There has been an almighty power struggle going on all week in the United Kingdom — with the Duke of York sex scandal continuing to dominate the headlines.
As the driving force behind her second — and some say favourite — son stepping back from public duties for the “foreseeable future”, the Queen’s decisive action in a face-to-face meeting at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday serves as a salient reminder that the Royal family will do anything to preserve the institution of monarchy — even at the expense of those in it.
Alarm bells were said to have rung behind palace gates when the question of whether the House of Windsor was still fit for purpose came up during Tuesday night’s television election debate.
The problem was not Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “in need of improvement” response or even the lacklustre reaction to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim that the institution of monarchy was “beyond reproach” — but rather that the topic was even up for discussion in the first place.
Hence why efforts were made to insulate the Queen from the fallout of what is now widely considered as the most ill-advised royal interview in recent memory. It is once again worth noting that Buckingham Palace did not deviate from its original statement that Her Majesty was made aware of the interview but did not give it her blessing despite Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis’s insistence that the Duke had sought approval from “higher up”.
The Prince of Wales’s fingerprints were also all over the sidelining of his 59-year-old brother after a week that has made the annus horribilis of 1992 look like a comparative picnic.
Although he is currently touring New Zealand with the Duchess of Cornwall, the heir to the throne worked closely with the 93-year-old monarch on his brother’s unprecedented statement in a bid to jointly mitigate the fallout. It was the same when mother and son took the unexpected decision to deny the Duke and Duchess of Sussex a household of their own, insisting that their private office come under the auspices of Buckingham Palace. It came after an earlier attempt to merge all the palace communication teams under the Prince’s ultimate control failed.
All of these significant moves chime with the future king’s transition plans. The Prince of Wales is intent on slimming down the monarchy and when the Duke of York was hoist by his own petard on prime-time television on Saturday night, an opportunity presented itself to kick-start a trimming exercise that will inevitably be ramped up in earnest once the Queen is no longer on the throne.
Already described as a “shadow king”, there has recently been revived talk of the 71-year-old becoming Prince Regent when the Queen turns 95 in two years, although royal aides repeatedly deny any suggestion of The Boss taking a back seat while she is still perfectly in possession of all her faculties.
Meanwhile, the Duke’s travails continued at the end of the week when he was finally forced to sever ties with the [email protected] initiative, having desperately tried to cling onto the project. In a further humiliation, the Duke has also been ordered to move his private office out of Buckingham Palace.
The Prince of Wales is intent on slimming down the monarchy
The BBC confirmed that it was broadcasting a fresh interview with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the Duke’s chief accuser, on its Panorama programme.
And the Duke is understood to be braced for a request to give evidence to the FBI over what he knew about Epstein’s sex ring. He has denied all knowledge.
It’s been a tumultuous week for the palace.
Meanwhile, those who serve royalty know that in order to survive they have to keep one eye on succession. It is perhaps no coincidence that reports suggested the Duke of Cambridge had also been closely watching the scandal engulfing his errant uncle. “Don’t forget he has a long-term stake in this too,” said one friend of the family. Of course, Prince William is all too familiar with the perils of being the heir to a spare. As Prince Harry put it in that other significant royal interview of 2019, when he appeared to confirm reports of a rift between the two brothers: “We are certainly on different paths at the moment.”
Now sixth in line to the throne, the ease with which his uncle’s services have been dispensed with will no doubt be giving the Duke of Sussex food for thought as he spends Christmas away from the rest of the royal brood at Sandringham.
Called The Firm for good reason, the Royal family is effectively a body of shareholders (or in this case, households) in competition with each other to retain a slice of the pie. In times of crisis, normal families are brought closer together but when it comes to the monarchy, the opposite is often true.
It quickly becomes a case of every royal for themselves as households not only go on the defensive but the offensive — sometimes even briefing against each other in the interests of self-preservation. As a source close to Andrew’s private office put it: “The thing that has surprised me most is the level of internal briefing that has gone on against the Duke.”
Yet it shouldn’t really surprise anyone with a scintilla of knowledge of British royal history. For the truth is, a dynasty like this — still operating in the 21st century — simply cannot afford to take any prisoners.