Rules Royals Have To Follow During The Royals Balcony Lineups

Of all the public appearances made by the royal family, there is something about the Buckingham Palace balcony display that feels particularly special. Of course, the members of the firm are some of — if not the most — visible public figures in Great Britain, and they make a point of conversing with the public on a daily basis. Between Princess Anne — dubbed the hardest working royal — attending hundreds of events tied to charities and patronages, and Prince William and Princess Catherine — who enjoy some of the highest approval ratings among their family members — the royals are seen as a direct reflection of Great Britain and the country's values.

Naturally, however, there are some events that are a bit more celebratory than say your tea tasting visit or jaunt to the local sports club opening. These moments take the form of weddings, jubilee celebrations, monumental birthdays, and more, and are marked by a special occasion — the appearance of the royal family on the Buckingham Palace balcony. There is something particularly noble about the members of the firm waving to the crowd below, thousands of fans gathered in front of the gates of the central London palace, clamoring to get a glimpse of the celebrities. What they may not realize, however, while looking up at the royals, is that those on the balcony are following a fairly strict protocol that — like many other royal rules — come down to the reigning monarch's preferences.

The rules applied to the balcony appearances date back to Queen Victoria

While many of us knew the late Queen Elizabeth II as the reigning monarch for the majority of our lives, the royal family dates back generations and is one of the most established firms in Europe. Before Elizabeth's historic reign was another iconic female figure — Queen Victoria — who to this day is known for her opulence, dedication to the crown, and her noble aura. As related to the Buckingham Palace balcony, the appearance in front of the crowds and the decorum that developed as a result date back to her reign in the 1800s.

The first Buckingham Palace balcony appearance established by Victoria came in 1851 during the Great Exhibition – a five-month long event that highlighted the inventions, discoveries, and splendors of the United Kingdom. Realizing that the balcony could serve as a concise way to greet those who traveled to Britain for the event, Victoria appeared on the very platform and waved to the crowds of onlookers. It was a successful launch of the tradition, and Victoria utilized the practice about seven years later when her daughter, Princess Victoria (yes, same name) got married. The monarch, the newlywed couple, and members of the royal family waved to the adoring crowd, and a royal tradition was born.

The royals appear on the balcony on these choice occasions

Perhaps what makes the Buckingham Palace balcony appearances so special is that they only happen on choice occasions. It isn't every day that a member of the firm gets married or celebrates a milestone on the throne — when such events do take place, the balcony appearance is a must and is often a highlight. This is where we get to one of the first rules applied to the royal family when it comes to the Buckingham Palace balcony display, as they only appear on these specific instances: Trooping the Colour, weddings, jubilee celebrations, coronations, and major state ceremonies.

Let's start with Trooping the Colour. This annual event is one of the more predictable appearances made by the family, as everyone comes out to celebrate the monarch's birthday. Trooping the Colour takes place in June every year, and features the biggest crowd of royals on the balcony. The monarch inspects the Horse Guards Parade at St. James' Park, and is then transported back to the palace in a carriage alongside family members, offering crowds one of the biggest opportunities to get a glimpse of the firm. Weddings, of course, are a celebratory occasion and the balcony appearance is often sealed with a kiss — a tradition started by then-Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. Coronations, of course, only happen once in a generation and are the biggest events put on, and major state ceremonies come and go throughout the years.

The monarch is always situated at the center of the lineup

For members of the royal family, optics is everything. With subtle gestures — like a bag being switched from one hand to the other — the royals participate in a sort of dance that allows them to navigate their duties with poise. The Buckingham Palace balcony lineup is no exception, and placement during the appearance follows a specific set of rules.

Naturally, the monarch is front and center on the balcony on almost every occasion. Queen Elizabeth II may have been small in stature, but her presence in the middle of the royal family when gathered on the balcony was not by accident. She was often flanked by the first and second in line to the throne, which was then-Prince Charles and Prince William. Now that Charles is king, he will likely place the Prince and Princess of Wales — with William and Prince George beside him — in a prominent position. As his youngest son, Prince Harry, is no longer a working royal, it will come as a surprise if he and his family are ever invited to appear on the balcony again.

With the monarch in the middle and the direct heirs on either side, the balcony lineup is then made up of their wives and children, as well as the monarch's spouse — if alive or not retired from public life. Prince Philip, for example, was a staple on the balcony scene and was always beside Elizabeth until his retirement.

