There are some pretty big updates to the Prince Andrew-Virginia Giuffre civil lawsuit that is currently on the docket in New York, so let’s take a look at what has been happening.
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Virginia Giuffre is an American woman who claims that Prince Andrew sexually assaulted her when she was being trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and the recently-found-guilty Ghislaine Maxwell. A very brief explainer: Prince Andrew was known to be close friends with both Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Maxwell, a British socialite, ran in the same circles as Andrew in the 8os and 90s, and introduced Epstein to Andrew. Epstein was a known child predator who had pleaded guilty to lesser charges involving sexual abuse of minors in the late 2000s, paid Giuffre to sign a non disclosure agreement (NDA) regarding his abuse of her, and, after being arrested for additional sexual abuse and assault charges related to Giuffre and numerous others, was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell in August 2019. Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested after Epstein’s death on a number of charges related to child abuse and assault and trafficking of a child for the purpose of sexual abuse/assault. Maxwell was just found guilty of five of the six of the charges for which she was tried, and is awaiting sentencing.
While all of this had been happening, Virginia Giuffre had been vocal about what she said was multiple instances of sexual assault by Prince Andrew. Epstein and Maxwell have both been accused of grooming and coercing Giuffre and other girls into being sexually abused assaulted by Prince Andrew and other powerful men. Giuffre has sued Andrew in a civil court in New York. There are a couple of different reasons why Giuffre is suing in a civil rather than criminal court, which you can find online. But, although a civil trial is, legally and diplomatically, a less complicated and consequence-laden option, a civil suit can still affect Andrew in two ways: financially and reputationally.
Let’s talk about finances. Experts have said in the media that, if Andrew is found guilty in this coming civil trial, he could possibly be ordered to pay Giuffre damages in the millions, possibly tens of millions, of dollars. I have seen figures as high as 15 million GBP (that’s more than $20 million US). Andrew isn’t a brilliant financial mind – it’s well known that his extravagant lifestyle is financed by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. And even so, he has recently seen financial hardship – he and his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, have been forced to sell their Verbier ski chalet, valued at millions of pounds, to pay a debt resulting from the initial purchase of the chalet and Andrew’s mounting legal costs resulting from the Giuffre lawsuit.
Add to that the fact that Andrew is no longer in demand by private businesses and that his mother has banned him from undertaking public royal duties, and you can see what dire financial straits Andrew is in. Giuffre and her lawyers surely don’t think that Andrew has millions of pounds lying around to hand over if/when he is found guilty in this civil suit. Giuffre’s laywers are smart enough to know that, even if Andrew doesn’t have two cents to rub together, his status as a member of the British Royal Family and beloved son of the monarch will ensure that the cheque is cut. And this is because of the second thing we’re going to talk about: reputation.
Reputation: it’s not just a terrible Taylor Swift album (please don’t dox me). Giuffre and her lawyers know that even if Prince Andrew doesn’t have the money to pay a court-ordered judgment, that his mother does. And if Andrew and, more importantly, the British Royal Family as an institution, want this whole story, which damages the BRF’s reputation enormously, to go away, then someone in the family is going to cut the cheque. It would likely be paid from the Queen’s private income and it would likely never be officially said that that’s where the money had come from.
But what would look worse/sell more papers: Andrew being found guilty of sexual assault of a minor in a court and being required to pay damages, OR Andrew being found guilty of sexual assault of a minor in a court and telling everyone he isn’t able to pay damages? Which one do you think would be on the front page of the Daily Mail for more days? So, as is the case with most issues related to the BRF, the goal will be to close the chapter as quickly and quietly as possible, in order to stop the reputational bleeding and keep the monarchy alive and well (enough) to fight another day.
I think it’s clear that Andrew has already damaged the monarchy to the brink of collapse. You just have to watch some of his interview with Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight to see how badly he has already hurt the institution:
And, until now, the British monarchy has sort of just gone along for the ride with him. Yes, Andrew (via Buckingham Palace) released a statement after this interview saying that he had asked to remove himself from public royal duties for a time; but the statement left open plenty of room for criticism of the BRF and Queen Elizabeth personally.
