Tess Mize is a freelance writer, Navy wife, and new mom. Aside from being an avid royal watcher and Anglophile, she loves literature, theatre, yoga, and a good glass of wine. She was raised in the Southeast but currently lives in California with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Our topic this time comes to us courtesy of Julie, who left the following comment on my first post:
I have always wondered this and never found any info on it. They always make such a big deal about the women curtsying, and who curtsies to whom. What about the men? Do they have to bow, and who bows to whom?
That is an excellent question that could take us down quite a winding road of discussion. I’ll try to keep it focused, as ever, in the interest of brevity.
Who bows and curtsies to whom is determined by the order of precedence—which should not be confused with the order of succession. Precedence is determined generally by one’s place in the order of succession, but it can be tweaked slightly by the reigning sovereign. For example, spouses of members of the royal family do not have a place in the order of succession, but can move up in the order of precedence upon their marriage. Similarly, their place in the order of precedence can also be affected by whether or not they are accompanied by their spouse at an event.
Upon William’s marriage to Catherine, she became (by virtue of their union) William’s counterpart in all of his royal titles. While her titles place her equal to him in the order of precedence when she is accompanied by William, when he is not present, the females who are royal by birth rank higher than she does. So when William is with her, she only curtsies to HM the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall. When William is not present, however, Kate must curtsy to the HM the Queen, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Princess Royal, Princess Alexandra, and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
Generally speaking, this change affects wives of male royals more than it affects husbands of female royals. A man does not assume the title of his wife upon marriage, and therefore retains the place in the order of precedence he has occupied since birth. The main modern exception to this rule is Prince Philip, since the Queen has placed him second only to her in the order of precedence. This means Prince Philip ranks ahead of every other man, including Prince Charles, who would otherwise be second (and, in some situations as prescribed by law, he does rank ahead of his father, although these situations are rare).
It is difficult to find another modern example of a man whose position in the order of precedence changed upon marrying a royal—Princess Anne’s former husband, Mark Phillips, famously refused a title when they were married. Because of this decision, their children, Peter and Zara, also do not hold titles, although they are thirteenth and sixteenth, respectively, in the order of succession. Despite Zara’s place in the orders of succession and precedence, her husband’s status was not affected, and so Mike Tindall would be required to bow to everyone in the royal family and would receive a bow or curtsy from no one.
I believe that, because of the relative fluidity of the female order based on marriage, there is more supposed angst over who curtsies to whom. I also believe most of the implied tension is manufactured by the press in the longstanding tradition of selling papers by pitting women against each other and fabricating competition where there is none. It makes a great story to say that the blood princesses are “furious” at having to curtsy to a commoner by birth, but I highly doubt it causes the amount of drama the tabloids would have us believe.
So to wrap up: we’ve got the Order of Succession, which largely determines the Order or Precedence (although not in all cases). But if that wasn’t confusing enough, there is also a Private Order of Precedence entirely determined by HM the Queen, for when the royals are out of the public eye. I imagine it sticks closely to the Official Order of Precedence. But wouldn’t it be hilarious if, every now and then, the Queen just handed around a hat with numbers in it to determine that day’s order of precedence? Everyone pins their number on and bows or curtsies to anyone with a higher number than them. I think that would be a fun game!
Hope that answers your question, Julie! Next time, we’ll look into the art of the royal thank you note! Don’t forget to comment with any of your questions!