Why Prince Andrew is losing his military titles, but staying a prince

Following the rapidly evolving sexual abuse trial against Prince Andrew, Buckingham Palace released a statement announcing that Andrew would lose all his remaining military sponsorships and titles (such as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards). Additionally, he will no longer use his HRH style (“His Royal Highness”).

This is a belated step after Andrew effectively quit public life following his disastrous Newsnight interview, where he unconvincingly attempted to address the sexual assault allegations made against him by Virginia. Giuffre.

At the end of 2019, certain titles and functions were suspended “for the foreseeable future”, creating the possibility that Andrew could return to public life in the future. Now that the lawsuit against him is on trial (unless a settlement is reached out of court), the palace has decided to drop his titles altogether.

The fact that Prince Andrew will never return to public life is implicit in the Palace’s statement, as all patronage and military positions will revert to the Queen. Given the Queen’s age, she will likely redistribute them to other members of the Royal Family.

The decision is similar to that made with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex in 2019, when they stepped back from their roles as senior royals. Then the Queen announced that her grandson and his wife would no longer use the HRH title.

Andrew is now in the same position, although for very different reasons. Officially, all three retain the title of HRH, but will not use it in an official capacity. The difficulty for the Queen is that both Prince Harry and Prince Andrew are entitled to retain the title under the Letters Patent issued by George V in 1917 (this is a legal document which effectively expresses the wishes of the monarch). It would take another Letters Patent to have an HHR credential taken away from someone.

In 1996, it happened with Diana, Princess of Wales, after her divorce from Prince Charles. This was extremely controversial at the time, but it shows that it is possible for someone to officially lose their HRH title.

The Grand Old Duke of York

Yet Andrew has not lost everything. He retains the title of “prince” from birth, and remains the Duke of York, which is a peerage. Under the law, titles and peerages are forms of incorporeal property (incorporeal inheritances). A general principle of law is that property cannot simply be confiscated from someone without prior legal authorization. He also remains in the line of succession for the throne.

Again, we have to go back to 1917, this time to consider the example of the Titles Deprivation Act. This made it possible to remove the peerages and the title of “prince” from those “who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or his allies, or who have adhered to the enemies of His Majesty”.

The Duke of Albany, the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, and the Duke of Brunswick all lost their peerage because they were officers in the German army during World War I. Similarly, for the Duchy of Andrew and the title of Prince to be removed, an Act of Parliament would be required. This is unlikely to be a priority for MPs at this time.

Prince Andrew’s military titles have been stripped and his patronages returned to the Queen.
Chris Allan/Shutterstock

Looking to the future, when Andrew dies, the Duchy will die with him, as he leaves no male heirs. Traditionally, the peerage went to the second eldest son of the monarch (the eldest son becomes Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall). Perhaps when the time comes, Prince Louis will prefer another title to avoid any association with his great-uncle.

Andrew also retains the position of State Councillor. If the Queen is unable to fulfill her formal legal obligations due to illness, the Councilors of State may fulfill those obligations on her behalf. This is what the Regency Acts of 1937 to 1953 provide for, which specify that the first four in the order of majority succession (which in this case is 21 years old and not 18 years old), are appointed Councillors. This currently means Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew. Two should act together, which, if necessary, would be Prince Charles and Prince William. Again, for this to change, an Act of Parliament would be required.

There are other problems with the Regency Laws, making reform more likely in the near future, especially when Prince Charles becomes king. This would create the opportunity to address the position of Prince Harry and Prince Andrew in more detail.

The dukedom and Andrew’s position as a councilor of state means Prince Andrew’s separation from royal life isn’t entirely complete, but it’s as far as the Queen can go for now. The rest belongs to Parliament.

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