28 times the royals broke protocol

The Royal Family might follow a strict set of codes, but there have been several times they've broke protocol over the years

The Royal Family have perfected the art of following a seemingly diverse and never-ending list of protocols.

From when exactly they're meant to wear diadems to other dress code rules and regulations, there's usually a story behind everything we see.

But every now and then, even the royals like to play fast and loose with the rules. In fact, some of Princess Diana's most memorable moments came about from the royal rebel pushing the boundaries.

Here, we take a look at memorable examples of royals breaking the rules.

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All the times Prince William has flown with George

Direct heirs to the throne are not meant to travel together should anything happen. This is why, back when the late Queen Elizabeth was alive, King Charles and Prince William would never get the same plane, even if they were meeting at the same destination.

It's rumoured to be one reason why the family didn't wait for Prince Harry to join their flight to Balmoral when the Queen was dying, as there were already said to be multiple members of the family on board.

The protocol seems to be a little more relaxed when the children are younger since they could understandably want the comfort of their parents when flying.

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When King Charles walked Meghan Markle down the aisle

It may not be protocol-breaking but it definitely wasn't in line with tradition when Charles walked Meghan down the aisle to marry his son Harry. Meghan Markle opened up about why her father-in-law, Charles, walked her down the aisle during her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry in the Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan.

"Harry's dad is very charming and I said to him, "'I've lost my dad in this.' So him as my father-in-law is very important to me," Meghan said. "So I asked him to walk me down the aisle and he said 'yes.'"

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When Princess Diana chose her own engagement ring

Princess Diana's iconic sapphire engagement ring is one of the most popular treasures among royal fans.

While it's now legendary, it was unusual for a royal bride to not have a ring designed specifically for them. Diana, instead, picked the ring from a catalogue for royal jewellers, Garrard.

Princess Diana reportedly picked the sapphire ring because it matched her blue eyes.

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Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake

In one of those strange-but-true examples of royal protocol coming across as totally random to the common person, it was considered a break from tradition when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle chose not to serve a fruitcake at their wedding.

For centuries, all special occasions in England, from Christmas to christenings, had been celebrated with fruitcakes.

Meghan and Harry chose a sponge cake with elderflower syrup for their wedding.

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When Prince Philip was in the room for Edward’s birth

Before the late Queen accepted Prince Philip into the delivery room, royal women didn’t usually have their husbands witness the moment their children were born.

According to the royal book, My Husband and I: The Inside Story Of 70 Years Of Royal Marriage, the Queen was inspired after reading a women’s magazine. The book reports, "The Duke of Edinburgh was actually holding his wife's hand as their youngest was born on March 10, 1964."

"The Queen, by then aged 37, had asked him to be there; she'd been keenly reading women's magazines that stressed the importance of involving fathers in childbirth and had become fascinated by the idea. Thus Philip became the first royal father in modern history to witness the arrival of one of his children."

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Princess Eugenie’s all-black outfit in 2017

When Princess Eugenie attended a media event in 2017 wearing all black, most people wouldn't have questioned it. However, Prince Andrew's daughter was seemingly breaking royal protocol with her innocuous outfit.

While it's never officially been confirmed, it is understood that a royal is only meant to wear all black when in mourning.

This idea was mentioned in a documentary about Princess Diana, too. In a clip from Diana: In Her Own Words, Diana recalls a time Charles scolded her for wearing a black dress to a royal engagement.

“I remember walking into my husbands-to-be's study, and he said, ‘You’re not going in that, are you?’” Diana recalls in archival footage and voiceovers in the show.

Charles reportedly said, "But it’s black. Only people in mourning wear black."

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Kate Middleton's short dress

Kate Middleton quite often pushes the boundaries of a dress code protocol the late Queen Elizabeth was rumoured to advocate. In fact, many of Kate Middleton's style moments could be considered protocol-breaking.

The late Queen reportedly preferred skirts or dresses to be cut on the knee or just below.

There have been several examples of the Princess of Wales attending events where her skirts or dresses are just a touch shorter.

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When Meghan Markle spent Christmas at Sandringham

When Meghan Markle spent her first Christmas at Sandringham with the royal family in 2017, it marked a break in tradition for the family.

Typically, only spouses of members of the royal family are invited to Sandringham. Meghan wouldn't marry Harry until May 2018, so it was a special privilege and a break from protocol.

And it was one special allowance that even Kate Middleton didn’t get, she only joined the family for Christmas after marrying William in 2011.

