Prince Andrew Skips Royals' Christmas Walk to Church and Attends Earlier Service with the Queen
The Queen's son made his way to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene alongside his brother Prince Charles
Just weeks after “stepping back” from royal duties following the backlash of his interview surrounding his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew joined his family for their annual church outing on Christmas — but kept his appearance under the radar.
The Queen’s son made his way to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk on Wednesday alongside his brother Prince Charles. The royal brothers joined their mother Queen Elizabeth for the 9 a.m. church service, ahead of the royals’ traditional 11 a.m. service, which will be attended by other members of the royal family. Andrew arrived to church before members of the public were let in to line the roads to watch the royals make their annual walk to church.
Queen Elizabeth was driven to the church service, while husband Prince Philip, who was recently released from the hospital, remained home at their nearby Sandringham home.
St. Mary Magdalene has two services every Christmas (9 a.m. and 11 a.m.). While a few royals sometimes attend the earlier service, the 11 a.m. service is the main attraction. Andrew likely attended the earlier event to avoid attention amid controversy surrounding his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
But the Queen, 93, has made sure that her personal support remains with her son. He accompanied her on horseback with two escorts on Nov. 22 — something she would know would likely be captured by photographers and send a signal that, despite her decision to ask him to withdrawn from public work on her behalf, she still stands by him.
Andrew is a regular at the traditional holiday outing, often bringing daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie along as they grew up.
After church, the royals will gather at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate for a lunch of roast turkey followed by steamed fruit pudding, before they all sit down to watch the Queen’s annual televised address to the nation at 3 p.m.
Last week, Prince Andrew was one of the first royal family members to arrive at Queen Elizabeth’s annual Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace. However, he skipped daughter Princess Beatrice‘s London engagement party that evening.
The fallout from Andrew’s disastrous BBC interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Epstein saw his official royal role collapse to almost nothing in a matter of days. He was removed from his hundreds of charitable patronages and his office was forced out of Buckingham Palace.
The decision “shows that the royals can move very swiftly and very ruthlessly,” royal historian Robert Lacey tells PEOPLE.
While Prince Andrew will not perform any more public duties as a member of the royal family, sources told PEOPLE that not much else would change.
“He remains a member of the royal family,” a royal source said. “As a royal colonel and a war veteran, you can expect to see him at Remembrance Sunday. You can expect to see him on the balcony at Trooping the Colour too.”
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The 59-year-old royal will likely retain his title as the Duke of York and keep his place in the line of succession to the throne, which is currently eighth behind Prince Harry and Meghan Markle‘s 7-month-old son, Archie. Many family members in the line of succession are not “working” royals, such as Princess Anne’s children, Peter Phillips and Zara Tindall.
Prince Andrew’s daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, also do not have official roles within the monarchy despite having causes that they champion. Their positions will not be affected by Andrew’s decision to withdraw from a public work life.