royal inquiries

What Are the Most Bizarre Royal Etiquette Rules?

Your trusty expert here. Photo: Emily Sundberg

Royal Inquiries is your comprehensive guide to everything you ever wanted to know about life under the crown.

If there’s one thing to know about me, it’s that I am extremely polite (and obviously very humble). Not only am I from Canada, the most polite country in the world, but I’m also a very famous royal expert and crown-themed podcast co-host. So I’m more than well-equipped to handle today’s pressing inquiry, which concerns etiquette.

My best friend Meghan Markle will formally join the equally polite British royal family on Saturday, May 19, when she marries my other best friend Prince Harry. Remember the intense etiquette training Kate Middleton underwent prior to marrying Prince William? Those lessons were even depicted in the Lifetime made-for-TV movie about their courtship, the trailer for which depicts a bit of the training:

It’s been reported that Meghan has been undergoing similar etiquette training before officially becoming royal. So what exactly might my close personal friend be learning during these lessons? And, more important, what are some of the most bizarre rules of the bunch? Let’s pour ourselves a Pimm’s Cup and dive in, shall we.

• Mind your chin while walking down the stairs. The key to descending a staircase as a female royal is to do so gracefully — and with your chin parallel to the ground and hands at your side.

• Be aware of the rules around curtsying. Who has to curtsy/ bow to whom can be tricky. Once Meghan is officially a royal, she will have to curtsy to anyone ahead of her in the Order of Precedence: the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince William, Kate Middleton, and any of the blood princesses (i.e., Princesses Anne, Beatrice, and Eugenie).

• And don’t be too obvious about your curtsy. When it comes to curtsying, the polite thing to do is be subtle about it. One leg goes behind the other, your knees gently bend, and you slightly bow your head. That’s it. But it’s important to curtsy longer if you’re doing it in front of the queen, which is a sign of respect.

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle curtsy at Sandringham over Christmas.
Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle curtsy at Sandringham over Christmas. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

• The Order of Precedence also goes into play when it comes to entering a room. Meghan needs to enter behind all the people who come before her on the list.

• No shellfish in public. This is to avoid food poisoning. I can confirm that not throwing up in public is polite.

Always have a black outfit with you. When a royal is traveling, it is vital that they always bring an all-black outfit in order to be dressed appropriately if someone dies. You’ve seen an example of why this is so important on The Crown: Princess Elizabeth is in Africa when she finds out her father, King George VI, has died, and has to wear bright clothes in front of the press.

• Obey the rules of the tiara. Wearing a tiara is no laughing matter. You have to wear it just slightly over your face so people can see both the jewels and your face, and it should be tilted at a 45-degree angle. Better whip out your protractor for this one, Meg …

Kate Middleton on her wedding day in a tiara.
Kate Middleton on her wedding day in a tiara. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

• Stop eating when the queen stops eating. Even if you’re still hungry! It’s about being polite, not about getting enough nutrients.

• Speak with your utensils. At dinner, you aren’t supposed to announce that you have to go use the restroom (instead, you simply say, “Excuse me” and get up). If you’re still working on your food, you cross your utensils on top of the plate to let the staff know not to clear it. Otherwise, if you’re done, you place the utensils on top of the plate at an angle, with the bottoms on the lower right corner.

• Hold your tea like a pro. One should always hold a tea cup by pinching thumb and index fingers lightly around the handle and supporting the weight with the rest of the fingers under the handle. If that sounds impossible to you, watch my colleague Madison Mills try it out at her recent etiquette class. It’s tough!

There are, of course, other rules, like having to wear nude pantyhose and how to properly shake hands with commoners (maintain eye contact, give them one or two pumps, and that’s it), but these are by far the most intense of the bunch. It’s too bad that Meghan won’t get to enjoy some nice shellfish on her upcoming royal visit to Australia, but hopefully she’ll remember to hold her chin parallel to the ground while she’s there!

What Are the Most Bizarre Royal Etiquette Rules?