Why did the Duke of York suddenly turn on the media, which has speculated over the past few weeks that his daughters Beatrice and Eugenie want titles for their future husbands and are scared about losing their royal status?
“It is a complete fabrication,” he said in an unprecedented angry statement from Buckingham Palace late last week. “There is no truth… pointless speculation…purported interventions…”
He seemed particularly hurt by rumours that he and Prince Charles had fallen out over the future role of princesses Beatrice, 28, and Eugenie, 26.
On an outing with her daughters on the same day, the Duchess of York demanded, “Stop bullying the York family, please!”
The duke’s statement and the duchess’ broadside appeared a disproportionate response to newspaper tittle-tattle.
The answer may very well lie in the publication, the day before, of a photograph taken at Buckingham Palace. Laden with jewels, draped in sashes and garters, here was the core of Britain’s royal house showing themselves in their full majesty for the members of the world’s diplomatic corps.
The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla and Prince William and Kate stood four-square in a bold visual statement.
Prince Andrew was not part of this tableau. Yet not so long ago he was crucial to the future of the House of Windsor, as second-in-line to the throne behind Prince Charles.
Now he is sixth, and at age 56 can only drift further to the margins. His public contribution is regarded as lacklustre at best.
Despite energetic efforts to enrol his daughters in The Firm, they remain semi-detached royals who are as near the centre as they are ever going to get.
Writing in the Telegraph, Harry Mount – author of How England Made the English – notes that as princesses, “both get to be called Her Royal Highness. But if they marry, their children will be – shock, horror! – mere commoners, bereft of titles.”
Engagement rumours were fuelled last week when Eugenie was spotted leaving a Mayfair club with Jack Brooksbank, her 30-year-old nightclub-manager boyfriend of six years, with a ring on her left hand.
The duke’s attempt to improve his daughters’ status is the latest reminder of the ancient problem of what do you do with minor royals – or, more precisely, what do minor royals end up doing?, Mount wrote.
“The princesses are in an unusual position: close to the throne – seventh and eighth in line – but not so close that they ever really have a sporting chance of getting the top job.
“Without a piece of the Sovereign Grant – the annual cut of profits from the Crown Estate that bankrolls the Royal Household (which replaced the Civil List in 2011) – they find themselves in the public eye, but needing to work for a living.
“So far, the Duke of York’s attempts to get his daughters on to the royal A-list have met with resistance. He was reportedly spitting blood when their 24-hour police protection was removed, the $A845,000 / $NZ880,000 a year being deemed too expensive.
“He was similarly furious when his written request to the Queen asking that the princesses be funded by the Sovereign Grant was turned down.”
The duke had wanted his daughters to become full-time royals, with a roster of official duties and separate flats in Kensington Palace, rather than having to share sumptuous digs in St James’s Palace.
Prince Charles, who is apparently right behind the Queen’s refusal, is keen on a streamlined monarchy based on “the Magnificent Seven” – the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Charles and Camilla; Prince William and Kate; and Prince Harry. In time, Prince George and Princess Charlotte will join the royal hub, Mount wrote.
Princess Anne and Princess Margaret did not seek royal titles for their children. All have carved out non-royal careers.
The York sisters have had chequered working lives. After a degree in history and the history of ideas at Goldsmiths College, London, Princess Beatrice has worked for Children in Crisis, as a private equity analyst at Cabot Square Capital, and for Sony Pictures.
After a degree in English literature and history of art from Newcastle, Princess Eugenie has worked in the auction-house world.
Their working lives have been punctuated by long holidays. In one 15-month spell, Eugenie took eight holidays from Myanmar to California. In the year to December 2015, Beatrice managed 18 trips, including the Caribbean, Verbier, Abu Dhabi, Rome, Ibiza and Florida, with a Spanish trip on Roman Abramovich’s gin palace.
For the moment, the princesses retain a certain amount of royal star power. The problem is that, with time, young royals lose their glitz and glamour as they slip down the pecking order, and are eclipsed by newcomers. By the time Prince George comes to the throne, they will have moved from being grandchildren of the monarch to being his first cousin once-removed – quite a demotion.
This has always been the fate of minor royals. Princess Margaret was once as famous as Princess Diana – dogged by photographers and global media during her doomed affair with Peter Townsend in the mid-50s.
She had more paparazzi following her than Diana did, and she was on more front pages. And yet even Princess Margaret slipped into semi-obscurity as the Queen’s children, and grandchildren, eclipsed her.