For a person so fluent in the art of silent, regal semaphore, the Queen’s most recent trip to Church spoke volumes.
There she was last Sunday making her annual weekly pilgrimage to one of the six churches in the area around Sandringham, her red-brick Georgian pile in Norfolk (even in the near vicinity of the Leader of the Faith, they don’t have enough customers to warrant six rectors so different churches take turns holding the service).
With impressive sprightliness for a woman in her 94th year, she hopped out of her custom-made Bentley and gamely made her way towards the waiting reverend.
However, last Sunday it wasn’t her choice of a particularly unusual houndstooth ensemble that immediately made waves, rather it was who was accompanying her: Her son Prince Andrew, who barely two months ago was forced to ignominiously resign from royal duties over his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The news of the Prince’s appearance by his mother’s side immediately hit the headlines, his exile from public view proving gobsmackingly brief.
To be fair, the Queen’s Sunday church jaunts do constitute a private outing for her. Also, she has made no secret of her ongoing personal support for her troublesome third child.
The day after Andrew put out his November statement outlining his resignation from royal life, mother and son were photographed together out riding on the Windsor estate, a shot that the Queen would never have allowed to be captured if she had not explicitly wanted it.
But this most recent family excursion was significant given it came less than a day after Her Majesty confirmed that she had given Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex permission to quit as working members of the royal family.
The evening before, the sovereign had put out an unusually impassioned and personal statement detailing their “abdication”. This was released simultaneously with a Buckingham Palace announcement spelling out the “divorce” terms the couple had agreed to.
Gone was their ability to style themselves as HRHs (though crucially and unlike his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, they still officially possess them), as were his military patronages. They would also repay the $4 million plus change spent on renovating their UK home Frogmore Cottage and they undertook to pay commercial rent on the property, which some estimates peg as being valued at upwards of $600,000-a-year.
Despite the Queen’s warm words, especially saying that she was “particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family,” the inherent pain and sadness was palpable.
Her 67-year-long reign has been marked by an absolute commitment to duty, at times at the expense of the happiness of the people she loves.
The Queen was devoted to her sister Princess Margaret and was genuinely torn over whether to allow her to marry her late father’s divorced equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend.
It is impossible not to wonder what Her Majesty made of her grandson and granddaughter-in-law’s decision to head for the exits after an 18-month run of both stunning successes, PR debacles and ongoing controversies.
No matter, last Sunday morning the Queen no doubt needed an hour of quiet reflection after 10 days of turbulence and seeing her family’s divisions play out on newspaper front pages globally.
But the Queen does nothing by chance or spontaneously. There is every chance that the nonagenarian’s choice to bring Andrew along last Sunday was far from just her capricious will not to have to go solo (or she because she was afraid to leave him at home at Sandringham using up all of her data downloading Fuller House).
Instead, here was the sovereign stepping out with the ultimate royal black sheep in front of the world’s cameras. This was a masterclass in the art of royal signal-sending, communicating legion without her having to utter a single word.
Consider, this foray was coming only hours after her beloved grandson traded life in the UK for a new start in Canada, ostensibly turning his back on both his family and the institution his grandmother has devoted her life to.
So by taking Andrew along, I would wager, was her means of sending a crystal clear message to Harry: Black sheep are always welcome back into the fold.
Since then other indications have emerged that Her Majesty is essentially holding the door open should the Sussexes change their mind. To start with, the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry all agreed that they will revisit the arrangement in 12 months, meaning that this deal is only temporary.
Similarly, Harry was forced to step back from his honorary military roles, which must have been a stinging blow for a man who proudly served two terms on the frontline in Afghanistan and has made supporting veterans a central part of his.
These included Captain General Royal Marines, a role he took over from his grandfather the Duke of Edinburgh in 2017, Honorary Air Commandant, RAF Honington and Commodore-in-Chief, Small Ships and Diving, Royal Naval Command.
Tellingly, per The Times, none of these organisations will look for anyone to replace for a year, again, leaving the door open for him to step back into these beloved roles.
There is so much we don’t know about the Queen – she is famously inscrutable – but we do know that she is a compassionate woman who loves her family dearly.
While she had to act in an attempt to draw a line under the tumult and media frenzy following the Sussexes’ split revelation, it looks more and more like the canny monarch might have built a “backdoor” of sorts into the contract.
Taking Andrew to church was icing on the cake, seemingly saying that no matter the choices or mistakes her family might make, they were always welcome back into the fold. When the Queen attends Church this Sunday, it will be knowing she has given Harry the freedom he so desperately craved – and the room to change his mind in the future.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.