Ah, the glamorous life of the royals! How we love to watch them jet-set around the world in all of their prim finery, giving demure waves and sporting whimsical hats. Yup, the world remains endlessly fascinated by the fancy-schmancy palace lifestyle of the British royal family. But there is a downside to such a life, with plenty of rules of etiquette to keep the regal legal — and even the King or Queen must follow them.
1. Never turn your back on the monarch
Even if you think you’ve finished talking to the King or Queen, they may not feel the same way about you. To avoid any confusion, then, you must never turn your back on the monarch. Always wait for them to turn away first.
Always sit properly
A female member of the family must always sit with her legs together and her chin parallel to the ground. Royals don’t cross their legs at the top, but keep their thighs next to each other and cross their ankles instead. They must also master the duchess-chin-slant, as to not seem unsure, but not cocky either.
3. Dresses should be weighted down
Kate’s had a couple of accidents when her skirt’s blown up in the wind. In 2012 Jenny Packham, one of Kate’s designers, told the Evening Standard, “I had a little handwritten letter from a lady in Wisconsin passionately criticizing me for the primrose yellow shift dress I made for the duchess. She said didn’t I know about putting weights around the bottom of a hem, so it can’t blow up?” The Queen apparently had her designers do this as well.
4. Learn the special handshake
There’s a specific handshake style that the royals are taught to use. It involves grasping the other person’s hand firmly, looking them in the eye, and giving the hand one or two prim pumps. Smile and repeat…
5. Get baptized
The Queen insisted that all members of her family get baptized, and even Meghan Markle was required to be christened before she wed Prince Harry in 2018. Such is the tradition for the Windsors. The Archbishop of Canterbury leads the ceremonies and uses holy water from the Jordan River.
6. Don’t engage in any PDAs
Married couples are not even supposed to hold hands, let alone kiss. But before Harry settled down with his wife Meghan, he was known to kiss, boogie, and even grab a bottom!
When the monarch has finished their food, stop eating
Royal etiquette has it that when the King or Queen decides they have had their fill of posh nosh at the table, everyone else must also drop their forks. It is considered monstrously impolite to keep munching once the ruler has finished their meal.
8. Don’t share planes
There is a rule stating that two heirs to the throne cannot ride on the same airplane in case of a fatal crash. However, first-in-line William tends to take this with a grain of salt, as he and Kate often fly together with George, Charlotte, and Louis as a family.
8. Ask the head of the family before proposing
This rule is actually one that was written down in law in black and white. In 1772 the Royal Marriages Act came to be, and it dictates that British royals must seek permission from the reigning monarch before they pop the question. Godspeed, future brides and grooms!
10. Add myrtle to your wedding bouquet
This custom’s origin dates all the way back to Prince Albert, whose grandmother once gave Queen Victoria a sprig of the myrtle in the 19th century. Victoria later included some in her own daughter’s bridal bouquet, and thus a royal tradition was born.
11. Keep your hands to yourself
Technically, royals aren’t supposed to physically mingle with commoners — which technically rules out hugs with randomers. However, the House of Windsor clearly isn’t too strict about this law, as William and Kate are often spotted embracing their fans.
12. Always wear tights
Royal ladies are never supposed to have bare legs, and it drew no small amount of comment when Meghan Markle appeared to be going without tights in her engagement pictures. According to royalty expert Victoria Arbiter, speaking to the website Insider in 2017, “You never see a royal without their nude stockings… I would say that’s really the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the Queen requires.”
13. Accept the name you’re given
Upon tying the knot, royal couples are presented with a small hitch. Each is forced to take on a highfalutin new formal name. So, William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, while Charles and Diana became the Prince and Princess of Wales.
14. Wear hats
Female royals are each strictly required to don a fancy hat to all formal events they attend. Yep, the women of Windsor certainly play their part in giving the milliners of old London town plenty of new business.
15. Save tiaras for the evening
If, however, the event to which the royal women are invited takes place both indoors and after 6:00 p.m., the rules change. Royal ladies can now each switch from a hat to every 9-year-old girl’s favorite accessory: a sparkly tiara.
16. Don’t use nicknames
Royal watchers and the tabloids love to say “Lady Di” and “Wills and Kate,” but such informalities don’t fly within the palace walls. Never mind “Brenda,” “Chuck,” or “Phil the Greek.” Royals must go by their given names at all times; it is Prince William, not Wills.
