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10 Royal Wedding Etiquette Rules Every Member of the Royal Family Follows

Updated: Jan. 06, 2023

Whether you're an official guest or a gawker, brush up on these royal rules for getting hitched.

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Get the Queen’s permission

Asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage seems a bit archaic, but the Wall Street Journal reported that a 2015 Internet poll by The Knot reveals 77 percent of suitors still get a parent’s permission. However, when it comes to following wedding etiquette for the royal family, pops isn’t the only one that needs to be asked. According to Brides.com, The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 requires that all royal family members must ask the sovereign’s approval in order to get hitched. Looks like Prince Harry must have done just that as Clarence House announced in November 2017, “His Royal Highness and Ms. Markle became engaged in London earlier this month Prince Harry has informed Her Majesty the Queen and other close members of his family. Prince Harry has also sought and received the blessing of Ms. Markle’s parents.”

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Engagements are short

When it comes to putting together a royal wedding, time is of the essence. In fact, Elle Australia explains that royal engagements are brief, lasting only a few months. No surprise then that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle had a May 2018 wedding following their November 2017 engagement. These are the 11 ways the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding made history.

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Going stag?

Here in the U.S., we know it as the bachelor or bachelorette party, but the Brits call it the stag do or hen party. As you probably surmised, a stag do is for the guys, while the ladies are the hens. Perhaps not the most politically correct nomenclature, but these parties have been around a long time. In fact, the stag party originated way back in ancient Sparta where, according to Time Magazine, soldiers partook in a huge feast and toasted the groom-to-be be. It seems many modern British groomsmen have extended this one-night celebration into an entire weekend. Prince William’s affair took place about a month before his wedding and was hosted by brother Harry at a country estate. Brides.com notes that it wasn’t until 1960 that British brides got their turn to whoop it up like the men. The Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa both had weekend affairs, with skiing in the French Alps for Pippa and her hens.

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Location, location, location

As the future King of England’s little bro and sixth in line to the throne, Prince Harry had the option to keep things lower key. While Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Andrew, Princess Anne, Princess Margaret, and Queen Elizabeth herself all got hitched at Westminster Abbey, Harry and Meghan wed at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. It’s where he was christened and where his father Prince Charles and second wife Camilla Parker Bowles had their wedding dedicated. Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank also said their vows at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in October of 2018. Take a look at this royal family tree if you need a refresher on who’s who.

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The wedding party is made up of children

According to Brides.com, royal bridesmaids have historically been younger girls between the ages of ten and 12. Kate Middleton’s bridal party included Lady Louise Windsor, a young cousin of Prince William, and other littles. But Kate did enlist her sister Pippa to be her Maid of Honor, who was 27 years old when she walked down the aisle for the royal nuptials. However, Kate wasn’t the Matron of Honor at Pippa’s wedding. “It’s unbecoming for a member of the royal family to walk behind a commoner—which, as painful as that sounds and despite being directly related to Catherine, is what Pippa is,” explained Willaim Hanson, noted British etiquette expert, to Cosmopolitan. Meghan Markle did not have a Maid of Honor at her wedding to Prince Harry, but her bridal party did include Princess Charlotte as a bridesmaid and Prince George as a pageboy. Princess Eugenie also used Charlotte and George in her bridal party as well as her sister, Princess Beatrice, as her Maid of Honor. Check out these 18 details you may have missed at Meghan and Harry’s wedding.

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What not to wear

Lucky enough to snag an invitation to a royal shindig? Well, you better be ready to put on your Sunday best as U.K. weddings are traditionally far more formal than ours, according to Cosmopolitan. Brides.com recommends men dress in military uniform, a single-breasted coat with tails, or a lounge suit—that’s business suit for Yanks. Cosmopolitan stresses hats in the church for women, unless it’s a night affair. Myka Meier, the founder of Beaumont Etiquette school also told Cosmo that bare shoulders should be avoided for formal day weddings, while a floor-length gown might be expected at an evening affair. Still confused? You can follow the 22-page list of dos and don’ts that was distributed by Buckingham Palace for the April 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, reports Etiquipedia.blogspot.com.

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Take a seat

Whether you’re a friend of the groom or the bride usually dictates where you sit, but when it comes to the royal family, being royal trumps friendship. The royal family usually sits on the right side of the church, but if the groom is not royal, then they will sit on the left, says Brides.com. For example, when it came to the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister’s wedding, members of the royal family sat on Pippa’s side of the church.

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The wedding bouquet goes to the Unknown Warrior

In 1840, Queen Victoria tied the knot with Prince Albert while carrying a sprig of myrtle in her wedding bouquet that she commemorated by planting a myrtle shrub at her home in Osborn. That started a royal trend that would last until today, with every British royal bride carrying flowers that include a sprig from that very same myrtle shrub. But there’ll be no tossing the bouquet to all the single ladies. The late Queen Mum started another tradition, leaving the bouquet in Westminster Abbey at the grave of the Unknown Warrior, to honor those in military service. Once married, these are parenting rules that royals must follow. 

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A fancy wedding ride

Arriving in style is certainly part of the royal wedding etiquette traditions. In 1982, Diana arrived in an 1881 Glass Coach purchased for George V’s coronation in 1911, noted Brides.com, and Duchess Kate pulled up at Westminster Abbey in the Queen’s Rolls Royce Phantom, which had large windows so the crowds could view her and her dad. But after the ceremony, Kate and Will took off in the same carriage that transported his parents, Charles and Diana, a 1902 State Landau originally made for the coronation of Edward VII. A third car was used for their final take off, an Aston Martin decorated with ribbons, bows, balloons, and a license plate printed with the phrase “JUST WED.” Meghan also pulled up to her wedding in the Queen’s Rolls Royce Phantom. Harry and Meghan rolled off in a powder blue Jaguar. Get a look at the most iconic royal wedding photos from the 1800s to today.

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It’s the thought that counts

If you make the guest list for royal nuptials, you can’t go empty-handed, but what is proper wedding gift etiquette for royalty? “Typically when people are invited to a wedding, it does involve travel and airfare and expenditures,” Lisa Gaché, manners expert and chief executive of Beverly Hills Manners told the LA Times. “For this kind of a wedding—for any kind of a royal wedding—it is considered a great honor. In order to show or convey respect and that gracious feeling for being invited, the ante is a bit more.” She recommends a gift with a personal touch like singing at their wedding, but unless you’re Elton John, that may not go over as well you hope. When in doubt, Gaché says you can’t go wrong with a charitable donation of about $500. Next, here are 18 more royal etiquette rules everyone in the royal family must follow.