Another ‘annus horribilis’ for the British royal family: Two cancer diagnoses, scandals and estrangements

The princess of Wales’ announcement comes amid the King’s absence from public events because of his own cancer treatment, Queen Camilla’s hiatus due to exhaustion, the still non-existent relationship with Prince Harry and Prince Andrew’s continued links to pedophile Jeffrey Epstein

King Charles and Queen consort Camilla, followed by the Princess and Prince of Wales and two of their children, on December 25, 2023 for the traditional Christmas Day thanksgiving service at Sandringham.
King Charles and Queen consort Camilla, followed by the Princess and Prince of Wales and two of their children, on December 25, 2023 for the traditional Christmas Day thanksgiving service at Sandringham.Stephen Pond (Getty Images)

“It has been an incredibly tough couple of months for our entire family.” That was one of the phrases with which Catherine, Princess of Wales, 42, began the video in which on Friday, March 22 she revealed that she has cancer. The disease was detected after she had abdominal surgery in January. Since then, the Princess of Wales has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment, as she explained in the video she shared. “I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits.” She spoke optimistically, but the news was another blow to the British royal family. Indeed, it has been a difficult past few months for them, a period that could well be compared to the annus horribilis of 1992, as Queen Elizabeth II described it at the time.

When Prince Charles became king at the age of 74 after his mother’s death in September 2022, he wanted to expand his public events and appearances to consolidate his image and popularity after decades of waiting as the longest-serving heir in the history of the British monarchy. But his aspirations were dashed in January. On the same day it was announced that the Princess of Wales had undergone abdominal surgery — which, at the time, Kensington Palace denied was for anything cancerous — Buckingham Palace announced that the King was to be admitted to the same private London clinic to treat his hypertrophic prostate. As with his daughter-in-law, he was found to have cancer during the operation; no further details have been given about his illness.

Britain's King Charles
King Charles III in an audience with Korean War veterans at Buckingham Palace on March 19, 2024.Jonathan Brady (via REUTERS)

The illnesses of the king and the Princess of Wales have thrust Queen consort Camilla and Prince William into starring roles. They are two so-called state advisors, people who can replace the monarch in his public duties in case of serious illness, incapacitation or absence abroad (Charles’s siblings Princess Anne and Prince Edward can also fulfill that role). This mechanism has not been officially activated, since Charles III is still dispatching official business. But it was a tremendous surprise when the heir to the throne announced that he was going to take a few days away from his public duties to attend to his children and his wife. Because of the absence of his father, William resumed his schedule a few days later: at an awards presentation, at a gala fundraising dinner, at the funeral of his friend Thomas Kingston, at this week’s meeting on homelessness ... But he canceled his attendance at the mass in memory of Constantine of Greece, his godfather, shortly before the start of the ceremony in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Palace. Although he has been seen in public, Prince William’s schedule has been reduced considerably.

As a result, the task of representing the British royal family at public events has fallen almost exclusively to Queen consort Camilla. In the early months of 2024, the Queen consort has become the most active Windsor. But the overload of being the public face of the British monarchy has taken its toll on her, and earlier this March she announced she was taking a week’s vacation. “My view is that King Charles insisted that she has a break. She is working nonstop; she has done so much in this last week. She has also been there for him all the time. I think that it is a sign that he has improved quite well,” British royal biographer Angela Levin told GB News at the time.

Britain's Queen Camilla
Queen consort Camilla at an event in Belfast on March 21, 2024.Samir Hussein (via REUTERS)

But illness is not the only thing that is weighing on the British royal family this year; other scandals over the personal decisions of its members have also played a part. Beyond health, the most serious issue is the situation of Prince Andrew, the third son of Queen Elizabeth II (he is younger than Charles and Anne and older than Edward). At 64, Elizabeth II’s so-called favorite has been in disgrace for almost five years, when his association with pedophile businessman Jeffrey Epstein was first discovered. He himself acknowledged that he was not up to the task in a convoluted BBC interview that did him in. But this year his name is, and will continue to be, dragged through the mud, for two reasons. First, because of the declassification of dozens of Jeffrey Epstein’s documents in January; Andrew was his friend and his name appeared in those papers. His involvement with minors and at the businessman’s parties is no longer an open secret, but something that witnesses and victims portray in black and white in their court statements and with evidence.

While it is true that there is no definitive list of the late Epstein’s clients, Prince Andrew’s name appears next to his on dozens of occasions in the declassified documents. For example, of the first 40 known documents, the prince’s name appears in 12 of them, and the lead plaintiff, Virginia Giuffre, who claims she had non-consensual sex with him, mentions Andrew numerous times.

Rufus Sewell como el príncipe Andrés en 'Scoop' ('La gran exclusiva'), que Netflix estrena el 5 de abril de 2024.
Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew in 'Scoop,' which will premiere on Netflix on April 5, 2024.Netflix

The second issue and the reason why Andrew’s name will be much more exposed in the coming weeks is the Netflix premiere of Scoop. In fact, it is a film about him and about the disastrous BBC interview in which he came off poorly. Prince Andrew will be played by Rufus Sewell, while Gillian Anderson will portray journalist Emily Maitlis. According to the Netflix, “The interview is so significant, but it’s 5% of the story. What we do is we take you on the journey to how this all began.” The April 5 premiere of the film will put Andrew back in the spotlight.

In addition, Andrew seen another family member get cancer. The prince married Sarah Ferguson in 1986, they separated in 1992 and finally divorced in 1996, but since then, and especially in recent years, they have remained very close; in fact, they even share a house. In January 2024, the Duchess of York announced that she had been diagnosed with skin cancer, after publicly revealing in June 2023 that she had been treated for breast cancer. While she is not exactly a member of the British royal family, her daughters (Beatrice and Eugenie) are, and Sarah Ferguson maintained a close relationship with both Diana (who introduced Fergie and Andrew) and Queen Elizabeth II until her death in September 2022. In fact, last Christmas Sarah Ferguson was seen with the Windsors at Sandringham for the first time in thirty years.

Another issue complicating the world of the British Royal House is Charles’s son Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. The couple have been living together in California since March 2020, where they moved, as the pair has explained on numerous occasions, because they were exhausted by the media’s persecution of them and dissatisfied with their roles in the British royal family. In February of this year, King Charles III’s youngest son went to visit his father when it became known that his father had cancer. “How did you get the news that the king was ill?” he was asked in a television interview a few days later. “I spoke to him,” he explained. “I jumped on a plane and went to go see him as soon as I could.” However, Harry’s relationship with his brother Prince William (and his wife Kate), as he revealed in his own memoir and as has come to light in interviews and other biographies, is virtually nonexistent. In his biography, Harry revealed that William even physically assaulted him in a fight. Now, in California, several sources close to the couple have explained that neither Harry nor Markle had information about what was happening to his sister-in-law, after so much speculation. The couple — who do not have social media as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — issued a statement in which they said, “we wish health and healing for Kate and the family, and hope they are able to do so privately and in peace.”

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