Could You Survive a Night at Buckingham Palace Without Breaking the Rules?



By: Torrance Grey

6 Min Quiz

Image: joedanielprice/Moment/gettyimages

About This Quiz

England's Buckingham Palace is many things. It's a piece of history, a work of architectural art, a focal point for national mourning and celebration, and even, yes, a family residence. In 2018, it's also more accessible than it has ever been to members of the public -- British commoners and visitors from overseas alike. But to visit Buckingham Palace as a tourist is one thing, and to be invited there is something else entirely. What if you were spending the night in the Palace? Could you get through your visit without committing a faux pas? We've created a quiz to help you figure that out (just in case!)

We should note here that non-subjects of the Crown -- for example, Americans -- are not expected to know all the rules of royal etiquette. There are lower standards for them. However, many visitors prefer to be well-informed and to follow the important points of protocol, like how royals are to be addressed, and how to properly bow or curtsy. We've written this quiz with that higher standard of behavior in mind. 

Are you ready to prove that you could spend a night in Buckingham Palace, and comport yourself so well you'd be invited back a second time? Jolly good! Right then, off you go! 

Hey, you've been invited to Buckingham Palace! What might you find on the invitation?

The Royal Household strives to make things easy for guests. In addition to the three above items, you'll probably also be asked to advise the staff on food allergies or accessibility needs, which will almost certainly be accommodated.


But wait ... maybe you don't feel like going to Buckingham Palace. You don't have to, right?

If the invitation comes from the Queen, then in theory it's a command to appear. However, it's been a long time since the British monarchy beheaded anybody for disobedience to the crown. You're probably safe RSVP'ing in the negative ... but why would you?


If you're going to the Palace as an honor for your charity or public work, you're among __ percent of Buckingham's guests.

It's a sign of the Palace's and the family's accessibility that 45 percent of people invited to the Palace are commoners being honored for charity work. This is as opposed to foreign royalty and nobility, Nobel winners, celebrities, and the like (who still visit, obviously).


Your evening at the palace starts with a garden party. What time should you show up?

Garden parties have a set time at the Palace. Guests arrive starting at 3:15 p.m., and the royal family members who'll be appearing arrive at 4.


If you are a woman visiting the Palace, your hemline should fall ...

Technically, there are looser standards for visitors than for women of the Royal Family. Women can even wear good-quality trouser suits. But many female visitors prefer to follow the same rules that the women of the palace do, and that means dresses or skirts below the knee. No cleavage showing, either.


When the royal family arrives at the garden party, it will be announced by ...

You'll notice that in the text of Shakespeare plays, the entrance of a royal person is marked "Enter with fanfare" or "enter with flourish." This referred to trumpets heralding the arrival. Those days have passed. Often, nothing marks the arrival of the royals except, perhaps, a stir among the guests.


If you're female, you'll probably want to know how to perform a good curtsy. This is done by putting one ankle behind the other and ...

The deep curtsy with the hem held out, like little girls still like to do, isn't really practiced by the royal women. They keep it simple and subtle.


However, who might you see Meghan or Kate curtsy more deeply to?

This is the exception to the "shallow curtsy" rule of thumb. The Queen, being England's reigning monarch (and 90 years old, to boot) merits a deeper curtsy.


You're meeting Prince Harry for the first time. If you wish to use the correct formal address, you would greet him as _____.

Only the Queen is "Your Majesty." The princes are "Your Royal Highness," and then "Sir" on second and following addresses.


If you become friendly with a royal, what kind of physical contact is acceptable?

According to the rules, a member of the royal family is not to be touched. Sounds standoffish, but it probably saves the poor people a lot of "petting" by adoring subjects! However, a royal may offer you his or her hand for a handshake; by all means, do so. Just let go promptly.


You're meeting Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, for the first time. If you wish to use a formal address, you would greet her as _____.

This is the formal address for dukes and duchesses. On second address, she would simply be, "Ma'am." (Sounds a bit stodgy, but she *is* married.


Pop quiz! Who was the first monarch to make "Buckingham House" the royal residence?

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837. Before that, Buckingham Palace was "Buckingham House," one of the royal properties -- and not as large as it is today.


The Queen's gone out for a while! What kind of shoes are you and your new friend Kate free to wear now?

Kate Middleton loves wedge heels, but the Queen apparently doesn't. Reportedly, Kate only wears them when she knows she won't be seeing her grandmother-in-law.


You want to go into the Queen's Gallery to look at some art. Is this possible?

The Queen's Gallery stands in place of the Palace's chapel. The chapel was destroyed by a bomb in World War II


Pop quiz! True or false: Buckingham Palace was once called "the Queen's House" because Queen Victoria made it her official residence.

This is a bit of a trick question. Buckingham Palace was called "the Queen's House," but this was because long before Queen Victoria's day, Queen Charlotte used it as a retreat. (Her husband, King George III, eventually went a bit mad, so we imagine she needed a retreat!)


You and Meghan are going down a staircase. You imitate her posture, which is ...

A royal female walks down a staircase with her chin parallel to the ground and her hands at her sides. If needed, she may touch the banister, but shouldn't grip it.


You're in a sitting room having tea with the younger royals. If you're a woman, what is an appropriate way for you to sit?

A royal female must not cross her knees. The ankles are OK. Keeping most of the legs together preserves modesty.


Also concerning tea, what is the correct way to hold your cup?

It's a myth that upper-class Brits still drink tea with the pinky out. Even the royals don't do this; it's too affected!


Pop quiz! Which of these architects was central to the expansion of Buckingham House into a palace?

John Nash was the preferred architect of King George IV. However, he was dismissed from the expansion project because of serious cost overruns, and replaced by Edward Blore. So much for "money is no object," even for royalty!


You've been invited to stay for a state dinner. At a "state" dinner, who is being honored?

State dinners are one of the most elegant and formal ones that the Palace hosts. So this is a time to really be on your beest behavior.


What is the dress code for a state dinner?

"White tie" means full evening dress, suitable for the most important dinner and for ballroom dancing. Yes, for men it really is still standard to wear a white bow tie.


You, Meghan and Kate are giving yourselves manicures. Which of these nail colors is acceptable?

A female royal should only wear clear varnish or pale-pink nail polish. Violet and red aren't acceptable, and don't even suggest a "fantasy color" like midnight blue.


You've been asked to help plan the menu for dinner. Which of these should NOT be on it?

Here's the breakdown: The Windsors don't eat shellfish in any formal setting because of its tendency to cause food poisoning. The Queen just doesn't like garlic, and she also finds pasta and potatoes too informal for the royal table.


You'll notice the royals entering the room in a certain order. This is called the order of ____.

Royalty and nobles enter and exit rooms (at formal occasions) according to their rank, or titles. To refer again to Shakespeare, you'll notice this in "Macbeth" when Lady Macbeth tells the nobles, "Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once." Macbeth's coronation banquet has gone so badly that she just wants everyone to clear out.


You're an unmarried man at the state dinner, a very formal event. Which of these tells you a royal woman is single?

We mention that this is "a very formal event" because tiaras aren't everyday (or every evening) wear for any royal female. However, the rule is , a married woman wears a tiara, while a single woman does not. If she is bareheaded, she's "on the market." (But probably not for you, commoner!)


During dinner, you get up to use the bathroom. How do you show the waitstaff that you are not finished eating?

If you *were* finished, you would lay your utensils diagonally with the handles at the 4 o'clock position. We suspect these signals are used in high society overall, not just at Buckingham Palace.


How do you know it's time to stop eating?

The rule is that when the Queen finishes her meal, no one else may eat. We suspect the Queen, being strictly brought up, is courteous about this, and doesn't rush through a meal or stop eating early just because she isn't hungry.


Pop quiz! The royal family acknowledges the public from the balcony after what annual military exercise?

Trooping the Colour is an annual event in which military units are on parade in London and are inspected by the Queen. It usually involves a Royal Air Force flyby. Afterward, the Windsors acknowledge the crowds from the balcony on the East face of the Palace.


Unexpectedly, you run into Prince Philip in the Palace. How should you properly address him?

The form of address is the same as for the princes. This is a little confusing, because Prince Philip is usually referred to as "the Duke of Edinburgh." But Queen Elizabeth issued "letters patent" making him a prince in 1957 -- it wasn't automatic on his marriage to a queen.


You also run into Princess Margaret. How should you address her?

Princess Margaret, though younger than Elizabeth, died in 2002. She had been a heavy smoker, unlike her sister, which contributed to her early death.


Hey, you're staying the night! But you'll have to crash on a couch somewhere ... Buckingham Palace has no guest bedrooms!

Buckingham Palace does, in fact, have guest bedrooms. You're probably someone pretty special to be invited to stay the night, though!


Hey, you'll probably never be here again ... surely a selfie is OK?

Photography is forbidden at the Palace. Debrett's Peerage notes, with some resignation, that in the age of smartphones it's impossible to entirely to keep people from taking photos, "but these should have no place at formal events, and are frowned on at garden parties."


It's 11 p.m., and Princes William and Harry want to send a footman out for some late-night McDonald's. Is this some kind of joke?

According to a former Palace chef, Princes William and Harry were known, in their younger years, for American-style fast food and junk food. (Possibly that's changed a bit, though, as they approach midlife).


Pop quiz: What would you find in the Royal Mews?

"Mews" is a British word that can mean stables, a living area built around stables, or possibly an aviary. Buckingham Palace's Royal Mews holds its horses, carriages and cars. Grooms and chauffeurs work there.


Wow, you're having breakfast with the Queen the next day -- she must like you! What are you probably going to eat?

Yes, Queen Elizabeth's everyday breakfast is Corn Flakes with English Breakfast tea. For the uninitiated, that's a mix of Darjeeling, Ceylon and Kenyan teas.


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