One occasion trumps the rules regarding balcony protocol

The one exception to the monarch being in the middle of the Buckingham Palace balcony pack is in the event of a royal wedding. Dating back to Princess Victoria's nuptials in 1858, it's been a custom for the newlyweds to greet the celebratory crowds gathered outside of the palace gates for generations, and such an event is certainly not going anywhere any time soon.

However, not all royal couples are treated to such a public appearance, and this could provide commentary for the heightened importance of some unions over others — at least by the standards of the firm. Then-Prince Charles and Diana Spencer — who were seen as the future king and queen of England at the time of their wedding — were granted a special balcony appearance following their ceremony and kissed for the public. Prince William and Princess Catherine — who will one day be king and queen of Great Britain — also appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony and kissed for the crowd, twice! Not all royal couples are that lucky, it seems. Prince Edward and Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, Peter Phillips — Princess Anne's son — and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle did not appear on the balcony following their respective weddings.

The monarch dictates the number of appearances on a given occasion

If one aspect of royal life is clear to the majority, it's that the reigning monarch calls the shots. Appearances on the Buckingham Palace balcony are no exception, and it's up to the king or queen to dictate how many displays are made on a given day, depending on the crowd, the level of importance of the celebration in question, and if they are joined by anyone outside of the family.

May 8, 1945, is a perfect example of this. The Allied Forces fighting in World War II had declared victory after the ceasefire took effect the day before, bringing the horrific war to a close. Naturally, crowds started to appear outside Buckingham Palace and before long, people were chanting, "We want the king," referring to then-reigning monarch King George VI. At about 3:11 p.m., the king, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II (who was Princess Elizabeth at the time), and Princess Margaret appeared on the balcony in front of the adoring crowd. With George in his admiral's uniform and Elizabeth in her ATS uniform — as she served in the military during the war — the crowd got their wish. It wasn't over, though. The king, queen, and their daughters made a second balcony appearance at 4:15 p.m., and about an hour later, made a third appearance and were joined by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill. By 9 p.m., they made their fourth and final appearance.

Of all the royal family members, Princess Anne is the biggest stickler for balcony rules

This doesn't come as a huge shock given her dedication to the monarchy and its traditions, but Princess Anne — Queen Elizabeth II's only daughter — is the biggest stickler for Buckingham Palace balcony appearances and rules. Her children, Zara Tindall and Peter Phillips, commented on her strict protocol for ITV, with Peter saying that his mother made it clear to them from an early age that balcony appearances were a privilege.

"You then get a clip round the ear and say right, 'Behave yourself, you know, we're going out on the balcony,'" Peter said of his mother, specifically relating to appearances made as part of Trooping the Colour. "Don't pick your nose and you know, don't yawn." Zara, on the other hand, had a bit more leniency when it came to her own approach. "For me, family occasions were all about hanging out with our cousins and just having as much fun as possible," she said, though her mother made it clear that decorum was to be at its highest (via The Sun).

And it wasn't just her own children that Anne gave a stern look when on the balcony. In 1987, a four-year-old Prince William was alongside his parents and the royals on the balcony and wasn't a fan of the Royal Air Force display taking place. Anne, in all her usual ways, leaned down and got him to straighten up.

Significant others are not allowed on the balcony without meeting a specific requirement

The royals — for all their pros and cons — are about rules. Protocol is applied to the way they dress, how they speak in public, the ways in which they interact with the public and the press, the list goes on. When it comes to dating and exploring the possibility of getting married, the protocol checklist is also endless. Using Prince William and Princess Catherine as an example, though she was a staple on the royal scene, Catherine was not permitted to appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony alongside William until their wedding in April 2011. Named the Duchess of Cambridge after she and William tied the knot, Catherine went from college girlfriend to royal staple in a matter of moments, and her palace balcony appearance solidified her status. But, that's the exact rule she had to follow – no ring, no access to the Buckingham Palace balcony.

The Buckingham Palace balcony isn't like an exclusive nightclub where your name has to be on a list at the door, but the royals are all about following the rules to the letter, and there was no way Catherine was getting on that balcony before she and William were officially married. The same rule applied to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, Princess Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, and so on.

King Charles III has implemented even more rules for balcony appearances related to the coronation

The world is eagerly waiting to witness King Charles III's coronation on May 6, 2023. Love him, hate him, or indifferent to him, Charles' coronation has been a lifetime coming and is a historic event — it's not all the time that we witness a coronation, and all eyes will be on the royal family as they make their appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony following the ceremony.

