Thursday’s terse statement from Buckingham Palace, where the Queen made clear her agreement to strip Prince Andrew of “his military affiliations and Royal Patronages” must have been one of the hardest acts of her long reign.
However close their relationship in real life, and it is said that the recently widowed Queen has come to depend on her second son’s almost daily visits, in public she has cut him out of the family business with decisive ruthlessness.
She knows that, in her Platinum Jubilee year, she cannot allow the scandal of Andrew’s pending civil court case, where he is accused of sexual assault, to overshadow the celebrations.
Nor can she countenance the controversy surrounding her second son damaging the institution of the monarchy. She may be a loving mother, but she is first and foremost head of state.
On the evening of her coronation on June 2, 1953, the 27-year-old Queen Elizabeth made a short broadcast to the nation where she promised to serve the people, adding, “throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust”. On Thursday afternoon, she fulfilled that trust by cutting her son adrift.
It’s too early to say if her swift decision will limit the reputational damage to the monarchy, but her maternal sacrifice must surely signal further changes in our attitude towards powerful men who are said touse their position to abuse women.
Despite the advances in sexual equality since the Queen was crowned, society is still littered with boorish men who treat women as second-class citizens, or worse. Some of them are our leaders.
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has never hid his disdain for women. He is a serial adulterer, until recently, no-one was quite sure how many children he has, and his career is littered with clues about his sexist attitudes.
In a 1995 article, he accused single mothers of “producing a generation of ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate children who in theory will be paying for our pensions”.
Among his favourite political insults are such classics as “girly swot” and “big girl’s blouse”, and only recently he was happy to spend a night out at the men-only Garrick Club, where women can only visit as the guest of a male member. Imagine the furore if the Prime Minister had attended a whites-only social club, or one which only Protestants were allowed to join.
One of Scotland’s most successful political figures of recent generations has also been less than respectful towards women. Former SNP First Minister, Alex Salmond may have been found not guilty of sexual assault and attempted rape in 2020, but during the trial his defence counsel agreed he “could have been a better man”.
And in America, Bill Clinton, once lauded as a great liberal progressive, will be remembered as much for his mealy-mouthed denial of sexual misconduct as for his successful economic policies.
He showed his contempt for women, including his ridiculously loyal wife Hillary, when he told the American people in 1998 that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky… these allegations are false”.
It turned out, of course, that he had conducted a two-year sexual affair with Ms Lewinsky, a naïve White House intern nearly 30 years his junior, but he had been prepared to destroy her to save his own skin.
And it seems entitled blokes hunt in packs. Clinton, like Prince Andrew, is linked to Jeff Epstein, the well-connected wealthy financier who killed himself in 2020 while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking. It is one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre, who has brought the civil action against Prince Andrew, accusing him of abusing her when she was a teenager.
It matters how powerful men behave towards women, whether it is a Prime Minister dismissing us as “totty” or a First Minister indulging in “sleepy cuddles” with female subordinates.
When some male leaders abuse women, it sends a signal to every woman and girl that their lives are far less important than those of their privileged abuser. That it is simply the way of the world for some men in power, whether he is a prince of the realm or a police officer, to treat women as nothing more than sexual objects.
Recent revelations from Police Scotland that scores of officers faced sexual misconduct allegations over a four-year period suggest that misogyny is embedded in their culture. It is endemic in other workplaces too, with research suggesting as many as half of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.
And, chillingly, a survey carried out a few weeks ago shows that one in five girls have been sexually assaulted at school, with almost 70 per cent of those interviewed feeling the scale of the abuse is not properly understood.
That is why it was so important that the Queen cut her second son out of her public life. Not because it will protect the monarchy during her jubilee year, and not even because she is a woman standing up for other women. But because she is the head of state.
She may be unelected, she may represent an institution that is outdated and increasingly irrelevant, but like it or not, she holds the most powerful and privileged position in the land.
And she has made it clear that there is no place in her organisation for men accused of sexual misconduct. It’s a message every section of our society should heed.