The biggest royal news story today was meant to involve a Shetland pony. Yesterday, the Queen was officially welcomed to her Scottish retreat Balmoral in a ceremony involving the Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ceremony starring none other than the regiment’s mascot, Shetland Pony Lance Corporal Cruachan IV.
However, in the early hours of this morning news broke that Virginia Giuffre, formerly Roberts, an alleged victim of disgraced sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, had filed a lawsuit in a Manhattan court alleging that Prince Andrew had sexually abused her when she was 17.
Giuffre has alleged in the court documents that she was forced to have sex with the Duke of York on three occasions in London, New York and on Epstein’s Caribbean island, when she was under the age of 18.
Andrew has repeatedly and strenuously denied Giuffre’s allegations. He has yet to respond to the lawsuit.
“I am holding Prince Andrew accountable for what he did to me,” Giuffre said in a statement. “The powerful and rich are not exempt from being held responsible for their actions.
“I did not come to this decision lightly. As a mother and a wife, my family comes first and I know that this action will subject me to further attacks by Prince Andrew and his surrogates but I knew if I did not pursue this action, I would be letting them and victims everywhere down.”
Today’s news is a body blow for the royal family. No matter what happens next or how the case might proceed, the only guarantee is that the house of Windsor has been plunged into totally uncharted and very dangerous waters.
Never before has a senior member of the royal family ever been accused of sexual assault before. (To be clear: Andrew has not been charged nor has there ever been any suggestion he might be.)
There is no “best case” outcome with this court case for the Queen and The Firm.
Should Andrew suddenly decide to settle, it would carry with it the lingering whiff of guilt. However, the prospect of the case going to court raises the very real prospect of highly embarrassing evidence being dragged through the American court system. (Any new evidence uncovered during the case could later be used by authorities.)
There is no scenario here where the palace emerges unscathed.
But, nor should they.
Giuffre’s lawsuit was filed nearly two years to the day since Epstein committed suicide in a New York jail after being on arrested on sex trafficking charges and in those intervening two years, the Queen has repeatedly made the most egregious mistakes of her reign.
At every point, she has spectacularly mishandled this situation.
In August 2019, with her son drawing renewed fire in the wake of Epstein’s death, Her Majesty put on a wildly ill-conceived show of support for the embattled father-of-two by making the decision to drive to church with Andrew by her side.
Her attempt to give him some PR cover by demonstrating he still had her seal of approval was an unmitigated disaster of a move.
Shots of a grinning Andrew were like nails on a chalkboard and the whole display just felt grotesquely indifferent and insensitive in the face of Epstein’s victims being currently denied any chance of seeing justice.
This was not the first time that Her Majesty had tried to use her regal imprimatur to insulate Andrew during a crisis. In 2011, when his connection to Giuffre was first alleged, the Queen responded by not punishing him in any way but instead by investing him with the insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the highest possible honour for “personal service” to the sovereign. The symbolism was clear: He still had her full backing.
That two years has elapsed since Epstein’s without the palace spearheading any sort of decisive action to handle the Andrew situation once and for all is unforgivable.
It was the duke’s former private secretary Amanda Thirsk who is reported to have encouraged him to do his now infamous Newsnight interview during which he demonstrated such a galling lack of empathy and a hodgepodge of ridiculous answers that veteran interviewer Emily Maitlis’ mouth dropped open on occasion. (An insider told the Telegraph at the time that he had done the TV sit down to try and draw a line under the Epstein saga before his daughter Princess Beatrice’s wedding.)
So tone deaf was the duke that the morning after the interview went to air, a “buoyant” Andrew reportedly attended church with his mother and told her it has “been a great success.” Within days, facing a roiling wave of public anger over his performance and dearth of empathy towards Epstein’s victims, Andrew was forced to step back from public life.
None of this cataclysmic PR bungle was the handiwork of the palace.
But therein lies the rub: They have not done a thing. They have not taken a single decisive step, aside from when they were absolutely forced to post-Newsnight, to deal with this situation.
This hands-off approach has only proven to be, time and again to their detriment.
What the palace has never appeared to comprehend, or to show any willingness to act upon, is that the level of public fury on the Andrew issue is red hot and is unlike anything they have dealt with before. The royal house’s bog standard tight-lipped, “nothing to see here” stance has never been enough to satisfy an incensed nation and world.
To date, in no way has Andrew has been made to atone for even just his abysmal judgment in spending time with Epstein after he was a convicted sex offender.
In February last year the US attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman fronted the media to reveal that the Duke had “provided zero co-operation” to US authorities investigating Epstein after the royal had earlier promised that he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency”. (Andrew was reported to be “angry and bewildered” by Berman’s claims and he was “more than happy to talk,” sources told the Guardian at the time.)
Incredulously, Andrew has even seemingly tested the waters about making a return to public life. In October last year it was revealed that had hired a “working group” including lawyers from the firm Blackfords, Clare Montgomery QC and the PR specialist and crisis management expert Mark Gallagher in an attempt “to help clear his name and rehabilitate his image,” according to the Times.
Andrew, a source told the paper, was “locked down at Royal Lodge [his home on the Queen’s Windsor estate], thinking about his future service and public role. He has some clear thoughts.” (How do you spell “deluded” again?)
Even in the wake of Newsnight, the royal approach has been wholly lacking, with the palace falling back on their old MO of just issuing stern denials and seemingly praying all the nastiness goes away.
To think that strategy would go any way to dousing public anger at this point in time is just risible.
This isn’t just about damage control (which it is too) but about showing some genuine contrition and Andrew taking a few lumps on the chin.
Andrew was friends with a man who was on the sex offenders’ registry. He went to stay with him for five days. Surely even that alone is grounds for a spot of royal soul searching and some sort of public gesture to demonstrate penitence. His daughter Princess Eugenie co-founded the Anti-Slavery Collective. Why not start there?
That the Queen has let the Andrew debacle get to fester to this extraordinary point and has not taken any substantive steps to address public outrage on this is hugely regrettable.
The question is, #MeToo, in 2021, is that really good enough?
I don’t think so.
Where is the Queen’s leadership here? Her inaction and clumsy handling of this crisis, more than anything, has the potential to taint her legacy.
At the age of 95, Her Majesty faces one of her greatest tests yet. The British national anthem might be God Save the Queen but today, the only person who can potentially yank the monarchy out of the abyss isn’t some divine hand but sovereign herself.
Time to get cracking ma’am.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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