Being a part of King Charles' inner circle within the royal family may offer certain privileges, but as representatives of The Firm, there are certain actions that are typically avoided. Have you noticed when His Majesty engages in public displays of affection with Queen Camilla, or when Prince William gives autographs to fans and well-wishers? While not rigid rules, there are guidelines, ranging from strict to more lenient, that members of the royal family typically follow. Let's explore the principles found in the royal protocol…
Keep PDA to a minimum
Public displays of affection, such as kissing or holding hands, are a rare sight among members of the royal family. Some observers may speculate that this restraint is a result of royal etiquette or protocol. However, the motivation behind this behavior is often rooted in professionalism, as royals function as official representatives of the British monarchy during public outings.
In the instance of the Prince and Princess of Wales, as elucidated by HELLO! magazine's royal editor Emily Nash, they are predominantly photographed during official engagements when they are essentially on “duty.” It is considered unprofessional to engage in such displays of affection during these formal occasions. Additionally, they frequently need to greet a large number of individuals with handshakes, which makes it impractical to engage in PDA.
Nash points out that while the Prince and Princess of Wales are known to be affectionate, these moments are typically reserved for more casual and light-hearted situations, such as sporting events, rather than formal public appearances.
Bowing and curtseying
When men greet the monarch, it is customary for them to perform a bow, while women traditionally curtsy. These actions do not necessitate being lengthy or overly pronounced; a subtle bow or curtsy is sufficient.
The highest-ranking members of the royal family must obtain consent from the monarch before getting married. According to the stipulations of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, any prospective spouse of senior royals must receive the official endorsement of the King. Afterward, an engagement announcement is made, and some senior royals might opt for a formal press conference.
The royal family regularly receives numerous gifts from well-wishers during their public appearances and international tours, but there are specific regulations governing what they can and cannot receive. According to the 2003 gifts policy, members of the royal family should not accept any gifts, including hospitality or services, that could create an obligation to the donor or give the appearance of doing so.
Typically, gifts offered by UK businesses are declined, unless they are presented as mementos of official visits to the companies' premises or to commemorate significant personal occasions like a royal marriage. However, gifts from public entities such as the armed forces or charitable organizations, particularly those with established connections to the royals, can be accepted.
As for gifts from the general public, royals may receive smaller items like flowers, food, “reasonable” quantities of consumables, and uncontroversial books, but they are not permitted to accept anything valued at over £150. Annually, Buckingham Palace releases lists cataloging the official gifts given to members of the royal family.
Although there isn't a formal rule in effect, it is conventionally expected that heirs should not travel on the same flights to safeguard the royal succession. While, in practice, there have been numerous instances where direct heirs have journeyed together, they are required to obtain approval from the King, who holds the ultimate authority in this regard.
For instance, Prince William and Prince George have traveled together on royal tours to destinations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and Germany. Likewise, when Prince William was a young child, he accompanied his father on global tours.
Though not considered a rigid requirement, it was commonly understood that the late Queen held a preference for female members of the royal family to wear stockings at formal occasions. The Princess of Wales often favored nude stockings, and it was notable that the Duchess of Sussex wore hosiery for the first time as a royal family member during a garden party commemorating King Charles' 70th birthday in 2018, shortly after her wedding to Prince Harry.
Arriving in order of rank
At formal occasions like the Easter Sunday service and weddings, the royal family customarily arrive in accordance with their rank, with the most senior members arriving last. Consequently, the King typically arrives last, following the Prince and Princess of Wales, and so forth.
It's a rarity to see a royal willingly pause for a selfie with a fan, with only a few instances of this happening. In a gesture of goodwill, Prince William once agreed to take a selfie with a schoolgirl on Christmas Day at Sandringham in 2014. More recently, in September 2023, Princess Kate posed for a selfie with a staff member during her visit to the youth charity Streets of Growth in east London.
