Mary Kenny: 'Prince Andrew may not be any worse than other royals but it's different now'

There have been sexual scandals in the British monarchy before Prince Andrew, heaven knows.

Consider Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence, eldest son – and heir presumptive – of Edward VII, who died in 1892, aged 28. His reputation for “dissipation” was such that the poor guy has even been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, although there is no evidence that he was a killer of prostitutes.

But there are some suggestions that he visited the notorious gay brothel in London’s Cleveland Street where rent boys were on offer (the Cleveland Street scandal was probably a prelude to Oscar Wilde’s prosecution).

Eddy’s father, Edward VII, known as Bertie, was himself a notorious philanderer who had a cruel way of dumping mistresses when he tired of them: Buckingham Palace staff were simply instructed not to take their calls.

Bertie frequented lavish brothels in Paris where certain exotic contraptions to enhance pleasure have been curated. He also has some very sleazy friends. True, he did redeem himself later as a wise adviser on foreign policy – loved the French, warned against Prussian Germany – and he was religiously ecumenical.

His grandson, briefly Edward VIII before abdicating, had a penchant for married women even before he got involved with Ms Simpson which, had it been known, would have caused a scandal. Indeed, it was the king’s adultery which finally pushed a bishop of the Church of England to give a thundering sermon on that particular transgression – thus breaking the taboo that the British press kept schtumm on anything that touched the royals.

But that was then; this is now. What was hidden in past times is now, so often, out in the open. What was accepted, by a culture of deference, is now challenged by a culture of equality. What was once placed in the realm of privacy is now shouted from the rooftops.

Is Andrew any worse than many of his predecessors? After all, his own father was known to have his flings and those rambunctious parties with his sailor friends. But Philip is now berating his second son who, it might be added in a poignant note, apparently he never wanted to be born (it was Queen Elizabeth, according to the biographer Sarah Bradford, who was “determined” to have a third child).

Quite probably, Andrew has done nothing very much worse than many of his peers – and he denies having sexual relations with under-age girls, or breaching the rule of consent – but in an era of total exposure, he has been found out to have poor judgment, bad companions and a louche lifestyle.

His greatest transgression of all, it seems, is that he has damaged the monarchy. He has also, very likely, changed the institution of the monarchy. His brother Charles has now made the decision that the royal family will be “slimmed down” in the future.

The crowded family scene on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during ceremonial occasions seems to have grown unwieldy, and the greater the family constellation, the more opportunity for mishap.

The popular continental monarchies are now emerging as the more likely model: in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, and the Nordic countries, these royals know they have to earn their position by good behaviour. They’ve seen other crowned heads fall – the murder of the Romanovs in 1917 is still a terrible example – and are aware of how much prudence is required.

Misbehaving family members – they’ve had some trouble in Belgium – are distanced from the crown. In Sweden, the monarchy has lost some ground because “there are too many of them”. The public likes royal babies, but they’re not keen on supporting an extended tribe of royals (the Norwegians are the most popular European monarchy, supported by 81pc of the people.)

It hasn’t been a happy family year for Queen Elizabeth: her husband, having retired from public duties, now seems almost to be living a separate life. Harry and Meghan’s TV interview was widely criticised – for whinging about their privileges while visiting some of the most afflicted parts of Africa. And Andrew has shown himself to be, at the very least, a prat – calling yourself “honourable” because you’ve been a loyal friend to a convicted paedophile isn’t seen as smart.

Are these omens that the end of the British monarchy is in sight – or perhaps the end of the kind of monarchy that has prevailed? All structures have an evolutionary cycle, and perhaps this cycle of monarchical supremacy is now faltering.

Two issues arise, however. As Mary Warnock, a radical philosopher, once said to me: “The biggest question about destroying any institution is what do you put in its place?”

At a time when the public has a distinctly low sense of trust in the two leading British political leaders – Johnson and Corbyn – what might replace monarchy could be quite a headache.

The second issue is that the British monarchy is popular – it also hits 80pc. Any charity organiser will confirm if you get a royal on board, donations flow in.

Adaptation is survival but so is continuity. The skill is to achieve the two in balance.

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