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When the Queen went to a friend’s funeral

The late Queen enjoyed a good relationship with many of her household staff, but she'd rarely attend their funerals. This was because of the logistical nightmare that could easily arise and the fact that her presence could potentially be a distraction. Normally, as a mark of respect, the Queen would send a representative instead. It is not known if it's against protocol to attend friend's funerals, but it is certainly unusual.

However, when Annette Wilkin passed away, the Queen attended the funeral to pay her respects.

Annette started working for the Royals in 1974 and served Windsor Castle for 45 years as well as Frogmore House. The Queen was so close to her, she gave her one of her Corgis.

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When Meghan gave the toast at her own wedding

It's not expected or customary for the bride to give a speech on their wedding day, but Meghan Markle has always been about challenging convention.

So it might not be surprising to hear she did indeed give a speech at the 2018 wedding to Prince Harry.

It is claimed in Omid Scobie's book, Finding Freedom, the Duchess of Sussex said finding love was "worth the wait" and she then went on to describe Harry as "the one."

At the time it was reported Meghan also thanked the Royal Family for "welcoming her in."

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When Kate Middleton was allowed to take photos at Balmoral

Before William and Kate were even engaged, Kate was invited to spend a summer holiday at Balmoral, the royals’ Scottish castle where they are all thought to relax and enjoy special time together.

This was back in 2009, and perhaps as a showing of respect for her grandson's future wife, royal biographer Katie Nicholl shared that the late Queen Elizabeth let Kate take photos of the castle - something that is widely believed to be against protocol.

Kate has a well-known passion for photography, so being allowed to take snaps of the private estate was a break from protocol and a warm gesture from her future family.

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When King Charles enjoyed oysters

Out of the (surprisingly long) list of foods the royals can't eat, seafood is understood to be of the most forbidden. Why? Because of the greater risk of contracting parasites or food poisoning.

However, during the Whitstable Oyster Festival in Kent back in 2013, King Charles threw caution to the wind and slurped some of the seafood delicacies.

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Princess Diana's 'revenge dress'

During the summer of 1994, Princess Diana wore the now-iconic off-the-shoulder silk dress to attend a party hosted by Vanity Fair at Hyde Park.

The daring gown became known as the "revenge dress”, as Princess Diana wore it amid the scandal of Prince Charles confessing to the world his infidelity in a TV documentary.

Princess Diana's revenge dress most definitely broke all protocol when it came to royal dress codes, but that was perhaps the point. As Charles confessed to his adultery with the now Queen Camilla, Diana showed she was a Princess who wasn't going to follow the rules any longer. The revenge dress immediately went down in history as one of Princess Diana's most iconic dresses.

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Meghan's #MeToo comments

In 2018, during the Royal Foundation Forum, Meghan Markle's first official event alongside William and Kate, Meghan spoke out on a hot political issue which many people at the time believed broke protocol.

The former Suits actress spoke out in support of the recent Time's Up and #MeToo movements, which focused on exposing sexual harassment across all industries and supporting gender parity in the workplace.

"I hear a lot of people speaking about girls’ empowerment and women’s empowerment — you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices," she said. "I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen."

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Meghan Markle’s dark nails

During an appearance at the British Fashion Awards, Meghan Markle debuted a dark manicure which perfectly matched her outfit.

Again, while not immediately obvious as to why this might cause an issue, the late Queen reportedly preferred royal women to wear light colours on their nails, or no polish at all.

The late Queen wore the same shade – Ballet Slippers by Essie – for decades.

Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh has sported dark red nails since the Queen died, so perhaps this is a bit of protocol that won’t be carried into the future.

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Diana’s barefoot school race

In 1991, Diana participated in a race with other parents for sports day at Wetherby School.

She ran barefoot and lost the race, despite giving it her all.

Royals are usually expected to keep their shoes on when in public. Most of these royal guidelines are learned and unspoken and there are exceptions, like when Kate took her shoes off during a visit to a mosque on a memorable royal tour, however they are rare.

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Princess Diana’s compassion for AIDS victims

In 1987, Princess Diana broke not just royal protocol, but general societal guidance at the time when she intentionally shook hands with an AIDS patient.

While fear gripped the nation over the epidemic, people were working to dispel the myth that HIV/AIDS could be spread through touch. Many would wear gloves or masks when dealing with those suffering from AIDS.

Instead, proving her warmth and empathy, Diana made a point of being seen embracing those living with HIV/AIDS, encouraging more dignity, respect and understanding for people affected.

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When Kate made a subtle show of support for Time’s Up

While Meghan Markle explicitly spoke out on the #MeToo movement, her sister-in-law appeared to mark her support more subtly.

