Duke of York has repeatedly denied sexual assault allegation at heart of lawsuit recently launched against him
The civil suit launched a few days ago against Prince Andrew may be new, but the allegations at its core — that he sexually assaulted one of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime accusers when she was 17 — are not.
And there is nothing new in how Queen Elizabeth’s second son, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, has responded to the latest legal situation: with public silence.
That’s not to say there’s been silence around the suit filed by lawyers for Virginia Giuffre in Manhattan federal court.
“It has caused a media storm, as would be predictable,” said Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, via email.
Rowbotham said it is highly unlikely that the suit came as a surprise to either Andrew or the Royal Family.
The official line, she said, is that this is a personal matter for Andrew, and not something for the Royal Family to handle in an institutional sense.
“He has his own team of legal advisers and there is no suggestion of any involvement from the Royal Household’s legal retainers, further underlining that it is being handled as a purely private and personal matter for the prince.”
Andrew stepped back from official royal duties in the aftermath of his disastrous BBC interview in November 2019 about his friendship with Epstein.
The spectre of that interview, which was excoriated for its arrogance and Andrew’s seemingly tone-deaf focus on himself, as well as the lack of empathy he showed for Epstein’s victims, has hung over him ever since.
“If he hadn’t done the interview, there would have been a lot of noise, [but] it would be more difficult … to keep the narrative going,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview.
While Andrew may have stepped back, there has also been a sense he may be interested in resuming a more public role. At the time of the death of his father, Prince Philip, in April, he spoke to the media — a move that in particular sparked speculation he might be eyeing a return.
But in the eyes of many observers, such a return is unlikely. Borkowski considers chances of it happening “very slim, microscopic.”
“It’s a story that is not going to go away. Any time he raises his head above the parapet … it’s not a good look. And the tactic he deployed to supposedly draw a line over this has done anything but that.”
Andrew’s circumstances are hardly the first time a member of the Royal Family has been caught up in high-profile legal matters over the centuries.
The real question here, suggested Rowbotham, “is not whether or not Prince Andrew is guilty of something, but rather, how will public opinion view not only him, but also the wider Royal Family, as a result of the outcome — whatever it is — of the suit brought against him.”
Looking back in time, she points to the case of George IV and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick. In 1820, he arranged to have her put on trial in the House of Lords for adultery.
“Public opinion was hotly engaged, with most people very firmly on Queen Caroline’s side,” said Rowbotham, who is also a legal and constitutional historian.
Ultimately, George IV didn’t get his divorce, and both the monarch and the government survived.
“At that time, attitudes to the sexual mores of the elite were very different, but the public discerned an unfairness over suing the Queen for adultery when the King had, for years, been an open and flagrant adulterer himself,” said Rowbotham.
Borkowski sees Andrew’s situation as a “recurring scar” for the Royal Family.
“It makes it more difficult for the Royal Family to start rebuilding and projecting positively when we’ve still got these negative stories swirling around.”
Rowbotham said the situation for Andrew, who is now ninth in the line of succession and essentially a minor royal, “is undoubtedly embarrassing and problematic for him, and for his family in the personal sense.”
“But it is honestly difficult to see that it is a threat to the Royal Family as an institution surrounding the monarchy.”
Many minor royals have been caught up in scandal over the years, she said, noting, for example, a previous Prince George of Cambridge in the 1800s. (This George had illegitimate children, mistresses and a mixed reputation regarding his time in the military.)
“While the family — with a lowercase F — may be affected [by Andrew’s situation], the Royal Family will be in the long term not significantly affected,” said Rowbotham.