17. Keep your coat on
No matter the weather or the temperature, a royal must always smile and carry on. If you’re a duchess who happens to have on a heavy coat when you enter a building, there’s to be no removing it until you’re completely out of view. It would be considered unbefitting to take a coat off in public.
18. Don’t eat garlic near the Queen
Garlic breath is punishable by beheading! Okay, maybe not beheading, but during Queen Elizabeth’s long tenure, it definitely resulted in a few frosty frowns from the Queen. Reportedly, Elizabeth II detested garlic and didn’t allow a single clove inside Buckingham Palace.
19. Run your wedding dress by the monarch
Here’s one thing it might be useful to know if you’re planning on marrying into the royal family. The King or Queen has to give the green light on all wedding dresses. Kate and Meghan would’ve had to show Queen Elizabeth the gown designs before their marriages. Even Princess Eugenie — who was born into the family rather than married in — would’ve had to run everything by her gran.
20. Don’t show too much skin
Many of the royal ladies are known for their sense of fashion. Princess Di was a style icon, and Kate, while more conservative in her look, is also a trendsetter. But there is one sartorial rule that all princesses must follow: no cleavage is to be shown.
21. Know how to hold a tea cup
The royals are big fans of teatime, and they know there’s a specific etiquette around how to drink it. The cup must be held with the thumb and index fingers looped through the handle, with the middle finger underneath. And, contrary to what you may have been told, no pinkies should be held aloft!
22. You can’t choose your own tiaras
Did you know that royal women aren’t allowed to choose their own tiaras? Nope. Instead, they are given one by the King or Queen. But there isn’t much information about what kind of say Elizabeth had when it comes to the style and even size of the headpiece.
23. Always accept gifts
It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple scented royal jelly candle or a life-size sculpture of Prince Harry made from butter. If one of the royals is presented with a present, they are duty-bound to accept. It would be horrible manners to decline!
24. No voting
While it isn’t against any written laws, it is simply understood that royals won’t cast votes in U.K. government elections. A shame, since there is a personal interest here: the monarch has to endure a weekly meeting with the elected prime minister. But it is understood that as ceremonial heads of state, the British royals have a duty to keep politics separate from royal life.
24. Don’t wear wedge heels around the Queen
Kate has been seen in wedge heels often but never when the Queen was around. And there’s a good reason for that. According to an anonymous source who spoke to Vanity Fair magazine in 2015, “The Queen isn’t a fan of wedged shoes. She really doesn’t like them, and it’s well known among the women in the family.”
26. Attend etiquette training
According to etiquette expert Myka Meier, the royal children all take etiquette classes “as soon as they’re old enough to sit at a table.” Teaching five-year-olds how to curtsy and use “inside voices” sounds like a headache and a half!
27. Open Christmas presents early
All royal presents must be exchanged on Christmas Eve in the red drawing room with some tea. The family leans towards gag gifts more than serious ones. When Harry was still single, for example, sister-in-law Kate gave him a “grow your own girlfriend” kit!
28. Wear shorts if you’re a young boy
Boys are required to wear shorts in public. While you’d think a pair of snazzy trousers would be more formal, this rule stems from the fact that pants on young boys used to be viewed as… middle class. Heaven forbid!
29. Keep hair and makeup subtle
A royal woman ought to keep makeup to a minimum — and definitely not try out any outlandish hairstyles. A lot of ladies would have to give up favorite things upon joining the royal family. No black lipstick, no blue hair dye… the list goes on. Even a dressed-down royal would still be expected to look neat.
30. Arrive to dinner appropriately dressed
The royals are always camera-ready thanks to their role in the public eye. But it turns out that even dinners at home are formal, according to Taste of Home. Yes, the ruler’s guests are expected to remain presentable even when they’re family.
31. Only eat at official events
For safety reasons, the Windsors won’t eat food outside of an officially sanctioned event. The Palace takes security seriously, and food will be approved as safe for them in order to avoid any risk of poisoning. And the Queen apparently took it a step further, having dishes selected for her at random at official banquets.
32. Tell the monarch the baby news first
As the head of state and of the family, the King or Queen must always be the first individual to hear about both a pregnancy and birth – apart from the parents, of course. Apparently, William used a secure phone to speak to his grandmother as soon as George was born.
