Could Prince Andrew Lose His Royal Status?

The past few weeks have seen the Duke of York engulfed by lurid accusations of sexual activity with a 17-year-old ‘sex slave.’ While these allegations have not been tested in a court of law, they have nevertheless cast a shadow over the Queen’s youngest son. A friend recently asked me if Prince Andrew could lose his royal status if the claims are eventually proven. It’s an interesting question, but there isn’t a straightforward answer.

First, we need to define ‘royal status.’ In the Duke of York’s case, his status has three separate facets: his peerages, his princely title, and his place in the line of succession.

Peerages. When Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, he was created Duke of York, Earl of Inverness, and Baron Killyleagh.[1] At the time, he was entitled to a seat in the House of Lords like any other hereditary peer. Although he was introduced into the House in February 1987, he never actually served as a legislator, and he lost his seat alongside most of the other hereditary peers in 1999.[2] Prince Andrew’s peerages are entirely honorific now, but there could be calls to strip him of his titles if the accusations against him are found to be true. However, a peerage can’t be renounced; it can only be abolished by an Act of Parliament. This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence–the last time it happened was in 1919 when four peers lost their peerages because they fought for Germany in World War I.[3]

Title of Prince. The title of Prince of the United Kingdom and the style of ‘Royal Highness’ are ultimately conferred by the Sovereign. However, it’s not usually conferred on an individual basis.[4] Instead, it’s granted to all descendants of the Monarch within certain degrees of kinship under the terms of George V’s Letters Patent of November 30, 1917. Nevertheless, the Queen could declare that the Duke of York is no longer a Prince and no longer enjoys the style of ‘Royal Highness.’ In 1999, for example, the Queen decided that the children of the Earl and Countess of Wessex wouldn’t have princely titles.[5] Alternatively, his princely title could be revoked by an Act of Parliament. The last time this happened was in 1919 (three of the peers who lost their titles for fighting alongside Germany also forfeited the status of British Prince).

Photo of the Duke of York by Thorne1983 via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo of the Duke of York by Thorne1983 via Wikimedia Commons.

Succession. At the moment, the Duke of York is fifth in line for the throne, so the chances of him actually becoming King are quite remote. However, his place in the line of succession means that he’s one of the Counsellors of State who act on the Queen’s behalf when she’s out of the country or indisposed.[6] Although Counsellors of State have a very limited role (they’re basically human autopens), the public might have difficulty with the idea of Prince Andrew performing acts of state even if his role is purely administrative in nature.

However, removing him from the line of succession would be an enormous challenge. Not only would Britain have to pass legislation, but the other 15 countries of which the Queen is Head of State would have to legislate as well. The fact that the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 hasn’t been brought into force yet due to legislative obstacles in other Commonwealth Realms shows how devilishly difficult it can be to tinker with the succession. A more modest solution would be to simply amend the Regency Act 1937 to exclude Prince Andrew from the list of those who could serve as Counsellors of State. This wouldn’t require legislation outside the UK, but it leaves open the remote possibility that he could become King.

The bottom line is that there would be no easy way to remove the Duke of York’s royal status. Of course this may be a moot point: it’s worth reiterating that the accusations against him have not been proven, and like anyone else, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence.

NOTES

[1] When conferring higher peerages, it’s customary to confer a subsidiary title at the same time in order to provide a courtesy title for the peer’s heir. In the case of non-Royal dukedoms, there is usually one subsidiary title (e.g., the Duke of Gordon is also Earl of Kinara, while the Earl of Stockton is also Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden), but royal dukes generally receive several subsidiary titles. In many cases, the titles represent the various nations of the United Kingdom (in Prince Andrew’s case, York represents England, Inverness Scotland, and Killyleagh Northern Ireland).

[2] The Government offered each of the royal dukes a life peerage, but they refused them.

[3] The relevant legislation was the Titles Deprivation Act 1917.

[4] The Duke of Edinburgh’s princely title is an exception to this rule. He wouldn’t ordinarily be a Prince since he’s not a descendant of the Sovereign, but the Queen made him a Prince as a mark of her esteem.

[5] Instead, they use the titles that the children of an earl would normally use.

[6] The Regency Act 1937 provides that the Counsellors of State shall be the Sovereign’s consort plus the first four people in the line of succession. Although the Duke of York is fifth in line, he gets to serve because Prince George of Cambridge (the third in line) is too young to act.

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One Response to Could Prince Andrew Lose His Royal Status?

  1. “While these allegations have not been tested in a court of law, they have nevertheless cast a shadow over the Queen’s youngest son.”
    Prince Edward has clearly been very disturbed by the allegations against his elder brother.

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