The strange world of royal etiquette

The rules and traditions surrounding the Royal Family can sometimes appear bewildering. So what are the dos and don’ts?

Meeting the Queen

Perhaps the most fundamental rule when meeting the Queen is not to make physical contact unless initiated by her. Some historians claim this custom dates back to medieval times when royals were viewed as untouchable, divinely appointed figures. In 2009, Michelle Obama broke with tradition when she innocently placed an arm around the Queen’s shoulder while commiserating with her about the pain of having to wear heels all day. In a similar vein, to speak only when spoken to is the advice when it comes to conversation. Although naturally reserved, the Queen is no doubt a master of small talk with the countless number of celebrities, politicians and members of the public she has interacted with over the years.

Although there are ‘no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting the Queen’, according to the official website of the British Royal Familyone traditional convention is for men to bow and women to curtsy when first greeting her. The correct formal address is ‘Your Majesty’ and subsequently ‘Ma’am. When dining with the Queen, it is advised to try and mimic her behaviour by not starting before her, and stopping when she does. 

Rules for the royals

Of the many protocols, the Royal Family follow themselves, some are more unusual than others. One long-standing tradition still followed by the Queen, if not the younger members of the family, is to never eat shellfish for fear of food poisoning. Another culinary casualty is garlic – the Duchess of Cornwall revealed it is only ever used sparingly at official engagements to prevent pungent breath.

Although not prohibited by law, members of the Royal Family never vote in elections. As an unelected monarch, it would be considered unconstitutional for the Queen to do so as she is expected to remain politically neutral. While this doesn’t apply to other members of the family, it is simply tradition for them not to.

Who can be called Your Royal Highness?

To refer to the Queen as ‘Your Royal Highness’ would, in fact, be incorrect. The term should actually be used to address any member of the Royal Family apart from the Queen herself. It is most commonly used to address princes or princesses as it is one step below the address of ‘Your Majesty’ used for the Queen.

Away from public engagements, all of this strict formality would, naturally, fall by the wayside. The Queen is known to be referred to by her nickname, “Lilibet”, originally coined by her grandfather, affectionately imitating her inability to pronounce her own name as a young child. Even in public, Prince Charles has been known to refer to the Queen as ‘mummy’. Despite the relative informality and accessibility of younger royals such as Prince William, it is likely that the sheer weight of tradition will prevail when it comes to the intricacies of public royal protocol. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *