The Strange Rules of the Royal Family

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:45:39 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: Erich Westendarp / Pixabay

We just can't help but be fascinated by the British royal family. To this day, there is just something so enchanting and alluring about the life of queens and princes, dukes and duchesses.

But a royal life comes with a lifetime of rules and regulations that determine where you go, what you do, and how you are allowed to present yourself to the public. Here are 30 of the strangest rules that a royal must live by.

Queen Elizabeth II Never Goes Anywhere Without Her Own Blood Supply

When you’re a member of the royal family, you travel around a lot. And when you travel around a lot, you can’t always be sure about the quality of medical supplies in a given location. To that end, Queen Elizabeth II never goes anywhere without containers of blood on standby in case she needs any kind of transfer in the wake of injury or illness.

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Photo Courtesy: Carfax2 / Wikimedia Commons

Escorting the royal family around is a wildly complicated process with an entire system of rules and regulations that must be followed. For another example…

No Royal Travels Anywhere Without a Black Outfit

This one actually has a practical origin story. When Queen Elizabeth was still only a princess, she was traveling abroad when there came word that her father, King George V, had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

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Photo Courtesy: Chatham House / Wikimedia Commons

Black is, of course, the traditional color worn for mourning, but Elizabeth had no black outfit handy, which caused a major public relations scandal. Ever since then, no royal ever travels without a black outfit on hand, just in case some kind of disaster strikes, and they need to switch into mourning mode quickly.

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No Touching Commoners

We all grow up with dreams of being swept off our feet by a prince and riding off into the sunset, or sweeping a princess off her feet and doing the same. Turns out, that’s even less likely than you might have assumed. In the rare event that you do get close to a member of the royal family, it is widely understood that the only physical interaction allowed is a formal handshake.

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Photo Courtesy: Northern Ireland Office / Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays though, this rule does occasionally get bent in recognition of the different ways that cultures express welcome and show respect.

The Queen Demands Her Crust Always Be Cut Off

You could fill an entire book with all the different culinary habits and preferences of the royal family. Come to think of it, that book almost certainly already exists. One particularly fascinating and widely known foible is that Queen Elizabeth frequently dines on tuna sandwiches, but always with the crusts neatly cut off.

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Keep that in mind the next time your child insists on their crusts being removed. Don’t think of it as a tantrum; think of it as getting a head start on royal training.

There Will Be No Garlic With Dinner

Buckingham Palace is home to meals both wildly sumptuous and extremely functional. You might be served something expensive and world-class, and you might get something simple and easy. One thing you will most assuredly never taste while the current queen is still in power: garlic.

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Per a former palace chef, Darren McGrady, Queen Elizabeth despises the smell, taste, and texture of garlic and forbids it in any meal. McGrady also revealed that a particular favorite of the queen is ordinary corn flakes, which she frequently requests for breakfast.

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No Shellfish Allowed on the Road

The royal family are some of the most important cultural ambassadors in the United Kingdom, if not the entire world. It is important for them to always put their best face forward when going out on trips. To accomplish this, official royal guidelines remove even the chance of an upset stomach.

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Photo Courtesy: Christopher Carson / Unsplash

That means no member of the royal family is allowed to touch shellfish or seafood while on the road. There’s just too much chance that a slightly ‘off’ fish will lead to a… let us say ‘distasteful’ end result.

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Queen Elizabeth Always Wears the Same Color Nail Polish

Consistency is always important for the royal image. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth’s official hairdresser reached out to the makers of Essie Nail Polish to request an order of "Ballet Slippers" polish. This pink-hued sheer finish has been Her Majesty’s go-to shade ever since, and it has been adopted by much of the rest of the family, including Kate Middleton.

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Photo Courtesy: Niek Verlaan / Pixabay

And lest you think this is too much thought about nail polish, when Meghan Markle married into the family, she raised eyebrows and sparked headlines by wearing nail polish that deviated from the norms.

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There's a Reason Behind Those Neon Suits

One thing you might notice if you’ve ever seen any picture of the Queen is that it’s awfully hard to miss her. Queen Elizabeth is known for brightly colored suits and hats that she wears out to almost any public event. It makes her extremely hard to miss.

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Photo Courtesy: Queensland State Archives / Wikimedia Commons

Standing out is precisely the point. In recognition of how hard it is for people to see through the vast crowds that always form at royal events, Elizabeth wears audacious outfits so that even people at a distance can still pick her out.

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Monopoly Is Off the Table

The royal family is about as different from your family as it’s possible to get, assuming that your family is not also royal in some way. But a royal family is still a family, and much like any family, it sounds like the inhabitants of Buckingham Palace can get a touch too competitive during family game night.

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In a 2008 interview, Prince Andrew had to politely decline the gift of a Monopoly board. He admitted that Monopoly was banned from family gatherings, as playing it too often turned "too vicious".

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Prince Phillip Has Someone Else Squeeze His Toothpaste

The royal family often tries to come across as normal and down to earth, but that doesn’t prevent them from indulging in the luxuries afforded them by their stature. Princess Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, revealed that Prince Charles insists on everything from his clothing to his bath plug being laid out exactly the way he desires.

