Joining the Royal Family requires abiding by customs deeply rooted in British tradition. As the world celebrates the announcement of Prince Harry and Megan Markle’s engagement, the future Duchess of Sussex will be preparing to take on her new title, and with it, a distinguished protocol of Royal etiquette. From finding out if the Queen is at home, to dining with members of the Royal family, our guide to British Royal etiquette covers all the rules and rites you could ever need to know when meeting her Majesty.
How to see when the Queen is home
Whether you’re passing Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle or Sandringham House, you might be interested to know whether the Queen is in residence. The easiest way to tell is by taking a closer look at the palace’s flag. If The Royal Standard is at the top of the flagpole (and not the Union Jack), you know the Queen is at home.
How to act when meeting the Queen
The British Monarchy has relaxed a great deal in recent years, but many people still choose to follow the established rules of British Royal etiquette. On meeting a member of the Royal Family, men traditionally bow from the neck, while women curtsy. In more recent times – despite the general no touching rule – it has also become common to shake hands, but only once they’ve extended their hand to you. And while you’re in Royal company, remember never to turn your back on the Queen.
How to greet Royalty
When meeting the Queen, the correct way to address her is ‘Your Majesty’, and for other members of the Royal Family it’s ‘Your Royal Highness’. After this initial greeting ‘Ma’am’ (pronounced as in ‘jam’) is typically used for the Queen and other female members of the Royal Family, and ‘Sir’ is used to address the men.
It’s a general rule to keep conversation with the Queen to pleasantries and small talk. Avoid asking any personal or probing questions, and let The Queen initiate the topic of conversation with you. At mealtimes, convention dictates that the Queen first makes conversation with the person seated to her right, then on the next course, she’ll turn to the person on her left; as guests follow suit, the conversation flows.
At meal times, follow the Queen’s lead
For those fortunate enough to ever receive a Royal invitation to dinner, it can be a nerve-wracking affair. The one rule of dining etiquette that’s universally agreed is to follow the Queen’s lead. Once the Queen is seated, it’s time to sit down, and – according to a rule that dates back through the centuries – once the Queen has stopped eating, you know that’s your cue to stop, too. Finally, if tea is served, ensure the teacup is placed back in the saucer after each sip you take.
Admittedly, not everyone has the opportunity to take tea with the Queen, but with Britain’s resplendent Royal residences to explore, visitors don’t have to miss out on having a Royal experience.
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Image credits: Cover photo of Buckingham Palace © iStock / RFStock. The Queen at Cartier Polo © Third Light. Buckingham Palace © iStock / oversnap. China teacups © iStock / David Freund. Trooping the Colour © iStock / Rudi Tapper.