowed the suit to proceed.

How has the queen reacted?

After the ruling this week in the sexual abuse lawsuit, Buckingham Palace announced that the prince would be relinquishing his military titles and royal charities. In a stinging rebuke, the palace also said the prince would no longer use the title “His Royal Highness.” The palace’s terse statement said that Andrew would “continue not to undertake any public duties” and that he “is defending this case as a private citizen.”

The language of the palace’s announcement appeared carefully calibrated to stave off any efforts by the prince to rehabilitate himself.

The decision to deprive Andrew of his military titles and the honorific “His Royal Highness” puts him on the same footing as his nephew, Harry, who was forced to give up both after he and his wife withdrew from royal duties and moved to Southern California in 2020.

What does this mean for the royal family?

Elizabeth will mark 70 years on the throne in February, which was supposed to offer an opportunity to reframe the royal narrative after three years of unrelenting turmoil. But now the lurid tableau of a sexual abuse lawsuit unfolding in a Manhattan courtroom could cast a pall over her celebrations. There are also deeper, more long-lasting risks for the monarchy as it seeks to remain relevant in the age of TikTok.

The queen remains beloved by the British public for her work ethic and long service; she has been served by 14 prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill, and has edged out Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history. But members of the younger generation have come of age during a period when the monarchy has been rocked by scandal, and the accusations against Andrew are helping to solidify that perception.

As it is, in multicultural Britain and beyond, some have already felt alienated from the monarchy after Meghan and Harry’s departure. The sense of it being an anachronistic family out of touch with contemporary mores was reinforced during an explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey in which Meghan, a biracial former actress, raised the issue of racism within the royal family.

The relegation of Andrew to the royal wilderness will also reinforce the royal model of Prince Charles, who will succeed his mother after her death and who has been advocating a streamlined House of Windsor.

What are the next steps in the case against Andrew?

If both sides agree to a settlement, which would bring the lawsuit to an end, Andrew would likely not have to admit any liability or wrongdoing, but he could face sizable financial costs. Under an agreed-upon scheduling order in the lawsuit, lawyers for Giuffre and Andrew must complete legal discovery — the exchange of documents and the taking of depositions of experts — by July 14. If the case goes to trial before a jury, it could lead to the public airing of tawdry and damaging details about the prince that could further undermine the monarchy.

© 2022 The New York Times Company

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