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Photo Courtesy: Titanic Belfast / Wikimedia Commons

Charles even apparently goes so far as to have his valets squeeze his toothpaste out each morning, applying one perfect inch of paste to his toothbrush each morning before he brushes.

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You'll Never See the Queen's Skirts Fly Up

It’s the little things that keep an empire afloat. The tiniest flaws can shatter an image of strength and superiority, even something as simple as a helicopter or plane messing up a world leader’s outfit or hair. But Queen Elizabeth has been interacting with planes and copters all her life, and she has avoiding these disasters down to a science.

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Her Majesty’s skirts are specially designed to be weighted down, so there’s never any risk that a draft will expose her undergarments. You really need to think of everything these days.

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Royals Don't Have Last Names

Many last names originated as descriptions of a family’s job or trade, and, well, the royal family don’t really have anything like that. As such, the royals have never had ‘real’ surnames, instead being known either by first names or official titles.

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In 1917, King George V declared that ‘Windsor’ was the royal family’s new official last name. In 1960, Elizabeth and Philip announced that any of their descendants who didn’t become a "Your Highness" or take on the title of prince or princess would receive the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.

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The Real Entourage

How many people does it take to make sure a queen stays regal no matter what the situation? That’s not a joke; there is an actual answer to this question. 34 assistants, stylists, and secretaries accompany Her Majesty everywhere she goes. This well-trained platoon making sure everything runs smoothly.

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Photo Courtesy: CarlAlbertArchives / Wikimedia Commons

And Elizabeth isn’t the only one receiving this treatment. The Dukes of Cambridge maintain squads of 10 travel companions, while even the more humble family members retain at least a few attendants on staff.

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Royal Boys Only Wear Shorts

One thing you will never see as the young princes grow up is one of the boys in full pants. Yup, apparently trousers are considered middle class and suburban wear, something the royal family takes great pains to live beyond.

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Photo Courtesy: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons

This is one tradition with a long history behind it, going back to the 16th century. The moment when a boy ages into being allowed to wear pants is referred to as "breeching." This apparently pivotal jump from shorts to pants happens around the time they turn eight-years-old.

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Don't Expect an Autograph

Again, what might seem like a hoity-toity decision actually has some practical thought behind it. Autographs are banned in order to prevent foreigners from stealing a family member’s signature and getting up to who knows what mischief with it.

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Photo Courtesy: Mark Jones/Wikimedia Commons

Meghan Markle got around this once by writing "Hi Kaitlin" to a fan rather than signing her name. This was before she married Harry, so perhaps the royal family was more lenient than they might otherwise be. We’ll have to see if Markle is still able to find similar workarounds nowadays.

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The Queen Gets Two Birthdays

"Giving yourself an extra birthday" is the kind of thing kids playing at being kings and queens might declare, right alongside homework being illegal and dessert allowed before dinner. But Queen Elizabeth does indeed celebrate two birthdays. One is on her actual birthday, April 21, which is a closed family affair.

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The queen’s other birthday celebration is held on the second Saturday of June, which is a chance to recognize each year’s passing with the public. Elizabeth didn’t invent this tradition: It dates back to King George II in 1748.

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7-Year-Old Cake Is Served at Christenings

Yes, you read that right: The royal family has a fruit cake originally served at Prince William and Duchess Kate’s 2011 wedding, and this same cake has been served at multiple christenings now. However, before you feel disgusted from picturing biting into that, it should be noted that this particular cake has been made with brandy, which helps it to last so many years in between gatherings.

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Photo Courtesy: Rahel Daniel / Unsplash

Who knows how much longer the treat might last, but it was most recently served at little Prince Louis’ christening on July 9, 2018.

The Queen Doesn't Need a Driver's License

If you’re having a tough time imagining the Queen of England waiting in line at the RMV, that’s because it’s never actually happened. While the queen does indeed drive, she has never had to take a driving test, not even as her age has progressed into her 90s.

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You see, it is the "royal prerogative" of the queen whether or not she drives, and so she does so whenever she desires. But as we’ll see later, Her Majesty has a rather robust history when it comes to machinery.

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip Are Cousins

Here’s one that maybe wasn’t covered in The Crown: Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip are actually related as more than just husband and wife. They are third cousins, with shared great-great-grandparents in Queen Victoria (she of, "We are not amused," fame) and Prince Albert.

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And to tie the knot even tighter, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are cousins too! First cousins, just to be clear. Yeah, maybe that’s why this never ended up getting covered on The Crown. It’s far more of a House Lannister vibe than anything else.

Prince Harry Served in Afghanistan

No one is exactly sure what Prince Harry got up to when he was deployed to the frontlines of Afghanistan on a secret mission in 2008. What we know for sure is that Harry graduated from the Royal Military Academy as a second lieutenant and was subsequently deployed in some kind of covert capacity.

