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When You Meet a British Royal, What's the Etiquette?

What should people do when they meet British royalty?

What should people do when they meet British royalty?

Rules for Meeting Royalty

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet a royal figure? If you ever get the chance, how should you address them? What should you wear? Below are five rules of etiquette one should master before meeting a British royal.

1. Practice Your Curtsey or Bow

To achieve a royally approved curtsey or bow, practice is needed. Whether the event is a royal visit, collecting an award, ambling around the Royal Enclosure at Ascot or popping to the palace for a cup of tea and a chat with His Majesty, it should be done correctly.

Bobbing up and down as if at the gym or bowing so low that the result is a head or chin butt to the royal are frowned upon. Respectful and perhaps reverential curtseys may be long but not so deep that the knees meet with the royal carpet or crush a corgi. Bows come from the neck rather than the lower back. Over bowing into a forward roll is probably amusing to the royal but mortifying to the bow giver.

Bowing or curtseying to royals is deemed de rigeur but the current royal rulebook doesn't decree that if someone doesn't offer one of the above, they'll be thrown into the Tower of London.

Get the royal title right.

Get the royal title right.

2. Remember the Royal Title

It's vital never to refer to a king or queen as a royal highness because they are addressed as Your or His/Her Majesty at first and then Sir or Ma'am. This word rhymes with ham, not arm. People only called Elizabeth II queenie or Liz if they wanted to be banished from the realm.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is the only countess in the land who isn't addressed as "Lady..". She is always the Countess of Wessex.

Some minor royals aren't referred to by their own name. The actress Sophie Winkleman is the wife of Lord Frederick Windsor, son of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Sophie is formally The Lady Frederick Windsor, not Lady Sophie. Princess Michael is called Marie-Christine when off duty.

Geography matters. In Scotland, William and Catherine can use their Scottish titles, the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, and in Cornwall they are the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall. Prior to his accession, when not in Scotland or Cornwall, King Charles III, the previous holder of the titles was called the Prince of Wales. He must have woken up and wondered who he was some days.

Elizabeth II was the Duke of Lancaster, not the duchess, thanks to a rule created by Queen Victoria. She was referred to as the duke and the queen in Lancashire. They have their own version of the national anthem.

Please don't over-shake the royal hand. It gets sore  Edward VIII shown when he was Prince of Wales, 1920.

Please don't over-shake the royal hand. It gets sore Edward VIII shown when he was Prince of Wales, 1920.

3. Yes to Firm Royal Handshakes, No to Autographs

People can shake hands with a royal if they prefer, but repeated pumping of the royal paw is not appreciated. Maintaining eye contact and a firm grip meets with royal approval. Apparently, Edward VIII used to get sore hands from shaking hands frequently, so he would alternate which gloved hand he proffered to even out the pain he experienced.

There isn't an edict that says a commoner can't touch a royal, but "please don't feel that you must" is the unspoken message. Clapping them on the shoulder or patting their arm when conversing can lead to awkwardness.

It will come as no surprise that asking a royal for an autograph seldom meets with approval. Why? Their signature could be used for fraudulent purposes. And you thought it was because they were stick-in-the-muds. Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, gave autographs when she was a working royal, presumably because it was what she was used to as an actress.

This was a fun run but probably not the best outfit to meet a royal in!

This was a fun run but probably not the best outfit to meet a royal in!

4. Dress Appropriately for a Royal Visit

True story...A former mayor of the town in which I live greeted Elizabeth II on a royal visit wearing a very short-skirted suit, and when she curtseyed, I'm surprised that she didn't flash her knickers. Or did she? It was judged (not by the queen) as inappropriate to bear so much mayoral flesh in royal company.

Royal males are introduced to suits at an early age. Yes, informally, they can get away with T-shirt and shorts or jeans, but when on show to the public, they'll normally be in a suit and tie. Invitations to guests are issued with a dress code, and there are a limited number of occasions when the informal look whilst hosting a royal is permissible. Men, make like a royal and get suited and booted.

Royal women favour an elegant daytime dress code with modest hemlines, sleeves and no cleavage on show because they want to look dignified and they don't want to be torn apart by the media. Fashion trends come and go, but the royals are constant. Although they nod to fashion trends or set them, the working female royal's uniform has barely changed for decades.

Michelle Obama wisely wore sleeves to meet the late queen forgoing her usual sleeveless attire. That's the way they like it at the palace. Class shows.

If in doubt, lucky people meeting royals should always veer towards a formal dress code, and hats are always welcome. Gloves too, and sensible shoes.

Obeying the dress code is essential.

Obeying the dress code is essential.

5. When the Royal Finishes Dining, So Do Her Guests

When Elizabeth II finished eating, she put down her cutlery, whipped out her compact mirror and repaired her lipstick. That was the cue for everyone else in the room to put their cutlery down and get ready to move from the table just after she did.

Current era dinner guests are luckier than Queen Victoria's fellow diners. Victoria ate so quickly that she drew disapproval from Prince Albert. She ate like someone was going to steal her plate from her. Her guests could barely keep up. Perhaps they had snacks hidden in their rooms to stave off stomach rumbles.

When Elizabeth II visited the R.A.F. base that my father was stationed at in the 1990's he was given a list of dos and don'ts. (He quaked). This mentioned the queen's compact and lipstick habit so that she didn't need to say a word, all diners knew when dinner time was over. It was wonderfully managed without seeming to be.


The best etiquette advice for anyone meeting a royal is not to follow Donald Trump's example. During his presidential visit to the U.K., he seemed determined to break every royal protocol in existence.

How Elizabeth II didn't wallop him with her handbag, such restraint!


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle