The latest royal saga appears to have finally reached a conclusion, with the Queen announcing this weekend that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are taking a complete step back from royal duties, and will no longer be permitted to use their HRH titles and represent the Queen.
The groundbreaking announcement explained that the couple will retain the HRH stylings, and Harry will remain a Prince, but that they will no longer use them in public life – as they will not be working members of the British royal family. It was also confirmed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will continue to maintain their ‘private patronages and associations’, but will no longer formally represent the Queen, and as such will receive no public funding for their lives and work.
So what does the latest news mean for Harry and Meghan’s place in the family – for example, their ranking among their relatives? Previously, the royal hierarchy was very clear – the Queen comes first, then, Prince Charles, Prince William, his family, then, Prince Harry, and his family. As such, the rules over who bows/curtseys to who, observing the changing seniority of each royal family member, was pretty clear. But will that stay the same going forward?
The royal hierarchy: who bows to who in the British royal family?
Before the recent change in the Sussexes role, the protocol for bowing and curtseying was quite clear. Whom each royal had to bow to depends on their rank – and, whether or not they are blood royals. The Queen is of course the highest ranking in the British royal family, and so all members of the family bow/curtsey to her.
But things start to get slightly more complicated when it comes to partners. Due to a rule change enacted by Queen Elizabeth II back in 2005, blood royals now actually take priority over all other members of the family – unless a partner’s wife or husband outranks the blood royal in question.
How does this work in practise?
For example, almost everyone in the family would bow to both Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, if they are together, because he outranks everyone else in the family, bar the Queen. However, if Charles is not present, less higher ranking royals (such as Princess Anne, or Princess Beatrice), do not need to bow to Camilla, because in that instance, they outrank her as ‘blood princesses’. The same applies to all women who have married in to the royal family – such as Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Kate Middleton.
Take the Duchess of Cambridge for example. When she is with Prince William, she only needs to curtsey to the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla, as they are the only royals sat above her and her husband in the line of succession. But, if William were not present at the time, Catherine would, in theory, need to curtsey to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, as they are blood royals, and she is not. However, we’re sure the royals likely don’t observe these formalities when they’re all together in private. That is, unless the Queen is present…
Where do Harry and Meghan sit within the royal hierarchy now – and who will they have to bow/curtsey to?
Of course, it’s difficult to predict exactly how things will work with Harry and Meghan going forward, with the royal family themselves still ironing out details. But it seems that, in actual fact, the rules around bowing and curtseying will stay almost exactly the same, and nothing will change considerably. This is because the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will retain their HRH titles, although they will not officially use them in their public life. Had they been officially stripped of their HRH titles, things might be different.
So, in theory, Meghan will continue to only curtsey to blood royals when Harry is not present – and both of them will still continue to bow/curtsey to only the Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince William, and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Rebecca English, the Daily Mail’s royal correspondent, has claimed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have retained their HRH titles so – in part – as not to confuse the royal family greetings.
She explained on twitter, ‘Royal officials agreed to let the couple keep their HRH titles as they feared if they were stripped of them they would have to curtsey to Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie’.
So it seems that, in the future, Beatrice and Eugenie – who are ninth and tenth in line to the throne respectively, will continue to need to curtsey to Harry, as, while he is no longer a ‘working’ royal, he is still officially an HRH, and more senior than them in the family.
The recent announcement from the Queen also appears to mean that Harry, and his son Archie, will keep their places as sixth and seventh in line to the throne, ahead of the Duke of York, his daughters, Prince Edward and his family, and Princess Anne and her children.
In reality, it’s thought that members of the royal family rarely bow or curtsey to one another though. Mostly, we see the formality observed at official occasions, if royal family members have not seen each other before officially gathering at the event.
For example, the Duchess of Cambridge, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Zara Tindall curtseyed to the Queen at last year’s Easter service, as it was a formal occassion and they, presumably, had not seen the Queen beforehand, earlier in the day. Princess Beatrice and Princess Anne for example, had, so they did not curtsey to the monarch.
It’s also presumed that most members observe the greeting tradition mostly with the Queen, as the head of the family.