The Daily Mail calls it ‘the tantalising question at the heart of an epic battle of royal egos’. I call it ‘the latest attempt to drum up a bit of drama regarding Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William’. It’s a story about whether the Duchess of Cornwall (and the Princess Royal, and several other members of the royal family) will be expected to curtsey to Kate when she’s married to William. Of course, her ‘commoner’ status adds a twist.
Brian Hoey, an expert on court protocol and the author of a new book, We Are Amused, which tackles the precedence issue, told me: ‘Kate will take the rank of her husband, which means that when she’s at court, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie should curtsey to her. But I don’t think there’s a chance they will.’
The courtier explains: ‘While William feels warmly towards his cousins, Beatrice and Eugenie, he’s conscious of the fact that they are lesser royals.
‘As future King, he will wish to see them behaving correctly towards their future Queen — but their attitude is likely to be: “Why should I? I was born royal — Kate wasn’t.” ’
‘The same goes for Anne and Alexandra,’ adds Hoey.
‘When William is present at Court, he outranks them — and Kate, enjoying her husband’s rank and title, should, too. But it’s never going to happen.’
Technically, there are two orders of precedence — one for all royals, and one for the women alone.
In the latter, the four women who were born royal outrank Kate. ‘It’s only when William is present that she outranks them,’ says Hoey.
In other words, there may be a situation where Kate has to curtsey to Camilla if Charles is in the room, yet Camilla would be duty-bound to curtsey to Kate if William was in the room and his father wasn’t.
And if father and son were off fishing together? Surely the Duchess and Princess would pray the Queen would suddenly burst into the room. Then they’d both have someone else to curtsey to in order to get over the confusion.
Remind me; what century is it?