Why did Prince Andrew think he should go to the funeral as an Admiral?

Nigel Cawthorne
·6-min read
Prince Andrew and Prince Philip, pictured here at the Epsom Derby in 2016, were said to be close - Getty 
Prince Andrew and Prince Philip, pictured here at the Epsom Derby in 2016, were said to be close - Getty

When Prince Andrew suddenly re-appeared in public last weekend, giving an interview outside the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor, the public could understand his grief at losing a father. Yet his appearance also raised an unfortunate question mark.

It was 512 days after having last spoken publicly, and it seemed that on Sunday the Duke of York had returned to the frontline of the monarchy – and was speaking on its behalf.

Within a day an unceremonious controversy erupted. Prince Andrew had reportedly demanded to wear the uniform of an Admiral at his father’s funeral on Saturday and had gone so far as instructing his tailor to style it with the distinctive three rows of lace and four stars, crossed baton and sword of that rank.

The prince was, like his father, tested in war – no doubt a unique bond and a source of pride for the Duke of Edinburgh. As the only one of the generation of royals younger than his father to serve in battle, Prince Andrew certainly deserved to wear a uniform, as Prince Philip did his as honorary Admiral of the Fleet, the navy’s highest rank. But his current rank is Vice-Admiral, not Admiral.

Prince Andrew and Prince Philip wore their military uniforms to the National Service Of Thanksgiving and Remembrance in 2005 - Getty 
Prince Andrew and Prince Philip wore their military uniforms to the National Service Of Thanksgiving and Remembrance in 2005 - Getty

Despite what you might believe from watching the latest series of The Crown, it was Prince Andrew who was likeliest the child closest to his father. Prince Philip had named him after his own father, and Prince Andrew was his first son to receive his surname, Windsor-Mountbatten, a long-fought battle by the Duke of Edinburgh. When he was born, Prince Philip is said to have bounded up the stairs to tell Princess Anne and the Queen Mother.

They were twins separated in space. Both confident, Prince Philip’s mother Princess Alice recognised in both how they would hunch their shoulders if perplexed or excited. The family repeated about both: “sometimes naughty, never nasty”. The Duke once explained a swollen eye with a broad smile as “That was the boss…”, and everyone thought he meant the Queen, but it was Prince Andrew, with whom he had been sparring.

They shared the same ribald officer’s humour and Prince Philip was the only one to whom Prince Andrew would ever listen. Once while the family was watching Coronation Street, the Duke of York exclaimed about Bet Lynch: “Oh God, look at all those common people.” Prince Philip clipped his ear and silenced his son by saying: “If it wasn’t for people like that, you would not be sitting here.”

Of Fergie, he boyishly gave Prince Andrew his unvarnished opinion: “I think she’ll be a great asset. For one thing, she is capable of becoming self-employed.” And at the end of active navy service, Philip gave Andrew a tongue-lashing for being “selfish and lazy”. For 10 years, the Duke of York would become a special UK envoy for international trade; Prince Charles could only abandon all hope to rein in his younger brother.

Even so, it wasn’t clear why Prince Andrew ever thought he should go to the funeral as an Admiral.

The Duke of York’s royal duties are currently in animated suspension and there was the fact that he is currently merely a Vice-Admiral. In a policy adopted by the navy in 2009, the duke had received automatic promotions every five years, in line with peers who are still serving. His last serving rank in the navy was Lieutenant-Commander, but when retired from active service in 2001 he was promoted to Commander. Later, he was made an Honorary Captain in 2005, thereafter “automatically” Rear Admiral in 2010 and Vice Admiral in 2015.

His 60th on February 19 last year would have been the occasion for the prince becoming an Admiral after the passing of another five years. However, on February 7, he asked the navy in a public statement “if this promotion might be deterred” until he returned to “public duty”.

The request was a direct consequence of fallout around the world following the BBC Newsnight interview the prince had given a few months earlier to Emily Maitlis, on the subject of his relations with the felon billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. The day after the interview, he had also asked the Queen if he “may step back from official duties”, which started the prince’s time in the wilderness of Windsor Park.

Not unreasonably, on Sunday the prince may have thought that the moment of his return to public duty had come, when he expressed the feelings of the Royal family.

It was left to the Queen in mourning delicately to unruffle feathers in her family by apparently deciding that no uniforms would be worn at the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh. This also side-stepped a wider debate that was ranging on why Prince Harry wouldn’t be in uniform.

Understandably, given the situation, her decision didn’t address the question of whether Andrew’s relationship with Britain had been reset in any meaningful way according to the palace.

If this were the case, several obstacles lay ahead. The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, a close friend from his early 20s, is due to start in July in relation to Jeffrey Epstein and the prince is a character in the background.

Moreover, however sympathetic the British public may feel in this period of mourning towards the royal family, it is also keenly aware that the prince has his own unsolved legal problems.

Last June, the US President and the US Attorney General confirmed that the US Department of Justice had made a formal request under the UK-US Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty for access to the prince concerning Epstein. It is not clear yet whether he and the British Government have dealt with the US’s inquiries, but late last year the duke’s legal team insisted Prince Andrew had made three offers to give a witness statement. Prince Philip had aided his son with advice back in 2011, at the beginning of the long-running saga.

Although the Duke of Edinburgh was well known for his “gaffes”, he knew when to hold his tongue. While Prince Philip happily admitted putting his foot in his mouth, Prince Andrew seems to be eager to shoot himself in the foot – repeatedly, and without realising it. It can sometimes appear as if the prince never learns and, unlike the Habsburgs, remembers little.

For 513 days, the prince was doing well in not making new waves. After a long and strongly worded missive of his newly appointed lawyers on June 7 last year, he kept a more dignified silence, folded his website and stopped his Twitter feed – a minimum of gossipy ‘sources close to prince’ were made available to the media and he wasn’t in the photographs of his daughter’s wedding or Christmas service.

Perhaps from this day, Prince Andrew will change?

Nigel Cawthorne is author of I Know I Am Rude (Gibson Square, £9.99). Buy now for £8.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514