I know my royal stuff, so when I heard that protocol over at the House of Windsor had been “changed” so that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge now had to curtsy to the “blood royals,” I was a bit skeptical. Mass pandemonium broke out after a story ran on Sunday’s edition of The Daily Telegraph, declaring that Her Majesty “Tells The Duchess Of Cambridge To Curtsy To The ‘Blood Princesses.’”
I called up ABC’s royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter to help me sift through the nonsense and get the real story on precedence set within the royal family. In technical, old-school, by-the-books terms, “Kate would curtsy to Camilla when she is with Prince Charles,” but not if the Duchess of Cornwall is alone, Arbiter told me.
“In the palace, the rule of thumb is that those with the HRH title do not curtsy or bow to each other,” Arbiter explained. ”The only person they are required to curtsy/bow to is the Queen, and of course, her husband, Prince Philip. At June 16th’s Trooping of The Colour there was a quick shot of Kate curtsying to Prince Philip, obviously marking his position. It’s a sign of respect.”
Ok, so the Queen and Philip technically get the curtsy from HRHs. ”That’s really as far as it goes,” Arbiter confirmed. ”Around the period of Henry VIII, things were significantly different in terms of protocol. The best way of understanding precedence and the order of things is to look at a seating plan or procession at an official engagement (like the Diamond Jubilee thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on June 5th). The very last person to arrive is the Queen. Right before her, Prince Charles and Camilla. Right before him would be William, Kate and Prince Harry. That is what defines the order of precedence: the most senior people.
“This story was sort of a ‘diary filler,’ and these often come about when someone new marries into the royal family. It happened with Princess Diana. ’She had to curtsy to Anne, she had to curtsy to so-and-so,’ reports would state. Absolutely not true. The only people Diana ever curtsied to were the Queen and Prince Philip.
“It happened when Camilla married in as well. However, between the cousins, everything is relaxed and a bit more informal. I think Beatrice and Eugenie would be embarrassed if Kate suddenly felt obliged to curtsy to them, especially because one day when William and Kate are king and queen, everybody will curtsy to them.
“What strikes me about this – and I don’t know where the story came from in terms of being rehashed again - Prince Andrew is desperate for his daughters to have a higher position within the royal family. Those girls are at almost every event. I don’t know if Princess Eugenie was at Ascot every single day last week, but she was there almost every day. Beatrice was at a lot of it too.
“On one hand, I applaud them for that. I sometimes am a bit bummed that Zara and Peter Phillips aren’t at a lot of royal events. I totally understand why Zara wasn’t at many of the jubilee celebrations because she was qualifying for the Olympics.
“I thought it was a shame that Peter wasn’t at the river pageant June 4th because the whole family was there. But at the same time we have to applaud him for saying, ‘I don’t have a title.’ He stepped back. He appreciates his position, and he doesn’t take it for granted. So there’s sort of a line there, when you look at the Phillips children and the Yorks. They’re at totally different ends of the spectrum.”
I asked Arbiter why the news outlets focus on Kate, Beatrice and Eugenie. ”I think because they are the blood princesses of the family – Zara doesn’t have a title – so they were the only adult grandkids Kate would have to curtsy to (she’s not going to curtsy to Lady Louise). I don’t know why this story was pulled out of the sky and rehashed, but I think that Andrew needs to stop trying so hard. Beatrice and Eugenie are unfortunately suffering the repercussions of that, and yet they’re classy girls; They’re respectful, they’re loyal, but they’re going to have to create their own lives.
“The other thing that was a real eye-opener for me was that this little story was entirely inaccurate. There’s been no change to the order of precedence, especially with the top tier. Buckingham Palace did not issue a statement saying that there was no change, and normally that’s an absolute giveaway. if the palace stays completely silent – often, not always – it often means that a story is not true.
“They make a point to not comment on stories that are inaccurate because that would just take up all their time. So what was alarming to me was this little story was suddenly global. It was everywhere. It’s quite shocking and irresponsible, because a story goes out like that in a reputable newspaper (Daily Telegraph) and suddenly everyone hangs on to it as if it’s gospel and fact.
“I was quite relieved when I saw that royal correspondents, editor, experts and historians like Joe Little from Majesty Magazine said about the story, ‘Ignore it, not true.’ It was quite surprising to see everybody up in arms about it.
“So to sum it up, the only people HRHs curtsy and bow to is the queen. The only other people – aside from Philip – Kate might curtsy to would be Charles and Camilla. However, at the river pageant Kate curtsied to the Queen, but hugged Camilla. She and Charles may have said to Kate ‘thank you for the respect, but it’s not necessary.’ Princess Anne even curtsied to her mother, which was quite unsual, during a lot of the Jubilee events, but nobody’s curstying to each other otherwise.
“Behind closed doors, who knows what they’re doing. We will never know. Protocol is part of the hierarchy regarding who’s supposed to curtsy to whom, but it doesn’t happen. The only people the other royals curtsy to are the Queen and Prince Philip.
“I don’t think there’s anything happening behind the scenes. I don’t think anybody has said anything. It was just a slow news week. ‘Let’s see if we can get Kate to curtsy to the Yorks.’ That makes everyone go ‘Gasp! Kate has to curtsy to the Yorks?’”
There you have it.