On Friday, I attended a symposium in London exploring the ways in which Meghan Markle’s arrival into the British royal family has been interpreted at a cultural level and represented by the media. My paper discussed the online news media’s deplorable treatment of Markle. In it, I remark on a recurrent, rather ironic charge frequently levelled at her, that she – by virtue of her feminism, her background etc. – is breaking with protocol by being ‘political’.
The Royal family, these stories insist, is above politics. This is surely news to those for whom the concept of monarchy is inherently political, bound-up with enduring legacies of power and empire, both material and imagined.
Watching Emily Maitlis’ dissection of Prince Andrew was a refresher, if one was needed, in how this power operates. Conducted in the gilded surrounds of Buckingham Palace, we are reminded at the beginning of the interview of Andrew’s work and duty on behalf of the crown, a polite, legitimizing nod to the role of the monarchy rather than a contestation of it.
As the interview continues, the idea of the monarchy as an institution to be supported and protected becomes particularly jarring when it comes up against the human costs of Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes. Andrew’s regrets about his relationship with Epstein centre not on Epstein’s many victims but on its impact for the monarchy. He tells Maitlis: “I kick myself for [it] on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family, and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.”
Yet it is his position as a royal – with the moniker ‘Randy Andy’, lest we forget – that placed him, as a member of the international elite, in Epstein’s orbit in the first place. The political dimensions of this arrangement go unnamed but they are glaring, bringing to mind questions of class, patriarchy, race and privilege.
Questions about the prince’s involvement with Epstein have been rumbling for years, peaking in the last twelve months due to Epstein’s arrest and subsequent death, and the mobilizing effects of the #MeToo movement. Yet Andrew has not, in the main, faced anywhere near the level of media scrutiny his new niece-in-law has, who is regularly charged with ‘threatening the monarchy’ by being too ‘woke’ or not wearing the right tights.
This morning, at long last, it is he, not she, who is splashed across the homepages of online news sites. How long this spotlight will last and if it will trouble the House of Windsor’s authority in any meaningful way remains to be seen but whatever the outcome, the nature of this scandal is not above politics but firmly rooted within it.