- Rachel Burchfield
The order of things
I am sure, somewhere in Buckingham Palace, there is a book of royal protocol that the Royal Family follows. And I bet it is monstrously large. This Family has taken rule-following to another level. I find some of these rules a little dated – women in the Family must wear pantyhose and clear nail polish, for example – but some I find fascinating. I read an article on people.com about seating order at official events, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. I thought I’d share some tidbits with you.
On Thursday, April 25, Kate and Harry attended a service at Westminster Abbey for Anzac Day – which my dumb self has been calling Aztec Day when I’ve been talking about it for the past two weeks with my Royal Watcher friends, oops – which honors fallen Australian and New Zealand veterans that died during the first major battle involving the two countries’ forces in World War I. (Why does the British monarchy care about Australia and New Zealand? Because both countries are part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, comprised of 53 countries spanning six continents – all but Antarctica. Nearly all of these countries are former territories of the British Empire, and Queen Elizabeth is the head of the Commonwealth.) Everyone was kind of surprised to see Harry working that day, because everyone figured Meghan was thisclose to delivering. (Turns out her due date was around April 29 – William and Kate’s eighth wedding anniversary! – because when she did deliver on May 6, it was said Meghan was about a week late.) In fact, Harry’s name wasn’t even printed in the ceremony’s programs because it was a toss up whether he would be there or not. Harry and Meghan went to the ceremony last year with William; Kate wasn’t there because she had just delivered Prince Louis two days prior, on April 23. And, if you’ll remember, William got some bad press because he nodded off during the ceremony. #newbabylife
Anyway, I digress.
So, with Meghan on maternity leave and William actually in New Zealand at the time, it was just Kate and Harry this year. Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, a paternal cousin of Queen Elizabeth’s and currently a deep twenty-sixth in line to the British throne, was also present. One would think Kate and Harry – famously close, and brother- and sister-in-law, would sit next to one another, right? Wrong, thanks to royal protocol (and not because of some made up feud in the press about the Cambridges versus the Sussexes – wait until I dive into that in a forthcoming blog post).
So, in royal protocol, seating matters. A lot. At Westminster Abbey, the best seat in the house is the seat closest to the altar, normally reserved for the Queen if she is in attendance. She wasn’t, so Harry, the highest ranking blood royal there at sixth in line, got that spot. One would think, since everyone knows who Duchess Catherine is and pretty much no one knows who Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester is, Kate would get the second best seat to Harry’s left. Nope. Prince Richard got that seat because he is blood family and is in the line, albeit twenty-sixth. Kate sat in the third chair, next to Prince Richard.
However! This is where I think it gets interesting.
If William had been there, since he is second in line, he obviously would have taken the coveted first chair. But instead of the seating arrangement being William, then Harry, then Richard, Kate would have jumped all the way up to second chair just by virtue of William being in attendance. Harry would have sat to her left, followed by Richard.
But – and forgive me for going down this seating arrangement rabbit hole, but I think this stuff is so interesting – had it been Kate, Harry, and Meghan in attendance with no William, Harry would have taken the first chair with Meghan sitting next to him, even though Kate’s husband is second in line and she is the mother of numbers three, four, and five, and Meghan is “only” married to the sixth and the now mother of the seventh in line. Kate would have been in fourth chair had Meghan been there, with the new order being Harry, Meghan, Richard, and Kate.
BUT! Let me throw one more complicated kink in the wheel. Once the Queen dies and Prince Charles ascends to King, William and Kate will take over Charles (and, formerly Diana’s) title of Prince and Princess of Wales. As next in line to be queen consort (that’s another blog I need to write – Kate will not be queen, but queen consort, as Camilla will be when Charles ascends; you can only be queen if you are blood. Queen consort is the title of the wife of a blood king), no matter if William is there or not, Kate will trump nearly everyone – including Harry and all other blood royals – in terms of seating arrangement order. The only people who will ever outrank her in terms of seating arrangement or any other type of deference will be Charles, Camilla, and her husband, William. So, in this scenario of Anzac Day, Kate, if she were Princess of Wales, would sit first chair, followed by Harry, then Richard.
So, the quick skinny on seating arrangement protocol? Blood family always trumps non-blood, and, like salt and pepper shakers, married couples always sit together. The only exceptions are if you are one of the Big Four – the reigning monarch and spouse, and the Prince and Princess of Wales. They have the trump card and take precedence.
To further digress, if you’ll notice, the Royal Family often arrives to events like Anzac Day in order of prominence, with the Queen always arriving last, usually right before an event starts. (And always in a bright color, an intentional move she decided to do long ago so that her subjects could spot her, even if they were far away.) On this particular day, Kate and Harry showed up together, both wearing red poppy pins, a symbol used since 1921 to commemorate military members who have died in war.
Now you know!