21 Rules of Royal Etiquette You Had No Idea About

Queen Elizabeth II's family are governed by countless royal protocols dating back through generations of tradition.

From walking into a room, to greeting "Her Majesty," there is a set way to perform many tasks that are mundane in the lives of ordinary people.

The intricate rules and etiquettes can be baffling even to those with a royal chaperone, as Meghan Markle revealed during her recent interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The Duchess of Sussex told the CBS prime time special in March: "Unlike what you see in the movies there's no class on how to speak, how to cross your legs, how to be royal."

In 2018, a clip of Meghan closing a car door herself famously went viral—with some joking that she would put someone out of a job. However, the reason senior royals don't usually close their own doors is thought to be more for security rather than etiquette

But there are plenty of royal family protocols—some taken more seriously than others...

1. No Bed Before the Queen

Royals are required to stay up until the queen herself has gone to bed as a mark of respect, according to the queen's former private secretary Sir William Heseltine.

His book, The Royals in Australia, details the struggle Princess Diana had waiting for Elizabeth to retire for the night.

"For Diana the long royal evenings were agony," he wrote. "There'd be an hour or so in the sitting room of everyone sitting around making conversation.

"And Diana was driven to such extremes that she'd excuse herself and go to bed, which was thought to be rather bad form, going to bed before the Queen."

Queen at Prince Harry and Meghan's Wedding
Queen Elizabeth II attends the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. Weddings are just one of many moments when protocol and etiquette applies in abundance. Pool/Max Mumby/Getty Images

2. The Duchess Slant

There is a correct way to sit for female royals, with the knees together and angled to one side, rather than the legs crossed, in a position known as the "Duchess Slant."

Meghan was photographed sat with her legs folded alongside Elizabeth during an event for the Queen's Young Leaders Awards in June 2018, Harper's Bazaar reported.

Kate Middleton's Duchess Slant
Prince William and Kate Middleton pose in front of the Taj Mahal on April 16, 2016 in Agra, India. The Duchess of Cambridge is sitting in the 'Duchess Slant' with her legs together but not crossed, and angled off to one side. Samir Hussein/Pool/WireImage/Getty Images

However, she was not the first to break with etiquette as Kate Middleton and Princess Diana have both sat with legs crossed before.

Myka Meier, a royal etiquette expert, told People crossing at the knee was among the "biggest etiquette mistakes a lady can make."

She added: "It's sophisticated, protects vulnerabilities and looks fabulous in photos."

3. Making an Entrance

Hereditary monarchy is all about hierarchy, including when entering a room in procession.

The queen always enters first, followed by other family members and their partners in order of the line of succession.

Prince Philip also famously walked two paces behind his wife, according to royal tradition.

4. Queen Elizabeth II's Ceremonial 'Nosegay'

The queen carries a bunch of flowers known as a "nosegay" during her Maundy Thursday service, just before Easter each year.

Since the 13th Century, British monarch's have handed out gifts to the poor, or in Elizabeth's case her ordinary subjects received specially-minted coins, the BBC reported.

The Nosegay held by The Queen today. 💐

The Nosegays are made up of daffodils, primroses, stocks, purple statice, freesias, ivy, hebe and the herbs rosemary and thyme. pic.twitter.com/ptojaWIqYD

— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) April 18, 2019

However, originally the monarch would bathe people's feet during the event and took a bunch of flowers along to help deal with the bad smell.

The foot washing was to honor Jesus Christ, who washed the feet of his disciples. But that royal tradition stopped under the rule of King James II in the 17th century.

The nosegay tradition, however, continues and "By Appointment to HM The Queen," Rosemary Hughes currently holds the job title "Supplier of Nosegays."

5. The Balmoral Test

Royal etiquette rules do not just affect the family and their partners but also visitors to their world, including British prime ministers.

One rite of passage for U.K. political leaders is the visit to the queen's Scottish retreat, Balmoral, which is famous for its ability to show up the ill prepared.

One aspect of the Balmoral Test made famous by Netflix series The Crown is a chair which no-one is allowed to sit in because it was Queen Victoria's and has remained vacant since her death.

However, there are many other oddities as former PM Tony Blair discovered on his first visit.

Quoted by the Daily Mail, he said: "Yes, you get your own valet. He asked me if he could fold my clothes and generally iron the underpants and that type of thing.

"This so disconcerted me that when he then asked if he could 'draw the bath,' I lost the thread completely and actually thought for a moment that he wanted to sketch the damn thing."

6. Presents on Christmas Eve, Not Christmas Day

Elizabeth's family do not exchange gifts on Christmas Day like the rest of Britain but the day before reportedly in honor of the German tradition introduced by Prince Albert.

The royal family website reads: "On Christmas Eve, The Royal Family lay out their presents on trestle tables and will exchange their gifts at teatime."

