The British royal family has a long list of rules they have to follow, from asking the King’s approval before proposing, to curtseying and bowing to the monarch
Being a member of the royal family may come with its perks and privileges, but as a representative of The Firm, there are some things you just can’t do if you’re part of King Charles‘ inner circle.
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When was the last time you saw His Majesty stop and pose for a selfie, or Prince William give his autograph to fans and well-wishers?
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While not set-in-stone rules, there are guidelines (some strict and others not so strict) that members of the royal family tend to adhere to. Let’s take a look at the royal rule book…
Keep PDA to a minimum
The royals very rarely kiss or hold hands in public. Some royal watchers might assume that etiquette or royal protocol prevents couples from indulging in PDA. But rather, some royals choose to remain professional when they are out and about because they are working representatives of the British monarchy.
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In the case of the Prince and Princess of Wales, HELLO! magazine‘s royal editor Emily Nash has previously explained: “They are almost always seen in photographs taken during official engagements so they are at ‘work’ and it would be unprofessional to hold hands. They also need to shake hands with a huge number of people as they meet then, so aside from being on duty, it wouldn’t be very practical!
“We know they are very affectionate and that sometimes comes across during more light-hearted moments, at sporting events or similar, but you wouldn’t expect them to put that on show while in more formal situations.”
Bowing and curtseying
When greeting the monarch, men are required to bow while women traditionally curtsy. The gestures don’t need to be long or exaggerated – a subtle bow or curtsey will do.
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The most senior royals in the family need permission from the monarch to marry. As outlined in the Royal Marriages Act 1772, any potential bride or groom for senior royals requires the official stamp of approval from the King. An announcement of an engagement then follows, and some senior royals may choose to hold a formal press briefing.
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There are strict policies around accepting gifts
The royals receive hundreds of gifts from well-wishers during their public engagements and overseas tours, but there are rules around what they can and can’t accept. According to the gifts policy 2003, “no gifts, including hospitality or services, should be accepted which would, or might appear to, place the member of the royal family under any obligation to the donor.”
Gifts offered by businesses in the UK are normally declined, unless they are “offered as a souvenir of an official visit to the enterprises’ premises, to mark a royal marriage or other special personal occasion”. The royals can accept gifts from public bodies, such as the armed services or charities, especially those with which they have an established connection.
And when it comes to members of the public, they can accept smaller gifts from individuals such as flowers, food, “reasonable” amounts of consumables, and non-controversial books, but the royals cannot accept anything worth more than £150.
Every year Buckingham Palace publishes lists of official gifts given to members of the royal family.
While there is no official rule in place, heirs should technically not take the same flights to protect royal lineage. Of course, to be practical, you will have seen direct heirs travelling together in the past countless times before, but they must seek permission from the King, who has the final say on the matter.
Prince William and Prince George flew together on their royal tours to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Germany. Similarly, when William was a tot, he accompanied his father on worldwide tours.
While it’s not said to be strictly enforced, the late Queen was said to prefer royal ladies to wear tights for formal events. The Princess of Wales loves a nude stocking, while the Duchess of Sussex was spotted wearing hosiery for the first time as a member of the royal family during a garden party to celebrate King Charles’ 70th birthday in 2018.
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Arriving in order of rank
The royal family typically arrive at formal events, such as the Easter Sunday service and weddings, in order of rank, with the most senior arriving last. This means that the King would usually be the last to arrive, with the Prince and Princess of Wales before him, and so on.
You can probably count on one hand how many times a royal has willingly stopped to pose for a selfie with a fan. In the spirit of goodwill, Prince William once obliged a schoolgirl by taking a selfie with her on Christmas Day at Sandringham in 2014.
But generally speaking, royals politely decline photographs as they are often focused on an engagement when out in public, and in their working capacity. The times when you will see them in a selfie is when they’ve accidentally photobombed one.
Prince Harry once admitted that he “hates selfies”. During a visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, he turned down the request of a young fan, explaining: “No, I hate selfies. Seriously, you need to get out of it [the habit], I know you’re young, selfies are bad. Just take a normal photograph!”
The late Queen once revealed that she finds it “disconcerting” and “strange” when she is faced with a sea of people trying to take selfies with her. The implication was that she considered it bad manners for well-wishers to be looking at a screen when she makes public appearances as a guest. She confided in US ambassador Matthew Barzun, who told Tatler: “She was essentially saying: ‘I miss eye contact’.”
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On occasion, we’ll see royals signing their names in a guest book or on special notes, such as messages attached to wreaths. But you will never see them sign autographs for fans during a walkabout. It’s a long-standing rule that remains in place for all royals, because of the risk of the signature being forged.
King Charles has previously been heard turning down a fan, politely saying: “Sorry, they don’t allow me to do that.”
Pack an all-black outfit when going abroad
Royal protocol dictates that members of the royal family must pack an item of black clothing when going on a royal tour, in the unfortunate event that someone passes away when they’re abroad. As a rule, all members of the royal family must wear black when mourning as a mark of respect.
Throughout history, the rule has been honoured by various members of the royal family. Back in 1992 when Princess Diana’s father, Lord Spencer, died, she was away in the Alps skiing with then-Prince Charles. On their way back, the royal couple followed suit and dressed in all-black attire.
This hasn’t always been the case, however. When the late Queen’s father, George VI, died in 1952, she was in Kenya on safari with Prince Philip, and didn’t have a mourning outfit ready. As a result, she wasn’t allowed to be photographed until a suitable outfit had been brought to her.
No political views
By law, the King is entitled and well within his rights to vote. There is nothing written in British law barring him from taking part in an election, but it just isn’t the done thing. According to the UK parliament website: “Although not prohibited by law, it is considered unconstitutional for the monarch to vote in an election.”
On the royal family’s official site, His Majesty’s unbiased role in Parliament is explained further. As Head of State, the King is expected to “remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters” and “does not vote or stand for election.” This is why you’ll never hear the King or members of the royal family airing their political views in public.
And it goes without saying, royals are not allowed to hold a political office, to safeguard against any monarch using their influence to sway political opinion or laws.
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How to sit like a royal
Although not technically a rule, it’s generally frowned upon for female royals to sit with their legs crossed at the knee. Legs and knees must be kept together, which means crossing at the ankle is fine.
Kate’s go-to position was previously dubbed “the Duchess slant,” where she keeps her knees and ankles tightly together and slants her legs to one side. They make the legs appear longer and are a more modest position. Princess Diana was known for sitting in the exact same way when out on engagements, and Meghan adopted the pose too when she joined the royal family.
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How to hold a teacup
Only on occasion will you see members of the royal family sipping on tea in public, even though they do love their tea time. The correct etiquette is to hold the top of your cup handle with your thumb and index finger and only sip from the same spot, to avoid multiple lipstick stains. And lastly, remember to keep your pinky in.
Christmas at Sandringham
King Charles may of course institute a different tradition, but the late Queen hosted an intimate Christmas meal for the closest members of her family at her country home, and only royal couples who were engaged or married were usually invited. In the days leading up to Christmas, she also threw a bigger Christmas lunch at Buckingham Palace where distant relatives made the guest list. The royals then attend church on Christmas Day.
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