33. If you’re a man, bow; if you’re a woman, curtsy
There are certain ways to greet the monarch by which even her own family must abide. Men perform a neck bow, while women curtsy. Imagine being asked to bow or curtsy for someone in your immediate family tree. A bit formal, isn’t it?
34. Don’t wear fur
Royals aren’t really supposed to wear fur. This dates all the way back to 1137, when King Edward III issued a law preventing even his own family from wearing it. In 2019 the modern royal family also appeared to stop wearing fur. And according to royal dresser Angela Kelly, the Queen even had it removed from an old outfit.
35. Wear uniform where appropriate
If you watched the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry, you’ll notice that each groom wore a military uniform. Both of the princes have served in the army, and it’s tradition for them to wear their uniforms on special occasions such as Trooping the Color and weddings. And this goes for women, too – Princess Anne is an honorary admiral and wears the uniform.
36. Only wear jeans when it’s acceptable
Royals can only wear jeans when it’s appropriate to do so, like, for instance, in their downtime. One place royals definitely can’t wear them is in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. When Meghan attended Wimbledon in 2019, the media suggested she’d been told not to enter the box due to her denim trousers, but chances are she wasn’t planning to anyway — she sat with some pals.
37. Discreetly excuse yourself from the table
According to Business Insider, royals follow strict instructions when it comes to bathroom trips during mealtimes. Dinner guests merely say “excuse me” without further explanation of where they are going. You don’t want to be vulgar, after all!
38. Keep royal pregnancies quiet
Celebrities often announce pregnancies relatively quickly, but that’s not typically the case with the British royal family. For them, things are supposed to remain an absolute secret until at least three months have passed, and even the midwives aren’t allowed to reveal a single detail. An exception was made for Kate, though, as when pregnant with George she had to go to the hospital to be treated for extreme nausea.
39. Keep skirts long
You’re not likely to see a royal meeting crowds clad in a miniskirt. While they’re free to wear whatever they want at home, of course, dresses worn in public should be down to the knee or longer. Yet this rule has been broken a couple of times by the younger, highly fashionable Kate and Meghan.
40. Always use cutlery correctly
Using utensils correctly is something the royal family take very seriously. For starters, knives are reportedly held in the right hand, while forks should be used on the left with the prongs curving downwards. They aren’t allowed to let cutlery screech across plates, either.
41. Don’t reveal the baby’s sex until after it’s born
There are no gender reveal parties for royals, as no member of the public must know any sex of the baby until the birth itself. Sometimes, even the parents are in the dark. When George was born in July 2013, it was reported by the BBC that William and Kate had chosen not to learn whether their new arrival was going to be a boy or a girl.
42. Wipe your lips while eating
Royals follow strict rules when it comes to using napkins while eating, according to Business Insider. You see, guests are expected to keep their faces clean during meal times, and it’s not the done thing to wipe errant food away with the back of a hand.
43. Follow hierarchy rules at dinner
More astute fans of the British monarchy may have noticed that the Windsors arrive at events in a particular order. Well, the same succession applies at mealtimes. You see, the royal family walk into a room or take part in a procession in the same sequence that they are in line to the throne, according to Delish.
44. Don’t wear colored nail polish
The Queen dictated a few royal fashion rules — some of them harsher-sounding than others. None of the female royals — or the male ones, for that matter — were ever likely to be snapped wearing brightly colored nail polish, as the Queen reportedly considered it vulgar.
45. Don’t take selfies
Selfies too are a long way from being businesslike, so you’re unlikely to catch Kate taking one. It does happen every now and again, but it’s usually an over-zealous fan holding the camera.
46. Always honor your hosts
When traveling to another country, royals like to ensure that they wear the colors and fashions of their hosts. They are diplomats after all, so it helps to build bridges. For example, when Kate and William visited Ireland for the first time in March 2020, Kate made sure to wear Ireland’s national color of green.
47. Avoid shellfish
What is life without lobster? Well, per ancient tradition, the royals are told to pass on meals containing shellfish so as to avoid a potentially fatal brush with food poisoning. Most royals now ignore this rule nowadays, but apparently the Queen adhered to it her entire life.
