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The royals are engaged in frenzied damage control ahead of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this summer. The Duke of York’s trial, which could turn out to be a high-octane festival of royal humiliation, risks tainting the celebrations. It shouldn’t have anything to do with the British monarchy except it has everything to do with it. The essence of the monarchy is its image; at the moment, the public appearance of the royal family seems messy.

The lifestyles of the Queen’s son and grandson, the Dukes of York and Sussex, acquired the aura of a Shakespearean tragedy appropriate to their titles. The Duke of Sussex has done nothing wrong; so far, neither has the Duke of York. Prince Harry was simply looking to profit from his only marketable asset – the royalty. Prince Andrew has used the same asset to earn unsavory friendships, one of which exposed him to what he sees as outrageous blackmail, yet untested by a court. Her desperate hope was that a New York judge would dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s trial. But American lawyers don’t volunteer to starve.

The queen may not have power, but she can wield tools of emphasis. Just as the Duke of Sussex was deprived of any royal status, his uncle was stripped of his titles, badges, regiments, charities and sponsorships. Like a dishonored medieval saint, he is cast from heaven into the jaws of hell. His fault is not a matter of right or wrong – yet he may turn out to be the victim of flagrant injustice – but of the embarrassment, shame and misery caused to his mother and family and to the institution they represent.

The monarchy depends on public support not on votes but on a fragile and intangible foundation of public opinion. He needs to be loved for his dignities, his ceremonies and his birthdays. It must be flawless, pure as beaten snow. It can be tedious and boring. The only thing it can’t be is scandalous – let alone sexually scandalous. Sex has always been a royal taboo; for royalty concerned heredity, as James II and Edward VIII learned at their expense.

As for Prince Charles, he spent a quarter of a century purifying his image after his own years in purgatory. He has carefully fashioned himself as an awesome, blameless middle-aged monarch on hold. As his moment draws near, the last thing he needs is his brother’s alleged antics that are making headlines around the world. As he discovered with his second son, he must preserve the royalty on his odd and untouched pedestal.

The way in which a nation embodies its statehood is bequeathed to it by history. One virtue of inherited monarchy – perhaps its only virtue – is that it takes succession beyond argument. It also puts beyond argument any suggestion that the monarch should exercise political power. If the monarchy gets lost in politics or controversy – or shame – it ceases to embody its nation.

This was the fundamental risk taken by the Queen – seemingly against her better judgment – when she decided in the 1960s to depart from the custom of other postwar European monarchs and present the British monarchy. like a “royal family”. As the monarchs of Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands retreated into bourgeois semi-obscurity – where they wisely remained – the Queen turned the monarchy into a family business under the fire of television advertising.

The royal offspring – who were then still children – instantly became celebrities. A distribution list of titled princes, princesses, dukes and duchesses roamed the gossip columns and magazines of the monarchy. Inevitably, they became accidents waiting to happen. It was hard to see these royals as anything other than victims as they stumbled through the perils of life, but the main risk was the monarchy itself. So it’s proven.

The best decision Prince Charles can make when ascending to the throne is, quite simply, to abolish the royal family. He should become Scandinavian. Monarchs do not die young. The throne only needs an heir and a replacement. The rest of the family should become commoners and lead normal lives. Perhaps inadvertently, this process began this week.


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