Inside Prince Andrew's decision to step down from royal duties: How the Queen reacted to his Epstein scandal

Queen Elizabeth is dealing with a royal scandal following her son, Prince Andrew, stepping down from his royal duties on Wednesday.

The 59-year-old Duke of York announced he will no longer be taking on his royal duties "for the foreseeable future" after making headlines due to his ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein. Prince Andrew spoke with the BBC last week in a televised interview that has been widely criticized, and denied he participated in underage sex with one of the late Epstein's alleged victims. ET spoke with royal expert Katie Nicholl on Thursday, who says that despite reports that the queen forced Prince Andrew out, sources tell her that ultimately, it was his choice to step down.

"My sources at Buckingham Palace are insisting that it was the duke's decision and that the statement reflects that," Nicholl tells ET. "He says in that, that it's his decision to step down with the queen's approval. ... Reading between the lines, it is my understanding that Andrew understood he had to go. It was made very clear to him in that meeting between him and the queen that he had no choice but to step down from royal duties."

"It must have been incredibly hard for the queen, his mother -- Andrew is widely regarded to be her favorite son -- but she recognized that there was a huge amount of damage being done to the monarchy," she continues. "He had no option, the queen had no option, but for Andrew to step back from royal duties."

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Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson together in recent years
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Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson together in recent years
ASCOT, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, Duke of York attend day four of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 21, 2019 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
ASCOT, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, Duke of York attend day four of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 21, 2019 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 18: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York attend the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor and Thomas Kingston at St George's Chapel on May 18, 2019 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Pool/Max Mumby/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: Prince Andrew, Duke of York Sarah Ferguson and Princess Beatrice of York attend of the wedding of Princess Eugenie of York and Mr. Jack Brooksbank at St. George's Chapel on October 12, 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Danny Lawson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
ASCOT, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 22: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Princess Beatrice and Sarah, Duchess of York attend day 4 of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 22, 2018 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
ASCOT, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 17: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York attend day 4 of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 17, 2016 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 19: Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, Duke of York on day 4 of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 19, 2015 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - SEPTEMBER 9: Prince Andrew, The Duke York (L), Sarah, Duchess of York (R) and their daughter, Princess Beatrice, following her graduation ceremony at Goldsmiths College on September 9, 2011 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ian Nicholson - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 25: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) HRH Prince Andrew, The Duke of York and ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York (holding her camera) wait by the finish line of the Virgin London Marathon for daughter HRH Princess Beatrice of York to complete the marathon as part of the 'Caterpillar Run' Team, consisting of 32 runners tethered together on April 25, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Indigo/Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew during Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson Sighting at China Tang - January 15, 2007 at China Tang in London, Great Britain. (Photo by Niki Nikolova/FilmMagic)
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew at the Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson Sighting at China Tang - January 15, 2007 at China Tang in london. (Photo by Niki Nikolova/FilmMagic)
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Nicholl says Prince Andrew stepping down from royal duties doesn't mean he's getting "kicked out" of the royal family, and that senior palace aides tell her that he will still be standing with the royal family on the famous Buckingham Palace balcony at high-profile events like the Trooping the Colour parade. He will also still walk his daughter, Princess Beatrice, down the aisle at her upcoming wedding. Nicholl notes that although the scandal is hard for 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth, she is used to putting the monarchy before her personal feelings.

"The queen put on an incredibly brave face last night after leaving that meeting with Prince Andrew and telling him effectively that he had to step down," she says. "It is business as usual for the queen. What you have to remember is the queen has always put duty before self ... for the queen, it is upwards and onwards. For the queen, the most important thing is the unity of the monarchy. The reason that she and Prince Charles knew that Andrew had no alternative but to step down was to preserve the integrity of the monarchy."

Still, it has been an incredibly difficult year for the queen, given what the royal family has been through. Her husband, Prince Philip, was involved in a car crash in January, and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have been candid about their struggles being in the public eye. Nicholl says the queen is pulling through the way that she has always handled difficult events.

"Her modus operandi is to group together," she says. "The royal family is like a herd in a moment of crisis, they come together. And the queen's mantra is never complain, and never explain. Keep on going, the show must go on."

In Prince Andrew's official statement on Wednesday, he said his Epstein scandal had become a "major disruption" to the royal family's work.

"It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organizations and charities that I am proud to support," he said in his statement. "Therefore I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission."

"I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein," he continued. "His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathize with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure. I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

On a happier note, Queen Elizabeth and 98-year-old Prince Philip recently celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary and received well-wishes from Prince Harry, Meghan and more.

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Kate Middleton attends church with Queen Elizabeth
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Kate Middleton attends church with Queen Elizabeth
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge waves while she is driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge drive to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge drive to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge drive to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge waves while she is driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge are driven to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
CRATHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE - AUGUST 25: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge drive to Crathie Kirk Church before the service on August 25, 2019 in Crathie, Aberdeenshire. Queen Victoria began worshiping at the church in 1848 and every British monarch since has worshiped there while staying at nearby Balmoral Castle (Photo by Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)
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