Rumored Royal Rules Explained And Debunked

Royal rules can be a bit of a mystery, even to people within the family. "There's no class [where] some person goes, 'Sit like this, cross your legs like this, use this fork, don't do this, curtsy then, wear this kind of hat,'" Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, commented in the Netflix series "Harry & Meghan," per Us Weekly. Some of the most senior and hardworking royals, like Princess Anne, have been caught breaking royal rules at one time or another. Even King Charles has broken rules and protocols over the years.

Many of these rules are more about tradition or convention, so there's a lot of wiggle room concerning their observance. For instance, even curtsies and bows aren't mandatory for greeting a monarch. "There are no obligatory codes of behavior when meeting The Queen or a member of the Royal Family, but many people wish to observe the traditional forms," explains the royal family's website.

So how do the royals know when to adhere to convention and when to set a new precedent? From nail polish to selfies, let's take a look at some alleged royal rules and whether or not they need to be followed.

Nail polish can be vibrant

Inconspicuous nail polish has often been assumed to be a beauty rule that royals were forced to follow. Starting in 1989, Queen Elizabeth declared her allegiance to the elegantly understated pink of Essie's "Ballet Slippers," making it her only choice for a manicure. However, the monarch did not have the authority to make her style mandatory. "There are no books, no rules, about what color nail polish a royal can wear," historian and author Marlene Koenig informed Town & Country.

Other family members have felt free to make their own polish choices. Way back in the '90s, Princess Diana rocked a bright red polish. In 2018, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, boldly painted her nails black to match her dress for the British Fashion Awards. More recently, Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, wore dark red polish during a 2022 royal trip to New York. 

While Catherine, Princess of Wales, has occasionally worn a striking red hue on her toes since 2012, subtle shades on her fingers are typically Kate Middleton's go-to nail polish colors. However, for Easter 2023, Kate stepped out of her comfort zone and wore vivid red nail polish that paired beautifully with her brilliant blue coat dress.

No autographs, except in extenuating circumstances

During the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show, Catherine, Princess of Wales, gifted some original drawings to children she met there. While the kids initially requested a royal autograph, Kate suggested artwork instead. "I can't write my name, but I can draw," she informed them, per Hello! "I'm not allowed to write my signature. It's just one of those rules," she added.

While royal autographs are forbidden due to forgery concerns, this rule has been broken on a couple of occasions. In 2010, King Charles broke this rule when he visited Cornwall after a flood. After a woman requested his autograph as a gift for her son, the then-prince signed "Charles 2010." He even critiqued his work, regretfully noting that his penmanship wasn't up to par since he was standing. However, this was a notable exception, as most of the time, he tells fans, "Sorry, they don't allow me to do that," per Express.

Prince Harry also broke the autograph rule in 2010 when he wrote "Get well soon! Harry" on the cast of a 17-year-old girl. After her broken arm healed, she planned to preserve the royal's signature in a glass case.

Heirs to the throne can travel together with permission

Royals at the head of the line of succession frequently aren't aboard the same flight when they travel, just in case tragedy should occur. Even so, this convention is not a compulsory policy. "There is no official rule on this. It is something that the Queen has the final say on," a royal spokesperson explained to BBC in 2014. 

While it's more easily arranged for royal adults to take different planes, it's another story with royal kids. For this reason, in 2014, Queen Elizabeth gave her approval for William, Prince of Wales, to travel to Australia with his new baby, Prince George. Since that time, William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, have traveled together on numerous occasions with their three children. Although the late queen recognized the practicality of this practice, Elizabeth was reportedly terrified about William's decision to fly a helicopter with his young family. The queen had confidence in her grandson's piloting skills, but she was concerned for her family's safety amid unpredictable weather and having seen other royals experience helicopter-related mishaps.

Now that Charles is king, he's the one who can make decisions on his grandchildren's travel. It's possible that as Prince George gets older, the young heir will have to travel separately from his father, maybe even by the time he's 12.

Royal hugs are heartwarming and relatable

Typically, we think of interactions with a royal as being steeped in formality, with a handshake being the most casual when compared to bows or curtsies. In addition, it's also considered improper to touch a royal first, like when Lionel Richie patted Queen Camilla's arm at a coronation luncheon.

Protocol aside, recent royal appearances have included a marked trend in heartfelt displays of hugging. During a 2022 visit to Glasgow, William, Prince of Wales, made an emotional connection when he hugged a fan. "It felt like a son hugging a father, William Burns told the Daily Mail. "It was a boost. I've never felt anything like it in my entire life before and my existence as a human being."

After the death of Queen Elizabeth, Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, hugged fans as the nation mourned together. Then in June 2023, Kate hugged a woman who presented her with a pair of earrings made to honor the memory of her daughter. Besides shared grief, Kate also hugged a fan during a moment of shared joy when she recognized the man as one of her former teachers during a visit to Cornwall.

Selfies aren't different than any other royal photo op

Queen Elizabeth reportedly wasn't keen on selfies, and she wasn't the only royal who disapproved of the trend. Prince Harry agreed with his grandmother, telling an Australian fan, per Hello! "Selfies are bad. Just take a normal photograph!" In 2019 William, Prince of Wales claimed, "I'm allergic to selfies," per Daily Mail, although he happily took more standard types of pictures with fans.

Previously, there was a concern it wouldn't be possible to provide a selfie for every fan who wanted one during a royal appearance. Even so, there's never been an official rule prohibiting royal selfies. Even though King Charles shared his mother's opinion, he posed for a selfie with a fan back in 2014. When Prince William took a secret job selling The Big Issue magazines to raise awareness about homelessness, he requested fans purchase the magazine in exchange for a selfie.

Royal selfies are now more prevalent than ever. Catherine, Princess of Wales, has long been a natural at participating in this type of photo. During a visit to Royal Liverpool University Hospital, both she and William took the time to pose for multiple selfies for all the fans who wanted one.