Did Prince Andrew do the 'honourable' thing?

Steven Poole
Photograph: David Parker/AP

In 2010, after Jeffrey Epstein had served his prison sentence for procuring a minor for prostitution, Prince Andrew went to stay at Epstein’s New York home for several days. Why? Because, he told Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis this week, “I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do”; sadly, “my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable”.

The general form of this defence will be familiar to anyone who has been asked to name their worst quality in a job interview and gone with: “Well, I’m really too conscientious.” It is true that Andrew, being a member of the royal family, is “honourable” in one sense: he is literally entitled to honour (Latin “honor”: respect, esteem, or public office). On the other hand, every MP is also officially an “honourable member”, even if their comportment suggests otherwise. For the word’s whole history, indeed, “honour” has straddled the chasm between public position and private morality.

Related: Letter casts doubt on when Prince Andrew met Epstein

Andrew’s own claim of excessive honour perhaps most closely recalls Mark Antony’s devastating irony in Julius Caesar when speaking of the assassins: “For Brutus is an honourable man; / So are they all, all honourable men.” So, too, are all the powerful friends of Epstein.

Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is published by Quercus.