Why had Her Majesty revoked Prince Harry’s military appointments and stopped him and Meghan from being able to use their Royal Highness styles, when all they had done was thrown a tantrum and moved to America? As messy and as short-sighted as Harry and Meghan’s actions in January 2020 had been, they could hardly be called illegal. But, for the last two years, with sexual assault allegations and photographic proof of himself in a now-convicted child sex trafficker’s flat, arm around a girl who had been a victim of that trafficker, all Andrew got was shelved from royal public duties. It made no sense. It was reputationally damaging to the monarchy. And the only reason I can think for it is that Queen Elizabeth had a soft spot for her favourite son and didn’t want him to lose things that he held closest: his status. His military appointments and patronages, and his style as His Royal Highness. Her Majesty also continued showing support for Andrew by being photographed with him and inviting him to stay with her at Balmoral.
Meanwhile, Andrew’s lawyers have been trying everything they can think of to have Giuffre’s lawsuit dismissed before it heads to a full trial. So far Andrew’s lawyers have tried to get the trial thrown out by arguing that Virginia Giuffre now lives in Australia, so is unable to sue in the US (this was rejected); by saying that letting Giuffre sue violated his due process rights under New York’s constitution (this was rejected); and by arguing that, by signing Epstein’s NDA over a decade ago, Giuffre had signed away her right to take further action against Epstein or any other possible defendants of related crimes (this was rejected yesterday). With all reasonable (and some not very reasonable) appeals out of the way, it appears that we are now heading for a full civil trial this fall.
Now that this has been determined and it seems pretty likely that Andrew will, in fact, have to go to trial, the British Royal Family is doing what it should have done three years ago: cutting ties with him.
This morning, a statement was released by Buckingham Palace:
Here’s what this statement is telling us:
- Her Majesty might have given Andrew the benefit of the doubt when it was just speculation, but now that a trial is moving full-steam ahead, she is cutting him out of the BRF. Personally, I think that the Queen’s inability to do this three, or even two, years ago is a stain on her reputation that will last for decades, maybe forever. But it’s clear that a line in the sand has been drawn and Andrew has been put on the other side from the monarchy.
- Though not confirmed, the statement implicitly tells us that Andrew will no longer be styled as His Royal Highness. Why? For the simple reason that he isn’t styled as HRH in the statement. This is a “this is how things are going to be from now on” statement, and by not using the HRH, the monarchy is signaling that 1) it is distancing itself from Andrew as much as possible; and 2) Andrew will have to follow the BRF’s lead and not use the style. It has been reported by pretty much every royal reporter that the Queen has banned Andrew from being able to use the HRH from here on out; this makes sense with the lack of the HRH in the statement, though we don’t know for sure.
- The statement makes reference to the Giuffre lawsuit and says that Andrew will be defending himself as a “private citizen.” As I said on social media, this is the BRF equivalent of the following:
In other words: Andrew, you’re on your own.
4. And finally, this statement shows that for all their faults, Harry and Meghan really did get the short end of the stick two years ago. As I said, nothing they are accused of doing is 1/1000th as bad as what Andrew is accused of doing. And yet their HRH styles were informally removed. Plus their royal patronages, and Harry’s military appointments, were removed. I feel like I’m critical of Harry and Meghan when I need to be, but in this matter they were treated unjustly by the British monarchy. If the BRF can understand that Harry and Meghan going on Ellen and signing deals with Netflix could be bad, guess what: they can, and SHOULD, understand that Andrew’s Newsnight car crash and allegations against him would be one million times as damaging. By any logic, if Harry and Meghan weren’t able to keep their styles, appointments and patronages, then Andrew’s should have been taken from him daily and twice on Sundays.
The one last thing I’ll say about this is that it’s all happening the same week as the specific plans for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee were announced. This is not a coincidence. The BRF wants the next year to be about one thing and one thing only: honouring and celebrating the Queen’s reign. And in order to keep on message, they decided to bring out the big guns and release a statement saying that, no, Andrew is not an HRH, and does not deserve to keep his military appointments, and (this part is unsaid but very much there) he will never be on the Buckingham Palace balcony ever again, so you can stop asking and writing articles about it, but please do write some fluffy articles about the Platinum Jubilee Pudding Contest.
Attempting to drown out incredibly uncomfortable topics with baked goods – can’t get much more British than that.