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Harry’s military service came to an abrupt end in 2012 when the media found out where he was and what he was up to. Given his recent battles with the media, it’s clearly a recurring problem.

The Queen Uses Her Purse to Send Secret Messages

Handbags aren’t just an accessory for the royal family. In situations where diplomacy and politeness are considered of the utmost importance, Her Majesty can’t just brush an irritant aside with a muttered "New phone, who dis?" and move along to the next conversation.

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Because of this, a system has been developed to carefully and inconspicuously cut off an unpleasant exchange. Royal Historian Hugo Vickers has claimed that Queen Elizabeth shifts her handbag from one hand to the other when she’s ready for her handlers to end an interaction right away.

Royals Are Offended by the Words "Pardon" and "Perfume"

It may seem like an extremely inoffensive way to signal to someone that you didn’t hear what they said, but apparently ‘pardon’ is verboten in Buckingham Palace. ‘Pardon’ is considered inappropriate, and the royals would rather you say "Sorry?" or "What?" if you need something clarified or repeated.

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For reasons no one seems to know, "perfume" is also considered something of a four-letter word within those walls. "Scent" and "aroma" are the preferred terms when discussing a particular smell. Maybe these words seem more offensive when spoken in those accents.

They Take Hostages

Before you get too excited, this isn’t Die Hard: Royal Edition. The taking of a hostage is nothing but a small nod to the traditional proceedings in olden times when it was never clear if a ruler would be able to return alive following a meeting with Parliament or the monarch’s enemies.

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Photo Courtesy: Ввласенко / Wikimedia Commons

But even if it’s a silly tradition, it’s still something of a shock to learn that this happens in the modern-day. During every State Opening of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth takes a ‘hostage’ to guarantee her safe return.

A Royal Visit Lasts at Most 40 Minutes

While it’s true that the royal family get to visit the most beautiful and popular places on Earth, most of their stops are shorter than the average tour. Every minute of their trips is tightly scheduled, and much of the time is spent in official meetings, so there’s never very much time for actual sightseeing.

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Even the exact time for leaving is planned to a T, so there are never any surprises. Then again, a lot of us would enjoy having a hard out during a particularly contentious family holiday.

Hats Are a Must

The crown is an important symbol, but even without it, royal fashion dictates that a hat is an absolute must at any official function. This rule was first imposed during the 1950s, when fashion mores were starting to change significantly.

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While the rules have become more like guidelines as times have moved on, Her Majesty remains insistent that the tradition be adhered to during formal affairs, like a wedding or christening. But that’s only before 6 PM. Once the clock strikes six, the hats are disposed of and it is officially tiara time.

The Queen Trained as a Mechanic

It’s difficult to think of any of the royal family getting their hands dirty, but World War II was a pretty severe ‘all hands on deck’ kind of moment. That included Queen Elizabeth, who was then still ‘only’ a princess. Just a teenager at the time, Elizabeth trained with machinery and had a crash course in driving.

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Photo Courtesy: CPOA(Phot) Thomas Tam McDonald (Royal Navy) / Wikimedia Commons

World War II also brought Elizabeth to her most unguarded public moment. When victory was declared, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret went out anonymously into the crowds to celebrate with the people.

Fashion Is Part of Diplomacy

It’s important for the family to look good, but not only because they want to make a classy appearance. The royal family often uses their clothing and accessories to pay tribute to whichever country they are visiting as a gesture of respect and community. This brings international attention to local cultures.

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Elizabeth wore jade green to Ireland, while Kate Middleton displayed a maple leaf brooch when she dropped in on Canada. On another occasion, Kate showed off a piece by a local designer while on a trip to India.

They Get Christmas Presents Early

Here’s one tradition that doesn’t even stem from the royal family’s own tangled history of habits and rules: Rather than opening their presents on Christmas morning, the official unwrapping portion of the holiday is held during teatime on Christmas Eve. Yup, even Santa gives them special treatment.

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This practice originated in Germany, and it’s still the policy to this day. Even so, it must make Christmas morning itself something of a letdown. Then again, we’re sure they still find plenty of ways to keep busy and celebrate on the actual day.

Kate Middleton Was the First Royal Bride With a Degree

While the royal family has high standards when it came to approving new members, Kate Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, was the first royal bride to have earned a college degree when she wed Prince William in 2011. Middleton has a Masters in Art History, earned from the University of St. Andrews in 2005.

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Not long after, Meghan Markle became the second well-educated royal bride. Markle earned a degree in theater and international studies from Northwestern University before embarking on her career as an actress and subsequent royal life.

Nicknames Are Off Limits

Here’s one rule that was made to be broken. While nicknames are forbidden, they’re hard to resist within a family. Prince William and Kate Middleton are rumored to refer to each other as ‘Big Willie’ and ‘Babykins’ when out of the public eye.

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And they’re not alone in having private pet names. Queen Elizabeth signs hundreds of Christmas cards each year. Those that she sends to cousins and other family members are often signed "Lilibet". For politicians and heads of state, their cards are signed with a more formal "Elizabeth R."