Of course, it wouldn't be this crop of royals without some element of drama, and Charles has gone to extreme lengths to keep certain members of the family off the balcony. Limiting the display to working royals only, Charles is said to be excluding his son, Prince Harry, as well as his nieces Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie and their respective spouses. His brother — the disgraced Prince Andrew — will also not be on the balcony following the event. "The king has been very clear who he wants to represent the monarchy," a source told The Mirror. "There is little room for sentiment, this is a State occasion, not a family occasion and it is right that only the working members of the family are there at the big public moment."

The coronation will apply specific rules to the balcony appearance regarding older royal family members

It's not just the family members on the outskirts of the firm that are being impacted by Buckingham Palace balcony rules on coronation day. King Charles III has long been an advocate for a slimmed down monarchy, pushing the firm into the 21st century. As such, the palace appearance on coronation day will mark the last public display for a handful of royals: the Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. All in their 80s as of publication, the foursome represent Queen Elizabeth II's reign and the decision to grant extended family members royal titles — for example, the Duke of Kent is Elizabeth's first cousin. A source told The Mirror that the coronation appearance will kickstart their collective retirements, and their presence will be determined on the day due to "individual health problems."

"The balcony moment will be the king's final presentation of a slimmed down monarchy, which of course will be even further slimmed down once the Gloucesters, Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra finally step away from public life and into their well earned retirements," the source continued. "It is a final thank you for them and a nod to their support of his mother during her 70 year reign."

The placements on the balcony are seen as representative of family standing

For a family that exists in the public eye, the royal family does a lot of its talking through actions rather than words. Rarely commenting on the record, the royals let their body language indicate how things are really going behind closed doors, and the appearances on Buckingham Palace's balcony are no exception. It's not a secret that Prince Harry's wife, Meghan Markle, was not the preferred choice as a royal spouse. As an American, a person of color, an actress, and a divorcee, she certainly did not fit into the royal mold. And, by many accounts, the couple's rising popularity posed a threat to Prince William and Princess Catherine's social standing, which was a no-no in the eyes of those who saw — and continue to see — them as the future of the monarchy.

As such, all eyes were on the couple as they made their appearance on the balcony in June 2018 for Trooping the Colour. Instead of having a prominent spot alongside William and Catherine, Harry and Meghan were squeezed into the back — even Prince Andrew had a better spot. It became clear throughout the event that Meghan was trying to peer over heads, making the placement even more cringey. While this rule might be a little more difficult to interpret, it's not shocking that Harry and Meghan have since been excluded from palace balcony appearances since stepping back from the royal family in 2020.

Princess Diana technically broke a balcony rule early on in her royal life

When a young Diana Spencer came on the royal scene, the British public and press were immediately enamored by her. At just 19, she had seemingly stolen the heart of the future king and was seen as the woman who would one day become queen alongside him. As such, her public presence knew no competition and the royal paparazzi came out swinging as a result. After meeting just 13 times, Diana and then-Prince Charles got engaged, kick-starting a new and improved wave of royal attention — she was the new superstar.

Though the royals have a strict "no ring, no bring" approach when it comes to the Buckingham Palace balcony, Diana broke the rules in 1981 when she was seen alongside Charles during Trooping the Colour. Though the couple were engaged at the time, Charles and Diana were a month away from their wedding and as such hadn't tied the knot — or met the crucial requirement for such a high profile appearance.

Such a display was only the start of Diana's characteristic royal rule breaking, something that she became synonymous with right up until her divorce from the then-heir to the throne. Walking away with millions, Diana's popularity and presence was not to be underestimated. She sadly died at the age of 36 in 1997.

Only these choice royals get away with breaking the balcony rules

As we've established, there are some hard and fast rules that apply to the appearances made on Buckingham Palace's famed balcony that the royals must abide by. From the positioning of the monarch, to how the tradition came to be, to the unspoken rules about family standing, the balcony displays give the public and press rare insight into the firm members — especially those who remain largely behind closed doors. If there is one group within the royal family, however, that can get away with being a bit on the naughty side when it comes to the balcony decorum it's the kids.

Of course, one little Prince Louis immediately comes to mind. Prince William and Princess Catherine's youngest son is known for his cheeky behavior and incredible facial expressions, and his appearances on the royal balcony are no exception. From giving Queen Consort Camilla the stank eye when he was just a little guy in his mother's arms, to quite literally screaming his head off a few years later during the Royal Air Force flyover, Louis is one to watch.

He's not alone, though. Prince George was once chastised by his older cousin when he wasn't behaving, and even William was once seen throwing his head in his hands while bored on the balcony. They might have been breaking the rules, but the kids know how to steal the show.