Prince Andrew scandal may end in exile, just like his great uncle Edward VIII – David Behrens

The Duke of York, in an interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis.
The Duke of York, in an interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis.
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If ever there was a case of Royal history repeating itself, this was it.

As the screenwriter Peter Morgan reminded us this week, two strains have run right through the House of Windsor. For every George V, there has been a Prince Eddy. For every Charles, an Andrew.

The Duke of York

The Duke of York

It was a quirk of coincidence that The Crown, Morgan’s pitch-perfect exposition of the Royals from the 1930s to the present, returned to TV on the very weekend that the latest chapter in this peculiarly British soap opera unfolded on another channel.

The Duke of York – having taken advice, one can only imagine, from the people who told Theresa May to call an election in 2017 – gave an interview to the BBC in the hope of pouring cold water on the incendiary rumours about his friendship with the American financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

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But instead of diffusing the controversy, he inflamed it.

It was Andrew’s complete failure to understand what was required of him that was so unsettling. The moment should have been about Epstein’s victims, but the Duke made it about himself.

When the interviewer, Emily Maitlis, asked what message he had for the woman allegedly made at 17 to have sex with him, he just shook his head. “I don’t have a message,” he said. There was no regret, no remorse, just denial.

In painting himself as a victim, when what was needed was sympathy and contrition, he had detached himself from reality, as well as from what had or had not gone on during his “trade envoy” missions in America. He was as out of touch with the popular mood as his parents had been in 1997.

Yet we should not have been surprised, for Andrew was not acting out of character. He has long been the playboy prince, a cavalier counterpoint to his dull and dutiful older brother. This very week, as his friends fell away and he withdrew from the few public duties he had undertaken, Charles was acting as a proper envoy, extolling the virtues of Sikhism in India and building bridges in New Zealand after the massacre there last spring.

This is a sibling disparity that has manifested itself in every generation, from Edward VIII and George VI, to the Queen and Princess Margaret. For every restorer, a wrecker.

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Perhaps the most startling analogy is with Albert Victor – Prince Eddy – who was heir to the throne ahead of George V. At 25, and engulfed by rumours about his sexuality, he was implicated in the police raid of an aristocratic male brothel. He died in ignominy, aged 28.

The lessons from that scandal, and from the many that have followed, have never been fully learned. The Windsors have not been able to extinguish the self-destructive streak that burns within them.

Andrew is not necessarily guilty of having broken any law, but that’s hardly the point. He is guilty of cant and of having taken his position for granted. It was a tenuous one, anyway; invented to give him something to do. A job for the boy. His withdrawal from it is a sacking by any other name.

His mother did not authorise his interview, we are told. Given the preconditions attached to most such encounters these days, we can only wonder at the circumstances in which it was negotiated.

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Perhaps he had taken his cue from The Crown, which dramatised the publicity offensive his mother mounted in 1968, to repair the fallout from her husband’s complaint that the Royals were getting too little public money. Her solution was to let TV cameras follow the family around, in the manner of what would now be called a docu-soap. But it was wholly stage-managed, and its distribution remained in the domain of the Palace.

Andrew took no such precautions with Ms Maitlis, and it will be his brother who will eventually have to clean up after him.

Charles is himself no stranger to scandal but his indiscretions are largely of the type we can recognise in ourselves. He is Andrew’s polar opposite. Under him, we are told, the family will be slimmed down, and those not at its core, marginalised.

The Royals have been ruthless with those who break ranks, and while comparisons between the current crisis and the abdication might be overcooked, the Duke of York is likely to find himself no less of an exile than his great uncle.