Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 25° Cloudy

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Monica Hesse: Prince Andrew’s titles were ridiculous - but it matters that he no longer has them

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 14, 2022

By Monica Hesse Washington Post

On Wednesday, Buckingham Palace released a statement that the Andrew formerly known as Prince – the member of the royal family fighting allegations of sexual abuse in connection with Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking ring – would be stripped of all of his titles and military honors. They would all be “returned to The Queen.” And so it was my first instinct to go find out what exactly Her Majesty’s middle son was losing.

Though he technically will still be known as Prince Andrew, he is no longer allowed to use “His Royal Highness” in any official capacity, for example. He is no longer a Colonel of the Royal Irish Regiment, or the Yorkshire Regiment, or the Royal Lancers or the Small Arms Corps, or the Royal Air Force Lossiemouth. It wasn’t immediately clear whether “titles” included “honors,” but if they do, then Andrew isn’t a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order anymore, or even a Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

At some point when I was listing these titles for my editor, he thought that I was joking and asked whether the Duke of York had lost his canine rule over Yorkshire terriers. I had to explain, no, these are actual real titles proudly possessed by a grown man at the age of 61.

But they’re ridiculous, no? Receiving them was symbolic, using them was symbolic and having them taken away – well, that too was symbolic. No longer serving as an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting would hardly be a crushing punishment. The real punishment will or won’t come via the judicial system: On Tuesday a judge in New York denied Andrew’s motion to dismiss charges in the lawsuit filed against him by a woman named Virginia Giuffre.

It’s worth it, at this time, to detail just what Andrew has been accused of, all of which he denies. Giuffre alleges that Andrew engaged in sexual activities with her when she was just 17 years old – when Andrew was Epstein’s guest and Giuffre was Epstein’s victim. Giuffre says there were three sexual encounters with Andrew: in New York, in the Virgin Islands and in London, where she says Epstein paid her $15,000 to have sex with the man who would have then been fourth in line to the throne. She was too afraid, she has said, to refuse.

It’s worth it, at this time, to mention that these encounters allegedly took place more than 20 years ago, in 2001. Not to say it’s ancient history, but to emphasize how achingly slow the wheels of justice have turned in this sad, sickening case.

You know how the Epstein story ended, but do you recall how long ago it began? Authorities began investigating the financier for sexual abuse of minors back in 2005. He briefly went to prison in 2008, but was allowed to leave his cell six days a week to go work in his posh private office. (The Department of Justice later said there was no evidence that Epstein’s wealth or associations impacted the plea deal, but come on – do you think a cashier at Target would have been allowed to waltz out of prison for 12-hour stretches?) Epstein was rearrested in 2019 and was awaiting trial when he died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell. Ghislaine Maxwell, a former British socialite, was convicted on sex-trafficking charges last month after prosecutors argued that she had procured and groomed teenage victims for Epstein. (Maxwell’s lawyers have said they will seek a mistrial.)

Andrew’s association with Epstein has been reported on and criticized for years. In 2015 the palace commented on their friendship, stating that “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”

These were men and women cloaked in prestige: Epstein, a millionaire moving in the social realm that passes for aristocracy in the United States; Andrew, a member of the actual British aristocracy, high up enough to be defended by the queen’s own spokespeople.

Money and status are the reasons we are only seeing repercussions doled out in 2019 and 2021 and 2022 instead of in 2001, when they might have helped Virginia Giuffre or prevented other girls from becoming victims.

Money and status bought protection, exceptions, blind eyes, delay – top-shelf legal representation and top-notch reputation-washing via charitable donations and high-end favors.

It was deeply satisfying to see Maxwell finally convicted, especially after victims had been denied the opportunity to see the same for Epstein.

It’s satisfying in a different way to know that Andrew can no longer be honorary Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps.

The title didn’t mean anything. But taking it away turns out to mean something: The man has been uncloaked. Un-prestiged. Lowered in status if not in wealth. Like any other person facing judgment in the U.S. justice system, Prince Andrew is innocent until proven guilty. And yet, due to a different kind of judgment rendered by his mother, he is much more like any other citizen than he ever had been in his life.

Wednesday’s statement from the palace was an overdue but thorough hand-washing: The stripping of titles was done “with The Queen’s approval and agreement,” the statement read. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”

Private citizen. That title could take some getting used to. It has a different ring to it than Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. But it’s no more or less of a title than Andrew – or any member of any aristocracy – deserves to wear into a courtroom.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.