Although we might think royal children have everything they could ever ask for, traditionally their upbringing was often quite strict: Their parents had to dress them a certain way, teach them how to behave like little adults—no temper tantrums here!—and generally be hands-off, with much of the caregiving left to nannies. Today’s younger royal parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for example, are relaxing the rules to allow for a more “normal” childhood for their little ones. Princes William and Harry want to continue the changes begun by their late mother, Princess Diana. Among the rules Princess Diana changed for good: Hugs were allowed, warmth was encouraged, and everyday experiences like eating at McDonald’s or going on amusement park rides were part of their upbringing.
Yet even as things are changing, some parenting traditions remain, and there are still etiquette rules everyone in the royal family must follow. “Even the Queen in the ’50s said she wanted her children brought up as normally as possible,” Ingrid Seward, author of Royal Children, told People. “But it’s a fantasy [to say that].” Here are the rules Prince William and Duchess Catherine, and Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan must still follow.
From the moment their children are born, royal parents have to follow certain customs. First off, the sovereign, currently Queen Elizabeth II, must be the first to be notified of the birth. Then, a royal proclamation is placed on an easel in front of Buckingham Palace; today, that traditional announcement is made at the same time as posts on the official royal social media. A few days after the birth, the public is granted a viewing of the new addition with the royal parents. For the births of Prince William and Duchess Catherine’s three children, this meant appearing on the steps of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London, where Princess Diana also appeared with her newborn sons. Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, however, elected to make their appearance with baby Archie Mountbatten-Windsor at St. George’s Hall in Windsor Castle.
Duchess Meghan has made a firm friend among the senior Royals. Guess who?
The British monarch is also the head of the Church of England, so of course the royal children—including the future heir to the throne—must be baptised. (The Duchess of Sussex, formerly Meghan Markle, was even baptised herself in the Church of England before her wedding to Prince Harry.) The royal parents also must have their children wear the traditional christening gown, a replica of the one first worn by Queen Victoria’s daughter in 1841. The Cambridge children—Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis—and their cousin Master Archie have all worn the gown.
It has always been important for royal parents to get the best education possible for their children: They are the future leaders of the country, after all. Although past generations were educated at home by tutors, Prince Charles followed in the tradition of his father, Prince Philip, in attending private school (confusingly called “public school” in England), as did Princes William and Harry. Today, Prince George, age six, and Princess Charlotte, age four, attend the top (and very elite) primary school Thomas’s Battersea in London. Princes Charles, William, and Harry all started boarding school at age eight, and then attended prestigious secondary schools: Charles went to Gordonstoun and William and Harry to Eton. It’s possible the young royal parents will continue that tradition when their children are old enough—although there is some talk that Prince William and Duchess Catherine will break this royal tradition when it comes to their kids.
Royal parents must also make sure their children know how to speak multiple languages—the more the better—as their roles in the future will include conversing with dignitaries of other countries and a lot of international travel. All the royals at least speak French, the traditional language of international diplomacy. (Queen Elizabeth is fluent, but Prince Charles only scored a grade C on his French exams, according to his royal bio.) Prince George and Princess Charlotte are currently being taught Spanish as well, which will bode well for them as it’s the second most widely spoken language in the world.
Some words (regardless of language) are considered too improper to be spoken by royalty. Read on to learn more.
Although the Cambridge children have been seen in casual outfits, their parents still dress them according to traditional dress codes everyone in the royal family must follow. Royal parents aren’t supposed to put their sons in long pants until around age eight (although we’ve seen six-year-old Prince George in trousers a couple of times). This dates back to the 16th-century tradition of “breeching,” in which boys made the change from dressing gowns (which made potty training easier) to breeches. Gowns then adapted to shorts but remained a marker of upper-class status. “A pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class, quite suburban,” etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper’s Bazaar. “And no self-respecting royal would want to be considered suburban.” Even the Duchess of Cambridge, a former suburbanite herself, has to follow this one.
Even besides the shorts, if you’ve noticed the royal children are always dressed in a very traditional, very British style—some might even say old-fashioned—you wouldn’t be wrong. Royal parents follow a dress code of Peter Pan collars, dresses and Mary Janes for girls, and cardigans or crew-neck sweaters. Traditional patterns like stripes are fine, but you’ll never see a royal child in a dinosaur T-shirt. For British royalty, this rule is all about not being linked to a particular moment in time, but rather to their history. “If they wear very simple things, it’s about the child, and it’s timeless in that you can’t really date a specific photo or put them in something that seems out of date,” Rachel Riley, a designer who has dressed Prince George, told the Telegraph. “I think they are going for clothing that is classic and timeless, rather than clothes that draw attention to them.”
