10 Rules of British Royal Etiquette

The Queen Visits Haig Housing Trust
Chris Jackson / Getty Images

For centuries, British royalty has had a code of etiquette that includes rules for the royals as well as those who encounter them. Most of the policies are practical, while others are there to maintain a certain amount of decorum and respect for the positions. People from all over the world look to the British royalty for proper manners, and they expect nothing but the best.

Most of the rules and guidelines for royal etiquette are for those who live in the kingdom. However, there is nothing wrong with following them as an outsider. It gives you a social edge and lets others know you are internationally savvy.

Here are some of the most important, and sometimes confusing, etiquette rules to follow when you’re in the midst of British royalty:

  • 01 of 10

    Follow the Leader

    The UK Observes Remembrance Sunday
    Always look to the Queen for cues on what to do next. Samir Hussein/WireImage / Getty Images

    Who knew the game Follow-the-Leader was so practical? Children of British royals have an advantage when it comes to etiquette. It's a great exercise as a child to practice being around the British royals as an adult. When you’re in the company of the Queen of England, wait until she sits before sitting.

    Are you still hungry after the Queen stops eating? Too bad. When she stops, follow her lead and put down your fork. If your hunger hasn't been satisfied, you can wait until later to get something to eat.

    If you’re ever in doubt about what to do, look to the Queen for guidance, and you can’t go wrong. Following this advice will keep you from standing out as someone who has bad manners.

  • 02 of 10

    Curtsies and Bows

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    To curtsy or not to curtsy, that is the question when you’re around British royalty. Decades ago, it was expected for citizens under their royal reign to curtsy or bow. That has been somewhat relaxed in recent years, so it isn’t necessary, although it’s still a perfectly fine and respectful gesture.

    Americans and people from other countries are off the hook, although you may still curtsy or bow if you want. The way to curtsy to show respect for a royal is to place one foot behind the other, slightly bend your knees, and briefly bow your head. Don’t exaggerate your movements, or you’ll come across looking silly. Keep the curtsy subtle and the bow in good taste to make it appear that it comes as second nature.

  • 03 of 10

    Shake a Hand

    Members Of The Royal Family Attend St Mary Magdalene Church In Sandringham
    Learn the proper way to shake a royal's hand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

    When greeting British royalty, you’ll need to give a brief handshake. If you don’t have confidence in doing this, practice before you find yourself in an embarrassing situation if you know that there’s even a hint of a chance you’ll encounter a royal. As you shake hands, make direct eye contact and smile. Being friendly is always in style.

    Shaking a royal’s hand is different from a handshake you’d use in a job interview. Grasp the royal’s hand in a firm but very gentle way to keep from crushing her fingers. Remember that royals come into contact with quite a few people, and their hands can get mighty sore if everyone gives them business-firm handshakes.

    This rule does not apply to when you're around the Queen. You shouldn't make any attempt to touch her, even for a handshake.

  • 04 of 10

    Royal Order

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    What should you do if the Queen of England invites you to an event? There’s only one answer to this question: You must go. Unlike other invitations that include a request for RSVP and give you the option of declining, an invitation from the monarchy is more of an order than a question. Even if you don’t want to attend, you’ll always be able to look back on the experience and brag about it to your kids and grandkids.

    Proper etiquette is always important when partying with British royalty. If you’re attending a dinner party where royals will be present, use proper table manners and maintain a positive tone of conversation at the dinner table. Otherwise, you’ll come across as crass, and you’re unlikely to be invited to their next event.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Chit Chat with the Royals

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    Before you join anyone in the royal family, practice conversation etiquette and dream up a few easy subjects. Include some basic conversation starters as well as a few answers to simple questions about the weather and other harmless subjects. Don’t get into anything that is controversial, such as your views on politics, religion, or other topics that can start a debate.

    The Queen rarely voices her opinion, but if she does, keep the conversation to yourself. It’s bad form to squeal on the Queen of England.

  • 06 of 10

    Tea Time

    High tea!
    Learn proper etiquette before joining a British royalty for tea. PeopleImages / Getty Images

    There is no better compliment than an invitation to have tea with British royalty. Brush up on your tea party etiquette before you go and remember that this isn’t an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. It’s a time for socializing and sipping and nibbling (not gulping and gorging) your refreshments. You’re likely to be served small sandwiches without crust, scones, and other finger foods with your tea.

  • 07 of 10

    Be Modest in Appearance


    One thing you’ll notice if you watch members of the British Royalty long enough is that they dress in a modest manner. If you’re going to be among them, it’s a good idea to follow their lead.

    Here are some basic attire guidelines to obey if you’ll be around royalty:

    • Avoid showing cleavage.
    • Don’t show too much leg.
    • You don’t have to wear boring clothes to be modest. Use bright colors and prints to liven up your outfit.
    • Don’t go crazy with clanging jewelry.
    • Avoid wearing too much fragrance that may clash with whatever the royal may be wearing.

    What you’re likely to see female British royals wearing:

    • A tasteful hat
    • Modest but stylish dresses, suits, and casual wear that is in impeccable condition
    • A clutch handbag 
  • 08 of 10

    Sit Like a Lady

    two stylish young women sitting on a modern couch
    Practice sitting like a lady before attending a royal event. Nisian Hughes / Getty Images

    Don’t sit as long as the Queen is still standing. After the royal sits down, go ahead and follow suit.

    One of the most important things female royals learn is how to sit. It’s important to keep the legs together, particularly when wearing a dress or skirt. Don’t cross one leg over the other at the knee. If you need to cross something, do so at the ankles. Practice this position in front of a full-length mirror before going to a royal event.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Hands Off

    Royal Ascot 2017 - Day 1
    Hands off British royalty unless they initiate the contact. Max Mumby/Indigo / Getty Images

    Never be so bold as to touch a royal after the initial handshake, unless she initiates the contact. Only other members of the royal family may place a hand on them, so give them plenty of personal space. Of course, this excludes members of the medical community when they are called on to heal the Queen or deliver one of the royal babies.

  • 10 of 10

    Act of Giving Gifts


    If you give one of the British royals a gift, they must accept it graciously and without argument. Then they must give it to the Queen, who determines where it will go. She may choose to let the recipient keep the item, or she might offer it to a respectable charity.

    Never be offended if you discover that something you gave a royal finds its way to the local orphanage or homeless shelter. This is one of their many ways of giving back to the community, and you can pat yourself on the back for contributing.

Royal Honor

Being around British royalty is, for many, a once-in-a-lifetime event. If you're ever invited to a royal event, remember that it is a huge honor, so brush up on your etiquette and enjoy. The memories will be with you for the rest of your life.