48. Give children lots of godparents
Royals have everyone beat when it comes to godparents, as blue-blooded offspring are always assigned plenty. Prince George alone has seven godparents: Zara Tindall, Oliver Baker, Emilia Jardine-Paterson, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, Earl Grosvenor, William van Cutsem, and Julia Samuel. Close behind him is Prince Louis, with six godparents, and Prince Charlotte, who has five.
49. Teach young children the special greeting
Ever heard of the “Windsor wave?” It’s the royal family’s go-to move when greeting the public, and all the royal children have to learn the suave, photogenic wave. They look pretty darn cute waving their little hands at all of the adoring peasants— er, fans.
50. Little girls must wear dresses
It’s dresses all the time for the little royal ladies. “They tend to wear smocked dresses as little girls when they are in public with their parents,” royal expert Marlene Koenig explained to Harper’s Bazaar in 2018.
51. You can’t wear tiaras until you’re married
When you imagine a princess, you likely picture her in a fluffy cupcake gown with a sparkly tiara on her head. In real life, though, those sparkly headpieces are reserved for married royal women. Sorry, Princess Charlotte!
52. Royal babies should have special shawls
When a royal baby leaves the hospital, they’re wrapped in a luxury hand-knitted shawl from the company G.H. Hurt & Son. The firm has been providing the royal family with baby blankets for more than 60 years. And chances are pretty high that future royal babies will also be using these garments — they are very nice shawls, after all.
53. Save the baby’s first official unveiling for their christening
Although a new royal baby may appear with their parents outside the hospital, that’s not actually their first official appearance. That would be the christening. The royals usually release official photographs afterward, so everyone can get a good look at the new arrival.
54. Don’t lend tiaras to others
If you keep up with the royals, you may have realized that tiaras aren’t passed around between noblewomen. When family members wear specific headpieces, they belongs to them for good. They can’t be swapped! Though royals can apparently choose not to wear a tiara that’s been gifted to them.
55. Children must attend royal engagements
We’re sure you remember being dragged to boring family events as a child. Well, the royal kids are required to do the same. They’re taught to act appropriately at weddings, christenings, and public events, such as the monarch’s birthday ceremony.
56. The ruler can’t sit on any other throne
In ancient times, it would have kick-started a war to have a royal plop down on the throne of another king or queen. But the rule still holds fast today and — hilariously — even seems to extend to pretend thrones. When Elizabeth II visited the Game of Thrones set, she passed on a chance to perch upon the Iron Throne.
57. Kids are to learn multiple languages
The royal kiddies often grow up learning a second language. The Queen, Prince Charles, and Prince William all speak French, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is teaching little Prince George and Princess Charlotte how to speak Spanish.
58. Keep the tiara’s band hidden
When tiaras are made, designers center their gem work on the middle of the band — leaving part of it unadorned. This undecorated section isn’t meant to be seen by onlookers. Its purpose is actually to provide extra support to the slippery metal diadem. Of course, royals aren’t allowed to have this showing.
59. Get bodyguards for the children
It’s terrible to think that your child may need a bodyguard, but that’s a sad fact of life for the royal family. William and Harry had bodyguards, for instance, and now so does the new generation. George has at least two who accompany him to school. And it’s proven to be a wise move, as there really has been a threat made against the young prince. Better safe than sorry.
60. Give royal babies several names
One middle name isn’t nearly enough for a royal, it seems. Just ask Prince William Arthur Philip Louis, or Prince Charles Philip Arthur George. And yes, as you can no doubt tell, the British royal family reuse names a lot. For example, Princess Charlotte’s full name is Charlotte Elizabeth Diana.
61. Don’t give out any John Hancocks
Giving away an autograph could allow someone to learn a royal’s signature and commit forgery. They won’t take a selfie with you either, as they like to use this time with people to make a genuine connection.
62. Wear black in mourning
It may sound morbid, but this rule is merely practical. British royals are instructed to always pack — or have packed — a set of black clothes when traveling. That way, should someone important pass away while they are on the road, they can return home in proper and respectful mourning attire.
63. Know the Queen’s rules for dinner conversation
Her Majesty had a strict procedure at meal times, Taste of Home claims. For instance, during the starter courses, she would address the person sitting to her right. Then, for the main course, she would talk to the person to the left. It was impossible to break this pattern!