The children aren’t the only ones with strict dress rules. Wearing anything this colour is also forbidden – no matter what your age.
Prince Charles was only allowed to see his parents at designated times, and they were often away on long trips abroad without him. The Cambridges are decidedly more hands-on parents, as the Sussexes will no doubt be as well; but even though this generation may parent with more warmth, they will still have to make sure their children aren’t spoiled. Prince William and Duchess Catherine “both had a rounded upbringing, and they will do the same with their children,” Dickie Arbiter, royal commentator and former press secretary to the Queen, told USA Today. “The children will not be cossetted or mollycoddled in any way.”
With customary grace, Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, accepted organic baby puree packets from a store brand called Plum—even though it wasn’t likely the royal children would actually eat it. Why? There’s no need to buy packaged goods when you have your own farm-to-table chef. “I’ve certainly never seen packaged food with any of the royal babies,” Darren McGrady, former chef to Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and Princes William and Harry, told Today. “Why would they buy packaged food when the queen has 20 personal chefs?”
When McGrady was chef, he remembers pureeing apples and pears from the Sandringham estate, one of the official residences of the British royal family, for the young princes. “As they got older, you’d have one chef in the kitchen doing the chicken, one doing the veg, and then it would all be blended together; it was a major operation cooking for them,” he says.
Unfortunately, travel is simply a requirement of being a royal, which sometimes means being away from the little ones. Although the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge frequently take their children with them on international trips, there are some times when they have to leave their children behind for safety concerns or because the trip will be too gruelling for youngsters. For example, the Cambridges left the children at home when they recently visited Pakistan. The young royals were reportedly looked after by Duchess Catherine’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton. Of course, it’s possible that Meghan and Harry’s baby will be raised differently from the Cambridge children.
It’s truly amazing that royal children behave as well in public as they do. What’s their parenting secret? According to one expert, it’s giving the children lots of practice. “Etiquette training for the royals starts as soon as they’re old enough to sit at a table,” Myka Meier of Beaumont Etiquette told People. For example, to prepare to sit through Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle, the children would have gone through rehearsals and learned specific behaviour and protocol, she says.
But royal parents have an advantage all parents would love: a team standing by to help. “They would have many royal aides and members of the royal family to assist and guide the children through the day,” Meier said. “If there were any issues, they would have been seamlessly taken care of.”
But we have seen some near-meltdowns, such as Princess Charlotte’s outburst on a tarmac. Still, as Duchess Catherine did in that instance, the royal parents must keep their cool to defuse the situation before their children get out of control. A new tactic Prince William and Duchess Catherine are fond of that bucks royal tradition, but works well to calm children, is to squat to the child’s level to speak to them. Although Prince William has been scolded by the Queen for pulling this common move, in the case of impending bad behaviour, avoiding a scene is more important.
You’ll never hear the royals yelling at their kids, especially since a stern whispered word is often more effective. Or, royal parents have the option to take the opposite tack and simply laugh it off, like it’s all part of the show. Duchess Catherine showed this expert parenting move during a recent outing to a regatta when Princess Charlotte (who may be the family troublemaker) stuck out her tongue at photographers. Instead of making a big deal of it, Kate just flashed a smile and quickly ushered her daughter away.
If the Queen’s second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, is to be believed, one classic board game is forbidden in the royal household: Monopoly. When presented with the game at an event, he said, “We’re not allowed to play Monopoly at home. It gets too vicious,” according to the Telegraph. But even if he and his siblings were not permitted to play the game when they were growing up, the next generation of royal parents may allow it—just not when they’re visiting “Gan Gan.” Monopoly might not be a family pastime together, but they have others when they’re gathering at Christmas.
Although this generation of royal children are allowed plenty of playtime to just be kids, they also must be taught some strict rules royal children need to follow. This means their parents must instruct them on the proper wave (Princess Charlotte is already a master). As time goes on, their parents will also share more of the roles they will play as working royals: For Prince George, this means learning how to be the sovereign (for the time being, that’s a secret Prince William and Kate are keeping from Prince George). But for now, one duty that must seem very strange to a child (and to us, for that matter) is learning, by age five, to actually curtsy or bow to their own great-grandma—that is, if she happens to be the Queen of England.
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