Royal author Robert Jobson told the Daily Express: "On Christmas Eve when all the clan are together, the Queen's grandchildren and great-grandchildren put the finishing touches to the 20ft Christmas tree in the White Drawing Room.

"Presents will be opened that day at tea time as the royals still keep to the German practice of opening their gifts on Christmas Eve."

7. Marriage Proposals Require Permission

The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 placed a multitude of restrictions on royals and their weddings but was cleaned up in 2013.

Royals are now free to marry Catholics and the order of succession no longer bumps boys above their older sisters.

However, the next six in line to throne all still have to request the monarch's permission to marry.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Wedding
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle leave Windsor Castle in the Ascot Landau carriage during a procession after getting married at St Georges Chapel on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty Images

Chris Bryant, an opposition Labour lawmaker, expressed frustration at the rules in a column for The Independent in 2013.

He wrote: "The idea that a head of state can decide whom people can marry is a tawdry feudal leftover, but the problem is that the Government has decided to retain a bizarre provision that the next six people in line to the throne will still have to get the monarch's permission to marry, which can be refused."

8. The Queen Only Attends Church Weddings

The queen has a personal policy that she does not attend civil ceremonies, only church weddings.

The rule meant she did not attend her own son's legal nuptials when Prince Charles married second wife Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

The couple were forbidden from wedding in church by then-Archbishop of Canterbury—the leader of the Church of England—Rowan Williams, owing to the fact Camilla had a living ex-husband.

They were therefore left doing their legal ceremony at The Windsor Guildhall without Elizabeth, who joined for a blessing at St George's Chapel.

Royal author Penny Junor previously told Newsweek: "It was because she doesn't go to civil ceremonies, she's never been to a civil ceremony.

"She was there for the blessing.

9. Writing Royal Names

Royal names can be their own minefield with family members born with titles rather than surnames.

Elizabeth's husband's name is correctly written "His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," and that is how it appeared on the official Buckingham Palace announcement of his death.

However, nothing is ever simple with the royals and Prince Harry is an exception to the rule—with his birth name rarely appearing in official communications.

He was in fact born Prince Henry of Wales but goes by the more informal Harry.

10. Surnames and Titles

The situation becomes more complicated still when royals go out into the wider-world, where surnames are an expectation.

Prince Harry in the British Army was known as "Captain Wales," while he held that rank, and Princess Beatrice lists herself simply as "Beatrice York" on her LinkedIn, where she records her job as vice-president, partnerships and strategy, for Afiniti.

Official documents can create their own headaches as Meghan and Harry discovered in relation to Archie's birth certificate earlier in the year.

From a spokesperson for Duchess Meghan: https://t.co/TuXZPRytC7 pic.twitter.com/ZyFvceqBDs

— Omid Scobie (@scobie) January 31, 2021

The Sun reported the document was changed from listing his mother as "Rachel Meghan Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex" to "Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex."

The newspaper suggested the move was a snub by Meghan towards Kate Middleton, who listed her first name on her own children's paperwork.

A trans-Atlantic briefing war ensued, with the Sussex camp releasing a statement saying the change was in fact "dictated by the palace."

Thomas Woodcock, Garter Principal King of Arms and Senior Herald, told the Daily Mail it was nothing to do with him but did note the original wording, according to tradition, "rather implies that you are a dowager, or widowed."

11. Only Married Female Royals Wear Tiaras

A princess, quintessentially, wears a tiara—but in real life, only if she's married.

Diana Mather, a senior tutor for The English Manner etiquette consultancy, told the BBC tiaras are worn at formal events where evening dress is expected.

She said: "The old rule is that hats are never worn indoors after 6pm, because that is when the ladies changed into evening dress, and tiaras and the family jewels would come out.

"Flashy diamonds and tiaras are not worn during the day, and only married ladies wear tiaras."

Princess Diana Wears the Spencer Tiara
Princess Diana attends a state banquet hosted by the South Korean President at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, 3rd November 1992. She is wearing an embroidered evening dress by Catherine Walker and the Spencer tiara. Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

12. Always Carry a Black Outfit

A successful royal must be prepared for all eventualities, even the unthinkable.

It is customary for members of the family to pack a spare black outfit when travelling abroad so they can dress appropriately should a royal die, The Sun reported.

However, they have been caught out before, most famously in 1952 when King George VI died while his daughter, then Princess Elizabeth, was away in Kenya.

The queen did not have a black outfit so once her plane touched down in Britain, one was taken on board for her to change into before she stepped out onto the tarmac, according to The Sun.

Queen After Death of Father George VI
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip leaving their aeroplane as they return from Kenya following the death of King George VI, London, February 7th 1952. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

13. Boys in Shorts Until Age 8

Many a royal family portrait has seen young princes dressed in eccentric outfits, rather than the trousers and t-shirts a lot of families opt for.

