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Royal Protocol: The myths & the facts

Updated on May 2, 2015

Royal Protocol: Misunderstandings

Wandering about on You Tube today, I realised that there is a great deal of misinformation on the internet about the British Royal Family and the United Kingdom as a whole. The 'information age' often provides us with erroneous 'facts'.

You can see a ludicrous example below - the video that has led me to write this rant.Of course, it's wonderful that the internet enables us all to have our say and air our views. They had their say - now I'm having mine.Our problem here is that these people are talking about royal protocol and how very ridiculous it is, in their eyes. They evidently see courtesy and respect for others as being somehow demeaning.

How strange. They are very badly confused, even about what a curtsey actually is.But I don't find respect for others strange, do you?

Images from Wikimedia Commons.


How it started

The people who are speaking in the video below became sadly confused when they heard that the Queen had 'written' a list of royal protocol, showing who's who in the royal ranking of females.She didn't write it, of course, but sanctioned it and it was necessary thing to do.

In recent years, Prince William had married Kate Middleton, Prince Charles had married Camilla Parker-Bowles and the daughters of Prince Andrew had attained their majority. It was all a little confusing. Who goes first in a formal procession for example?The royal family are highly visible,public people.

Having an 'order' helps the rest of us to know what to do should we suddenly find ourselves in the presence of royalty.

Send them to the tower!

When the protocol list was revised, certain sections of the media translated this is who should curtsey and who they should curtsey to ... and when. Below is a typical example and is the video that led to this rant.


Organised traditions

Here's an example. The Queen and other members of the royal family spend a lot of time at formal dinners and other occasions with visiting dignitaries.

In addition to probably being mind-numbingly boring events, they also take a great deal of organising. (Just planning a dinner party for six is problematical enough).When a royal toast is made, the speaker starts by referring to the Queen as 'Her Majesty'. He or she then makes a short speech then asks the assembled company to raise a glass to 'the Queen'. There is then a second or two in which people raise their glasses and murmur 'the Queen'.

Hearing the words 'the Queen', the orchestra's conductor raises his baton and the band begins to play. This is not a mere stupid convention. It is simply a case of tradition dictating an order of things - that everyone knows what they are expected to do and when.

The royal family excuses mistakes - really

Having an order of events simply makes good sense, even in everyday life. I mean, I don't know anyone who eats dessert, then the main course and then finishes their dinner with soup. When I go to the grocery store, I don't barge to the front of the line to pay. When I'm at the airport, I go through all the rigmaroles of handing in baggage, being security checked and soon.Some things are simply done in a certain way. Knowing those 'rules' helps us maintain a civilised society.I also don't know any country that condones speaking during the playing of the national anthem. Even at unruly sports events, the national anthems are respected.Before you watch the video below, remember the following common sense traditions:

  • At a formal banquet, it is customary to toast the Queen by giving a very short speechThe speaker then asks the attendees to raise their glasses to toast 'the Queen'The conductor of the orchestra takes this as his cue to start the national anthemPeople stand respectfully, and in silence, during the national anthem

As you can see, everyone was embarrassed, Obama probably more than anyone. (Although I rather think Camilla was trying not to giggle). Note that for the video, the national anthem has been shortened - the poor man was left standing there for much longer. He must have been furious with his advisors.He was so flummoxed, that he didn't even drink the toast himself.But it shows how knowing the traditional ways makes everything easier for everyone.

Want to be on the safe side?

In the Royal Manner: Expert Advice on Etiquette and Entertaining from the Former Butler to  Diana, Princess of Wales
In the Royal Manner: Expert Advice on Etiquette and Entertaining from the Former Butler to Diana, Princess of Wales

Even if you don't have an invitation to Buckingham Palace on your mantelpiece (all invitations should be displayed on one's mantelpiece) you can still learn more about royal etiquette.If you want to learn more about giving exquisite dinner parties and functions, everything you need to know - even including recipes and a few touches of royal gossip - is right here.


Protocol myths

Looking around the internet, I came across so many 'facts' about how to behave when in the company of royalty. Here are a few of the best.

  • You should not turn your back on a member of royalty. Nonsense. The TV and movies have perpetuated this myth. Buckingham Palace repeatedly remarks that the Queen simply wants people to feel comfortable in her presence - I doubt walking backwards is.
  • You should always curtsey (ladies) or bow (gentlemen) when you meet a member of the royal family. Rubbish. There is absolutely no rules, or etiquette, that says that this is required or even desired. And if you do wish to do so, then a curtsey is a mere bob and a bow a quick nod of the head. The biggest fallacy here is that British subjects MUST curtsey or bow but other have the choice. Rubbish. We have no obligation whatsoever.
  • You should always refer to royal as 'sir' or 'ma'am'. Again, this is not required and there's no need to think that you have committed a terrible faux pas if you forget or choose not to. Personally, I would have no objection to calling the Queen ma'am or calling the Duke of Edinburgh sir.
  • Do not speak until you're spoken to. What nonsense. Why should it always be up to the Queen to decide on conversation openers? The chances are, that if you're presented to Her Majesty, she will speak to you and ask you a question to put you at ease. But I promise that you will not be whisked off to the Tower of London and beheaded if you speak first.
  • Ladies - don't wear trousers or perfume as the Queen dislikes both. I don't know where people get these ideas. There is no way that the Queen, who is notoriously an excellent host, would presume to dictate how her guests should dress - or smell. Of course, even I wouldn't go to a state banquet in my usual jeans and t-shirt and stiletto heels at a royal garden party would be daft. Even most businesses have a dress code...
  • Never wear black at royal occasions as this implies mourning. Yes, I really did read that.
  • I also read masses of stuff about how, when dining with the Queen, you should not speak when your mouth is full, you should not blow your nose on your napkin, you should not lick your plate .... really? Who is this 'advice' intended for? There is also a fallacy that when dining with the Queen, guest should down tools when she stops eating. What nonsense. At large banquets, highly organised though they are, not everyone will be served at the exact same moment. People have become to believe this fallacy to such a wide extent, that the Queen is now served with a side salad in addition to her main course. This way, she can toy with it and nibble until everyone is well-fed. Believe me, the royal household hates waste and is not going to throw out hundreds of uneaten dinners just because 'no-one should be eating once the Queen has finished'.


Americans will be fine

I don't know why this is but most of the royal etiquette advice online is geared towards Americans and I promise you, you'll be absolutely fine.

Just remember that so much of what you hear is false.I shouldn't stereotype people, I know, but after all these years in the States I am sure that the average American (whatever that is) is more polite and more class-conscious than the average Brit (ditto).

For example, the only times I have ever called anyone 'sir' is in the States when I've been pulled over for traffic offences by the cops. (When a bloke in uniform has a gun, it seems like a good idea).Being from such a tiny island, most of us maintain that we are comfortable with anyone, from a dustman to duke. In America people tend to remain within their own strata.So if you're invited to dine with Lord and Lady Muck, never fear.

You'll be just fine.

Gestures of respect from around the world

Click thumbnail to view full-size

© 2014 Jackie Jackson


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    Post Comment

    • BritFlorida profile imageAUTHOR

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @JohnTannahill: Haha! I had a feeling that you'd be the first to comment here, John :)

    • JohnTannahill profile image

      John Tannahill 

      4 years ago from Somewhere in England

      Go to the tower. Go straight to the tower and do not pass go. By order of the Queen.


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