In general, royals tend to decline photo requests as they are usually focused on their public engagements and official duties when in public. The only times you might catch them in a selfie is when they unintentionally photobomb one.
Prince Harry openly expressed his dislike for selfies, turning down a young fan's request during a visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. He advised against the habit, saying, “No, I hate selfies. Seriously, you need to get out of it, I know you're young, selfies are bad. Just take a normal photograph!”
The late Queen once shared her discomfort with the practice, finding it “disconcerting” and “strange” when faced with a crowd of people trying to take selfies with her. She believed it was impolite for well-wishers to be looking at screens during her public appearances, as she missed the direct eye contact with them. This sentiment was conveyed to US ambassador Matthew Barzun, who relayed her thoughts to Tatler magazine.
Every now and then, we witness members of the royal family writing their names in guest books or on special notes, like those attached to wreaths. However, they never autograph items for fans during public walkabouts. This is a well-established rule that applies to all royals, primarily due to the potential risk of someone forging their signatures.
In a previous instance, King Charles declined a fan's request with courtesy, stating, “I'm sorry, they don't permit me to do that.”
Pack an all-black outfit when going abroad
According to royal protocol, when members of the royal family embark on a royal tour, it is required that they include a piece of black clothing in their luggage. This precaution is in case of the unfortunate event of a death occurring while they are abroad. As a customary practice, all royal family members are expected to don black attire as a sign of respect during periods of mourning.
Throughout history, this rule has been adhered to by various members of the royal family. For instance, in 1992, when Princess Diana's father, Lord Spencer, passed away while she and then-Prince Charles were skiing in the Alps, they promptly dressed in all-black clothing upon their return to honor his memory.
However, there have been exceptions to this rule. When the late Queen's father, George VI, passed away in 1952, she was in Kenya on a safari with Prince Philip and did not have a mourning outfit readily available. Consequently, she refrained from being photographed until an appropriate mourning ensemble could be provided.
No political views
By legal provisions, the King possesses the entitlement and legal permission to cast a vote in elections. There is no explicit legal prohibition in British law that prevents the King from participating in the electoral process. However, it is not customary or considered acceptable. According to information from the UK parliament website, although not legally prohibited, it is regarded as unconstitutional for the monarch to exercise their right to vote in an election.
On the official website of the royal family, there is a further explanation of His Majesty's impartial role in Parliament. As the Head of State, the King is expected to maintain complete neutrality in political matters and refrain from voting or running for office. This is the reason why you will never hear the King or any members of the royal family publicly expressing their political opinions.
Moreover, it is a fundamental rule that members of the royal family are prohibited from holding political offices. This regulation serves as a safeguard to prevent any monarch from using their influence to manipulate political opinions or legislation.
How to sit like a royal
While not explicitly a formal regulation, it is commonly disapproved of for female members of the royal family to sit with their legs crossed at the knee. The preferred posture entails keeping the legs and knees closely together, allowing for crossing at the ankle, which is considered acceptable.
Kate Middleton's frequently used sitting posture has been referred to as the “Duchess slant.” In this stance, she maintains her knees and ankles tightly together while slanting her legs to one side. This positioning serves to create the impression of longer legs and is viewed as a more modest and elegant posture. Princess Diana also notably adopted this pose during her public engagements, and Meghan Markle followed suit when she became a member of the royal family.
How to hold a teacup
Members of the royal family infrequently drink tea in public, despite their fondness for tea time. Proper etiquette dictates holding the top of the cup handle with the thumb and index finger and sipping from the same spot to prevent multiple lipstick marks. Additionally, it's essential to maintain the pinky finger in its proper position.
Christmas at Sandringham
King Charles traditionally hosts a cozy Christmas gathering for his nearest family members at his rural residence, and the customary guest list typically includes royal couples who are engaged or married. In the days leading up to Christmas, King Charles hosts a larger festive lunch at Buckingham Palace, where extended family members are included on the guest list. On Christmas Day itself, the royal family participates in a church service.