The women attending the 2018 BAFTAs were encouraged to wear black as a sign of support for Time's Up. Kate might not have been able to wear all black as it went against multiple protocol issues, including the mourning dress code, but she did wear a notably dark olive with a prominent black sash.

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Diana’s big night out at the gay bars

Dancing the night away in a crowded, London bar is not exactly where you'd expect to find the likes of the Princess of Wales.

While royals are allowed to party, it's usually venues packed full of the same social circles. But, in actor Cleo Rocos’s book, he recounts a night when Princess Diana joined him, Freddie Mercury, and comedian Kenny Everett for a night on the town. Diana was “in full mischief mode” and they disguised her in sunglasses, a cap, and an army jacket before heading out to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

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The Queen bowing her head to Diana’s coffin

One of the greatest examples of protocol being broken for the most moving of reasons, the late Queen Elizabeth bowed her head in a historic first at the funeral of Princess Diana.

As the gun carriage bearing the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, passed by, the Queen, who was standing with Princess Margaret, bowed her head in public. The first and only time the monarch ever did such an act. While it is not known if it's actually enshrined in protocol, it is highly unusual for a monarch to bow for other people.

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Kate Middleton's relaxed hairstyle

While attending a special educational session as part of her work with early years development in September 2023, Kate debuted a new hairdo which was a departure from her usual style.

The chic new chignon replaced Kate's usual go-to hairstyles like a smooth and sleek bun, ponytail, or her trademark wavy tresses.

Kate's more relaxed look was interpreted as a sign that some of the old protocols insisted upon by the late Queen Elizabeth II might have been relaxed under King Charles.

It was thought the late Queen insisted women's hair must be impeccably neat and natural, and this is why Meghan Markle received some flack for a messy bun style similar to Kate's back in 2018.

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Prince George’s outfit for Harry's wedding

It’s tradition for royal boys - and upper-class British boys, in general - under the age of 8 to wear shorts all year-round.

This is why it was expected to see George and Louis wear shorts even during the cold Christmas walkabouts in Sandringham.

However,  George broke this rule during Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding, wearing custom Dege & Skinner long trousers which matched those of his father and uncle.

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Princess Eugenie’s short dress

Wearing a simple light blue dress designed by Gainsbourg, Princess Eugenie looked stunning when she attended the wedding of her cousin, Prince Harry in 2018.

While many loved the simple but effective look, the short style of the dress was considered a break in protocol. While other royals have worn shorter dresses before, Eugenie wearing such a short dress to something as high profile as a royal wedding was a bold choice.

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When the Queen signed her autograph

The Queen signed a football for Malaysian Manchester United supporters in Kuala Lumpur back in 1998. While unconventional considering nobody could mistake the late Queen for a striker on the squad, it was considered an even greater break of protocol as royals aren't permitted to put their signature to things.

The risk of forgery is too great, some sources suggest.

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William and Kate’s wedding guestlist

Every now and then, even the late Queen Elizabeth, who served for a history-making 70 years, proved she understood modern sensibilities.

When it came to her grandson's 2011 wedding, according to royal biographer Marcia Moody, William was presented a guest list of hundreds of people with important connections to the royal family, as was custom.

However, Marcia suggests the Queen approached the situation as a grandmother first. She told William to "tear up the list, invite his friends, and start from there."

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When William and Kate turned up late

The royal family have strict protocols in place for their order of arrival at any given event - and the Queen was always expected to arrive last. The only notable exception was during the funeral for Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when the Queen allowed his family to arrive after her.

However, during the 2018 Easter service, disaster struck and William and Kate arrived after the monarch.

In defence of the couple, they were reportedly stuck in heavy traffic! Everyone's been there, so we're sure the Queen understood.

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When Diana sent her children to a ‘normal’ school

It was customary for the royal children to be taught by private tutors. However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Diana decided to buck this trend.

The Prince of Wales and the then Prince Charles decided to send Prince William (and later Prince Harry) to Mrs Jane Mynors’ Nursery School in London.

This made William the first heir to the modern British throne not to begin his education at home.

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Prince Harry marrying a divorcee

Proving they were capable of adapting with the times and changing dated protocols, Harry was granted permission by the Queen to marry Meghan, despite her being a divorcee.

All direct heirs must request permission from the reigning monarch to marry, and, historically, having a prior marriage might have made this more difficult to achieve.

Meghan was married to American film producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 until 2014.

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The Royal Family might follow a strict set of codes, but there have been several times they've broke protocol over the years