It’s an outing the Queen makes every week – but in August, she did something that will leave an indelible stain on her previously shining legacy.
It’s an outing the Queen makes every week – but in August, she did something that will leave an indelible stain on her previously shining legacy.

The photo that doomed the Queen

Never underestimate maternal love. For 67 years, the Queen has ruled with determination and focus. In that time she left her small children for month-long stretches at a time to visit the far flung countries that were part of her dominion.

She made her beloved sister choose between the man she adored and the life she had always known.

She has tirelessly applied herself to the rigorous, relentless business of ruling, only taking two days off a year (Christmas Day and Easter Sunday) from dealing with her official government red box of documents that require her attention.

Queen Elizabeth II talks to guests at an evening reception for members of the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace. December 11, 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones. WPA Pool. Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II talks to guests at an evening reception for members of the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace. December 11, 2019. Picture: Victoria Jones. WPA Pool. Getty Images

Which is what makes August 11, 2019 such a red letter day. She was photographed on her way to church near Balmoral, a journey she makes every Sunday. For this service, she had chosen a particularly pretty pink suit with a matching hat.

Wearing bright pink lipstick she smiled warmly for the cameras as she sped by in her custom-made Bentley. (The windows are far larger than normal to let the gawping public get an eyeful when she passes.)

But what was significant about that day was the person who was by her side - her favourite son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Only the day before, his former friend Jeffrey Epstein had died in a New York jail cell, which medical authorities have put down to suicide.

For more than a month prior to that weekend, Andrew's friendship with Epstein had faced renewed and intense scrutiny. Why, when Epstein was a convicted sex offender, did one of Her Majesty's children choose to spend four nights at his $113 million New York home?

Surely for a family worth hundreds of millions of dollars (at the very least) they could afford to foot the bill for a Radisson?

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew are driven from Crathie Kirk Church following the service on August 11, 2019. Picture: Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew are driven from Crathie Kirk Church following the service on August 11, 2019. Picture: Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images

The Queen is a woman who places huge value in the potency of symbols. So, on a day when the world's attention was focused on Andrew she deployed her most powerful weapon - her presence.

By taking him to church that Sunday she was signalling her unwavering support for her son as he faced down a global media furore over his connection to Epstein.

On one hand, here was a mother doing what mothers are meant to do: Show their abiding love for their children, no matter if they have stuffed up on a global scale or not.

But Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor is not simply a mum - she is the Queen. Her very presence carries weight and meaning and by bringing her son to the Sunday service she was putting her maternal devotion before any reservations a monarch might have about the rightness of the gesture.

The royal family has weathered many a storm before and in this instance, it would seem she thought that an injection of regal approval and an "everything's fine!" rictus grin would smooth things out.

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That has clearly not been borne out. This entire sorry weeks-long crisis will go down in the history books and with it will Her Majesty's spectacular failure to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and the vehemence of the public anger directed at Andrew.

The Queen routinely takes out the number one spot when it comes to public approval rankings. She is a truly globally beloved figure whose steadfast commitment to service has inspired incredible respect.

 

Yet her handling of the Andrew situation and her decision to take her notorious son to church will surely face considerable scrutiny in the future.

When historians years - if not decades - from now come to write about this current period, I fear they will not look upon the Queen's decision to take Andrew to church with much kindness.

Her seeming obtuseness, whether out of motherly love or an inability to understand the severity of this crisis compared to the garden variety marital sort the Windsors are sadly used to, is not known. This one moment betrayed just how out of step she was with her subjects.

This particular royal foray calls into question the Queen's judgment and whether she, of all people, let pesky personal emotions overrule her usual political shrewdness. Bottom line: This was a huge miscalculation - of how long this mess would drag on for and how fervent public feeling was.

 

 

Whether she was simply being defiant or obstinate or whether this betrays a certain disdain for public sentiment, that the Queen thought the family could ride out this storm as they have so many times before will surely be a matter of ongoing historical debate. However, her actions and choices that Sunday could subtly stain her otherwise incredible legacy.

Still, optics matter. Image matters. This is the currency the royal family relies on to survive. There would have been other far more subtle ways to show her love for Andrew, such as when they were (likely knowingly) photographed riding together at Windsor after he was exiled from official public life.

The Queen took a huge gamble putting Andrew in that Bentley on that Sunday and more and more, it looks like she lost - and lost badly.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.



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