One reason, according to etiquette expert Grant Harrold, is the tradition dates back to the 16th century.

Formerly a butler to Prince Charles, Harry and William, he told the BBC: "This saw young boys wearing gowns or dresses until the age of eight, if not before.

"Thankfully in late 19th Century and early 20th Century this developed into shorts. This tradition is carried on by the Royal Family to this very day."

Prince Harry and Prince William in Shorts
Prince Charles and Princess Diana with their sons Prince William and Prince Harry in the wild flower meadow at Highgrove, in Gloucestershire, England, on July 14, 1986. Royal tradition is for boys to wear shorts up until age eight. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

However, the tradition has not always gone down well with the young royals in question.

In a 2017 ITV interview, Prince Harry reminisced over the outfits Princess Diana dressed him and Prince William in.

He said: "I genuinely think she got satisfaction out of dressing myself and William up in the most bizarre outfits – normally matching.

"It was weird shorts and little shiny shoes with the old clip on. Looking back at the photos it just makes me laugh and I think, 'How could you do that to us?'"

14. How to Drink Tea

There is a correct way to drink tea for the royal family, Harper's Bazaar reported.

The magazine described how royals are expected to hold the cup by pinching the handle with thumb and index finger before putting the middle finger underneath the handle.

The handle itself should always point toward 3 o'clock, Harper's Bazaar reported.

15. The Queen and the Hostage Lawmaker

The center piece of the State Opening of Parliament each year is the queen's speech, another event steeped in ritual and tradition.

The Imperial State Crown is driven to the Houses of Parliament in its own car before Elizabeth gives an account of the government's legislative agenda for the year, as defined by the Prime Minister of the day.

One oddity rarely known even to Brits is the tradition for the ceremonial taking hostage of an MP, who is detained at the palace for the duration of the monarch's time in the chamber.

It dates back to the time when royalists and parliamentarians got on a lot less well than they do today.

Jim Fitzpatrick, a former ceremonial hostage, once told the BBC: "If anything happens to the monarch, the same fate will befall on one of our senior colleagues."

He said he asked the head of the British Armed Forces what they would do if anything happened to the queen.

He said he was told: "If anything had happened to Her Majesty, we would have made it quick. We would have just shot you."

16. Up in the Heir

Direct heirs to the throne by convention do not travel together, in case a disaster, such as a plane crash, should wipe out multiple generations of future monarchs.

Prince William has taken Prince George, now aged 7, in the same plane with him while the youngster is a child, but it is expected that they will have to travel separately when the third in line is a little older.

Quoted in the Daily Mirror, a royal spokesperson said in 2014: "While there is no official rule on this, it is something that the Queen has the final say on."

17. Bridal Bouquets Must Include Myrtle

Royal weddings are full of symbolism, with many intricate details refined to create specific meaning for the couple getting married.

However, one tradition that has been respected since Queen Victoria's daughter married in 1858 is the presence of Myrtle in the bouquet, Hello! magazine reported.

18. Men Wear Military Uniform to Weddings and Funerals

Military service is a longstanding royal tradition—the queen herself joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the final stages of World War Two and afterwards.

Royal men wear their uniforms with pride when they marry and to funerals, although this longstanding tradition was broken for Prince Philip's funeral in order to smooth tensions within the family.

Prince Harry was facing being refused permission to wear his uniform having stepped back from royal duties while Prince Andrew asked to go in Admiral's uniform, despite never having been promoted to the rank due to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.

As a result, the royal men all wore morning suits with medals as the queen moved to avoid controversy on the day she said goodbye to her husband.

19. Show Your Wedding Gown to the Queen

A royal wedding attracts a global audience and is a national event in Britain, often a public holiday, meaning everything must be meticulously planned.

It is tradition for Elizabeth to approve the wedding dress prior to the big day, to ensure she is happy with how the bride will look.

Cosmopolitan reported the queen approved Kate's wedding dress ahead of her 2011 wedding to Prince William, when she wore an Alexander McQueen gown by Sarah Burton.

It is also customary to choose a British designer, with Meghan Markle opting for U.K. born Clare Waight Keller from fashion house Givenchy.

20. When in Rome

Overseas tours are a big part of royal life and the purpose is always to improve relations between Britain and the country being visited, so respect is key.

In addition to observing and embracing the culture of the host nation, royals often like to pay tribute through the clothes they wear.

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle both wore green on separate trips to Ireland and Kate wore red and white in Canada in 2016, for example.

21. Royal Women Usually Wear Tights

Royal women traditionally wear tights, though the rule is one of many that does get broken.

CNN royal commentator Victoria Arbiter, however, described the convention as "the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the Queen requires."

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